Super PACs and nonprofits funded by the Koch brothers and Karl Rove, along with their barrage of TV ads, got plenty of media attention in the 2012 presidential election.
But Democrats used similar techniques - often on a smaller scale, with different methods and, in the most prominent instance of the presidential election, more successful results.
Fair Share Action is one example.
The Super PAC created in early August wasn’t a big-bucks operation. The group raised a little more than $5.5 million and spent about $3.7 million, according to the FEC report filed Dec. 6. Hey, the group even ended up with $1.8 million in the bank.
It may not sound like much, but it may have had a significant impact in President Barack Obama’s win over Republican Mitt Romney in the swing state of Colorado.
That’s because Fair Share Action spent at least $1.8 million in the state, much of that working to get out the vote for Obama in Colorado.
The group did spend $497,000 for an ad buy in the closing days of the campaign, according to its independent expenditure reports with the FEC. (You can sort through those records here.) Those ads were purchased in concert with Priorities USA Action, the Super PAC supporting the Obama campaign.
But the bulk of the Fair Share Action’s Colorado cash went to feet on the ground - the group was still running ads for organizers in Boulder’s Daily Camera on election day. And most of that action was in Colorado, though the group also supported candidates in other states, including Florida, Arizona and North Dakota. Here’s what they say about the 2012 campaign on their web page:
"We didn’t win relying on big corporate money. Door to door and vote by vote, Fair Share Action organizers are building a democracy and an economy that works for ALL of us. Fair Share Action weighed in on key electoral battles in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wisconsin."
So if it wasn’t big corporate money, where did the money come from?
From Denver philanthropist and gay activist Tim Gill, for one. Gill kicked in $250,000 to the group and his Gill Action Fund gave $218,000 in September. AFSCME, the public employees union, kicked in $100,000 around the same time. Merle Chambers, who turned to philanthropy after selling her oil and gas company in 1997, gave $200,000 in October.
And like Rove’s various American Crossroads mingled groups, Fair Share Action is part of a larger web of interwoven groups. Fair Share Alliance is a related 501c(4) group that kicked in $500,000 in cash, plus in-kind staff time to the Super PAC. Since such nonprofits don’t have to reveal their donations to the FEC, it’s unclear where the cash came from.
Meanwhile, Environment America gave $550,000 in September. The related Environment America Action Fund gave $1.8 million in November and Environment Colorado gave $250,000 at the end of October.
It’s worth pointing out that Environment America and Fair Share Alliance list the same Washington, D.C., street address. And Environment America is apparently different from, but sharing the same Boston headquarters address, as Environmental Action, which donated $200,000 to Fair Share Action.
That address on the fourth floor of 44 Winter St. is the same address used by Brad Martin, the treasurer for the Fair Share Action Super PAC. Martin is listed as the executive director of Fair Share Action and a senior adviser of Fair Share Alliance.
It’s also worth a mention that the treasurer of Fair Share Alliance’s board of directors is Pete Maysmith, also executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters and former executive director of Colorado Common Cause.
The thing is, one of the main goals for Fair Share Alliance is, as their website says, “Fighting big money in politics.”
Working with Colorado Fair Share and Common Cause, the alliance helped fuel a successful Colorado initiative encouraging the state’s congressional delegation to vote to overturn the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that enabled Super PACS like Fair Share Action. Fair Share Alliance donated $175,000, Colorado Fair Share gave $295,000 and Common Cause gave $51,250 to the groups supporting Amendment 65. The Alliance also contributed $403,900 worth of in-kind support, while Common Cause gave $52,983 in in-kind help.
Earlier this year, Fair Share Alliance told a reporter they’d been transparent in their support of Amendment 65, even though they keep the names of donors to the nonprofit private, even when the money is being used for a political campaign.
This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, that Democratic interests combine their financial and strategic resources to achieve common goals.
Adam Schrager and Rob Witwer did a great job writing about this in their 2010 book "The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”
Obama defeated Mitt Romney by 137,948 votes in Colorado. It sure wasn’t the kind of money Karl Rove and the Koch brothers tossed around in the 2012 campaign. But it’s possible Fair Share Action’s door-to-door canvassing, mailings and phone calls had something to do with that.