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Libertarian-leaning super PAC raising big money

Group led by Cato Institute founder, former FEC chairman

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 Updated:

Correction, 10:18 a.m. July 31: Brad Smith serves as treasurer for Purple PAC, but is not a founder of the group. The original story has been updated to reflect this.

A super PAC quietly formed this spring by a prominent libertarian has rushed to a quick fundraising start thanks to a small network of wealthy, like-minded donors.

Purple PAC, a super PAC led by former Federal Election Commission Chairman Brad Smith and Cato Institute founder Ed Crane, raised $575,000 from the time the group launched in early May through the end of June, new FEC filings show.

Only four donors contributed, but they provided significant cash. The group received two $250,000 contributions — one from Richard Masson, a Kentucky horse breeder, and another from Pennsylvania-based options trader Jeffrey Yass, who also sits on the board of the Cato Institute.

Washington, D.C., entrepreneur Philip Harvey donated an additional $50,000 to Purple PAC, while New York real estate developer Howard Rich chipped in $25,000, according to FEC records.

Smith, who currently serves as the chairman of the anti-campaign finance regulation group Center for Competitive Politics, said Purple PAC plans to make independent expenditures promoting “freedom-oriented” candidates who are fiscally conservative and socially moderate.

These are viewpoints Smith says a large number of voters hold, although they have little influence in Washington.

“Swing voters don’t feel that either of the major parties is representing them,” Smith said, adding the group intends to focus much of its resources on battleground states, as its name suggests.

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While the group has yet to formally back any politicians, Smith said it’s open to supporting federal office-seekers of either party. But candidates that generally agree with the super PAC’s ideology “tend to be in the Republican Party at this point in time.”

Smith also said he was pleased with Purple PAC’s initial fundraising haul, adding, “we think we can raise a significant amount of money.”

Three of the group’s four donors — Yass, Masson and Rich — gave federal-level Republican candidates tens of thousands of dollars during the 2012 election cycle. Rich was the only one of the three to give money to an outside group, contributing $25,000 to the libertarian-leaning Liberty for All Super PAC.

Rich is also the founder of the advocacy group Americans for Limited Government and has helped fund a number of other conservative-leaning nonprofit organizations in recent elections.

Harvey, meanwhile, gave $10,000 to the Campaign for Primary Accountability, an anti-incumbent super PAC that’s ramping up its operations again after a year’s worth of inactivity.

He also gave $8,000 to the Libertarian National Committee in 2012 and contributed $2,500 apiece to two Democrats: Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Roger Goodman, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Washington state.