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Booker burying Lonegan in super PAC cash dash

Democratic Senate hopeful derides outside money but also benefits from it

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When it comes to super PACs, U.S. Senate candidate and Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker loves demonizing those on the right — even as he's enjoying massive support from those on the left.

A "right-wing super PAC" could be "targeting Cory — with big money behind them," Booker's Democratic campaign wrote to supporters in mid-July.

A few days after, Booker himself alerted backers in a fundraising message that "a tea party super PAC is attacking us," while encouraging his supporters to "prove to everyone in New Jersey that we're stronger than this challenge."

Upon winning his Democratic party primary, Booker warned of "increased hostile spending from right-wing super PACs." And in late August, Addisu Demissie, his campaign manager, issued another warning in separate donation pitch: "With attacks coming from our extreme opponent — and potentially the right-wing super PACs aligned with him — we need to make sure we have the resources to carry this important momentum forward."

But to date, no right-wing super PAC has seriously menaced Booker. Wealthy liberal super PACs and other outside political groups, meanwhile, are aggressively boosting him in his bid to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

Through early October, such organizations have spent more than $592,000 to advocate for Booker's election since he first announced his candidacy in June, with the bulk coming during the primary election that he easily won, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal independent expenditure data.

At least another $1 million is this week on its way soon courtesy of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super PAC, the Independence USA PAC, the New York Times reported today.

Booker's camp says its candidate would battle in the Senate against big money in politics.

"Mayor Booker believes the Citizens United decision has done damage to the democratic process and that Congress needs to do everything it can to rein in the influence of unregulated money in politics," Booker spokeswoman Silvia Alvarez said. "If elected, he will work with his colleagues in the Senate to do just that."

The entry of Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC into the race, as well has heavy pro-Booker super PAC spending in general, doesn't change that, Alvarez added.

"Our position remains the same," she said.

In contrast to Booker's super PAC bonanza, outside political groups have through the past weekend spent about $147,000 as of today to either attack Booker or promote his Republican opponent, businessman Steve Lonegan, himself a former mayor of Bogota, N.J., federal disclosures indicate.

To be sure, Booker's super PAC cash advantage could shrink between now and Election Day on Oct. 16.

That's because recent polls show the race — thought to be a Booker runaway even weeks ago — tightening up. Conservative super PACs and politically active nonprofit groups, which may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to tout or taunt candidates, may yet double down on Lonegan's candidacy.

And there's modest evidence to support the possibility of an 11th hour pro-Lonegan push: More than half of the outside money that groups have spent on slamming Booker's candidacy or promoting Lonegan's has arrived in the form of broadcast and web ads during the past two weeks, according to FEC records.

The American Commitment Action Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based super PAC, has also promised yet-to-be-disclosed "six-figure" ad buy supporting Lonegan.

The Faith Family Freedom Fund, dropped $20,000 on advertisements Friday, federal disclosures indicate.

Together, that's hardly an overwhelming amount of cash, but it's not nothing, either.

An X factor could be conservative organization FreedomWorks, a major spender during the 2012 election, which has endorsed Lonegan but not yet spent money to overtly support him. Conservative group Citizens United has also lent its endorsement, if not its cash, save for a direct contribution to Lonegan's campaign through its PAC.

Nonprofit behemoth Americans for Prosperity, another major independent expenditure-maker in 2012, opened new offices in New Jersey this summer and is active throughout the Garden State. Lonegan used to work for the group as a state-level official. Americans for Prosperity has not yet overtly advocated for his election, though.

A representative for Lonegan asked to take a message when reached by phone. The message was not returned, nor were follow-up phone and email messages.

Despite this pro-Lonegan action, Booker's super PAC friends continue to demonstrate significantly more capacity and a greater willingness to spend money on his behalf.

In addition to Bloomberg's group, the Mobilization Project, a super PAC largely fueled by hedge fund executives, is most notable. It alone spent more than $532,000 to support Booker through telephone campaigns and voter canvassing.

All of its pro-Booker spending occurred prior to Booker's Aug. 13 primary. The group did not return several requests for comment.

Another super PAC, minority-focused PAC Plus, has made more than $34,000 in pro-Booker independent expenditures, all during his primary race. The group, which did not return requests for comment, has promised to spend up to $2 million in support of Booker and is actively seeking donations on its website using Booker's image.

Furthermore, the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund, a PAC with a long history of funneling money into political races to support its preferred candidates, endorsed Booker on Thursday. "He's the leader we need to fight for New Jersey in the United States Senate," Ed Potosnak, executive director of New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.

Will the League fight for Booker using big money? It's not telling.

"We don't have anything to announce at the moment," spokesman Jeff Gohringer said.

Booker and Lonegan never seriously considered signing a so-called "people's pledge," in which they'd publicly denounce independent political groups such as super PACs and voluntarily pay penalties if they benefited from outside group spending.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., signed such a pledge during their election last year, and Booker's Democratic primary opponent, Rep. Frank Pallone, had unsuccessfully pushed for one.

Booker's own campaign committee has about 10 times the cash on hand through early October — $2.63 million to $241,000 — based on statements from each campaign.