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Democratic super PACs start year with cash advantage

UAW group sitting on nearly $9 million

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Update (Feb. 1, 4:30 p.m.): This story has been updated to include comment from Brad Martin of Fair Share Action.

Prominent super PACs are already preparing for their next act — the 2014 midterm elections — with Democratic-aligned groups leading the way.

Of the five super PACs with the most money in the bank through the end of 2012, all support Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign finance reports released Thursday.

The United Auto Workers’ super PAC, launched last September, reported the most money in the bank at $8.9 million. The group spent almost $2.7 million ahead of Election Day.

Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC that backed the re-election of President Barack Obama, ranks second, ending the year with $3.7 million in the bank after spending $65 million on ads that pounded Obama’s GOP rival, Mitt Romney.

Rounding out the top five: the super PAC of the Service Employees International Union, which reported $3.2 million on hand; Fair Share Action, which reported $1.8 million; and American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic-aligned super PAC that specializes in opposition research, which reported $1.3 million.

Such cash illustrates how Democratic forces have become full-fledged participants on the post-Citizens United campaign battlefield, shedding ideological concerns about unbridled political spending to better compete with Republican foes.

Meanwhile, Republican super PACs are not expected to sit idly by.

Jonathan Collegio, the spokesman for Republican-aligned super PAC American Crossroads, said the group is “planning a vigorous effort to elect conservative candidates in the Senate and hold control of the House.”

The GOP juggernaut, co-founded by strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, raised more than $117 million during the 2012 election cycle, second only to Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential bid.

Crossroads headed into 2013 with $1.2 million in the bank, according to Federal Election Commission documents.

One of the most visible super Democratic super PACs at the start of the New Year has been House Majority PAC — which ended 2012 with $155,000 in the bank. This week the group released a promotional video featuring seven Democratic members of Congress and announced plans to target 10 GOP lawmakers it views as vulnerable.

Spokesman Andy Stone said the super PAC is focused on “crunching the numbers” to help propel Democrats back into power.

Among House Majority PAC’s targets are Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who organized the House Tea Party Caucus in 2010 and was re-elected last year with a surprisingly narrow margin of victory, and Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.

More ideologically driven super PACs are also preparing for new electoral battles.

Club for Growth Action, the super PAC arm of the conservative Club for Growth, is redoubling its efforts to “elect fiscally conservative candidates to office in 2014,” spokesman Barney Keller said.

And Jeff Gohringer, a spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters, said the group’s super PAC would be put to work this cycle to “keep electing environmental champions and defeating climate deniers.”

It is buoyed by its success at the ballot box. According to data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, the League of Conservation Voters super PAC spent money to aid 15 Democratic candidates last year, 12 of whom won on Election Day.

The Club for Growth, too, enjoyed significant electoral victories in 2012. Its preferred candidates prevailed in GOP Senate primaries in Texas, Arizona and Indiana. While Republican Richard Mourdock, which the Club supported, lost his bid in the Hoosier State, Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Texas’ Ted Cruz are now sitting senators.

Club for Growth Action started the year with $422,000 in the bank, and the League of Conservation Voters’ super PAC reported $59,000 on hand.

Super PACs, which arose in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, are legally allowed to accept donations of any amount from individuals, unions and corporations, funds that are often used to pay for negative advertising.

In contrast, candidates, parties and traditional political action committees all have limits on how much money individuals are legally allowed to contribute.

So-called hybrid super PACs, political committees that maintain both a super PAC arm and a traditional PAC arm for making donations to candidates, are also likely to continue stepping up in 2013 and beyond.

Friends of Democracy, a hybrid PAC that seeks to reduce the influence of big money in politics, ended the year with $94,000 in the bank.

The group was co-founded by Jonathan Soros, son of billionaire investor George Soros*, David Donnelly of Public Campaign Action and Ilyse Hogue, who was named the new president of NARAL Pro-Choice America in mid-January.

Donnelly told the Center for Public Integrity that Friends of Democracy is seeking to create “state-level programs to speed the adoption of citizen-funded elections” and would be focused primarily on U.S. House races in 2014, including primary elections “when we see opportunities.”

Meanwhile, LPAC, a hybrid PAC that seeks to give lesbians “a meaningful seat at the political table,” ended 2012 with $60,000 in the bank. And Western Representation PAC, which supports fiscally conservative candidates and currently touts the Feb. 23 “Day of Resistance” gun rights rally on its website, ended 2012 with $54,000 in its reserves.

Far from a household name, Fair Share Action started spent more than $3 million on behalf of Democratic candidates in 2012.

It was funded primarily by environmental organizations, gay rights activist Tim Gill, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and its related nonprofit, the Fair Share Alliance.

Brad Martin, the super PAC's executive director, told the Center for Public Integrity that it was "too early" to predict which races the group would be involved in next, though it planned to do "good work to help good people get elected to office."

Restore Our Future, which spent more than $42 million on helping Romney win the GOP’s presidential nomination and nearly $100 million more in an unsuccessful quest to help him oust Obama, ended the year with $1.3 million in the bank. So what’s next?

“We're not discussing future plans at this point,” Carl Forti, one of Restore Our Future’s leaders, told the Center for Public Integrity.

Priorities USA Action, too, is being coy about its future, declining to answer questions.

Changes are, however, already afoot for the group: Priorities USA Action’s co-founder, former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, recently joined public affairs firm Global Strategies Group as an executive.

*George Soros is the chairman of the Open Society Foundation, which provides funding for the Center for Public Integrity. For a list of the Center's donors, visit this page on our website.