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The slow deaths of presidential super PACs

Once mighty and moneyed, these political committees are bleeding cash and fading from view

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Like massive pop-up stores that disappear once Halloween is over, several presidential contender-specific super PACs that played crucial roles through Election Day 2012 have all but vanished from national politics.

With President Barack Obama re-elected and Republican challenger Mitt Romney vanquished, groups such as conservative Restore Our Future and liberal Priorities USA Action could have easily enshrined themselves in the political firmament by supporting 2014 midterm hopefuls or pressing issues such as guns or immigration.

Instead, today they appear to have neither candidate nor cause, to be remembered only as one-hit wonders that — in stark contrast to party committees and candidate campaign machines — blink out of existence just as quickly as they once bolted to the forefront of post-Citizens United electioneering.

None have much money left. Their once mighty war chests, filled with hundreds of millions of dollars by the mega-donor likes of Republican casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Democratic media mogul Fred Eychaner, have in some cases dwindled into the four- and five-figure range, according to financial documents filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission.

And the little income these and other presidential-focused super PACs realized in 2013 isn’t coming from flesh-and-blood donors, but instead as a result of credits or transfers from associated committees.

What money they’re spending this year isn’t going toward advertising buys or online ad campaigns, but paying for the most perfunctory of expenses, such as legal and consulting fees.

Restore Our Future, which raised $153.7 million during the 2012 election cycle — the most among super PACs — had little more than $1 million cash on hand through June 30, its disclosures indicate.

The parade of wealthy conservatives so eager just months ago to bankroll the super PAC don’t account for the super PAC’s $700,000 in receipts between Jan. 1 and June 30 come. Rather, the money is derived from media buy refunds off purchases made with a consulting firm in Towson, Md.

Restore Our Future’s co-founder, Charlie Spies, has lately been focusing his efforts on other super PACs with which he’s involved.

Priorities USA Action, meanwhile, ended June with about $3.4 million in reserve after raising $79 million during the 2012 cycle — third-most among super PACs.

A media buy refund from last year also accounted for most of its $356,000 in 2013 income. The rest came in the form of a cash transfer from a joint fundraising committee with which it worked.

Rather than spending its remaining money on political candidates, Priorities USA Action gave much of it away this year: $250,000 to Democrat-focused super PAC Senate Majority PAC and $100,000 to help fund state-level efforts of EMILY’s List.

Officials at both Restore Our Future and Priorities USA Action did not respond to messages seeking comment.

That’s not necessarily a surprise for Priorities USA Action, as several of its top staffers — co-founder Bill Burton, spokeswoman Marcy Stech and Compliance and Operations Director Megan Brengarth included — have left the organization in recent months for other jobs.

Its website hasn’t been updated in months. “We are at the forefront of efforts to draw clear contrasts between progressive policies and those of the far right,” reads a statement posted there.

Restore Our Future’s website isn’t any better, offering few details of its future and cryptically stating: “The fight to protect America from the growing debt, higher taxes and attacks on our job creators is not over.”

The super PACs could yet bounce back. Since they may accept unlimited donations, it only takes a single millionaire or billionaire to regain relevance.

But many prominent donors have taken their cash elsewhere in 2013, filling the accounts of super PACs that tout specific policy goals or broader electoral agendas, such as helping Democrats or Republicans win the U.S. House or U.S. Senate. Or they’re bankrolling new candidate-specific super PACs that are backing the likes of Democrat Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Like Priorities USA Action and Restore Our Future, the formerly pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future has become peripheral despite its brief attempts to reinvent itself.

Through June, Winning Our Future reported just $4,486 in available cash, federal records show. During the 2012 election cycle, it had raised almost $24 million.

The formerly pro-Rick Santorum Red White and Blue Fund super PAC hasn’t raised a cent during 2013 after collecting millions of dollars from GOP benefactor Foster Friess and others.

It sat atop $95,200 as of June 30, according to federal filings, its meager spending this year going toward consulting fees, database services and a couple of plane tickets.

Endorse Liberty, which supported Republican Ron Paul and was funded primarily by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, only had $13,637 left to its name through June.

After compiling $4 million ahead of the 2012 election, it has failed to raise any money this year despite predictions it would emerge as a force supporting congressional candidates who “uphold the principles of liberty.”

While Endorse Liberty, too, appears destined for the super PAC scrap heap, its latest treasurer says no.

“The PAC has been quietly laying the groundwork to kick off a significant effort in the second half of this year,” said Dan Backer, an Alexandria, Va.-based election lawyer who didn’t detail what the effort would entail.