This week, U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-McHenry) mocked Tammy Duckworth for an upcoming fundraiser in Santa Monica, California and holding a contest that allows an 8th district voter to win an expense paid trip to California to see the Democratic candidate speak.
The gambit is part of Tea Partier Walsh’s larger point that he is always in the 8th district, while Duckworth is the candidate of national Democratic power brokers.
But Duckworth campaign manager Kaitlin Fahey contends that money from so-called Super Political Action Committees is why Duckworth “is doing fundraising around the country.” Indeed, in the past week, Super PACs threw $1.03 million behind Walsh, according to information culled from the Center for Responsive Politics.
The National Republican Congressional Committee then responded with its own donation of $457,800 to Walsh.
The Duckworth campaign touted this summer that they raised the most money of any U.S. House campaign in the country. But now they must contend with Super PACs, organizations that can spend an unlimited amount to support or oppose a candidate as long as they do not directly coordinate with a campaign. This unlimited spending was made possible by the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case.
After winning the Democratic nomination in March, Duckworth approached Walsh about both candidates publicly renouncing the use of Super PACs, an offer Walsh declined.
As to whether Duckworth is benefiting from Super PAC money, Fahey acknowledges a $20,756 expenditure by the liberal CREDO Super PAC, money that is officially anti-Walsh, not pro-Duckworth. But Fahey says that, to her knowledge, no other Super PAC money is being used toward Duckworth’s benefit.
The Walsh-Duckworth situation is similar to what is going on nationally, as Republican candidates enjoy significantly more money from Super PACs.
While Super PACs may not coordinate with campaigns, they can coordinate with each other. “There are no constraints on them coordinating with one another and there are more reports of coordination between conservative Super PACs than on the Democratic side,” says Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington D.C. watchdog group.
Walsh is benefiting from two Super PACs that specifically focus on cutting taxes and shrinking government. The Missouri-based Now or Never Super PAC gave Walsh $917,320, or more than half of the $1.6 million that it has awarded candidates.
The Texas-based Freedomworks For America gave the comparably small donation of $115,000. But it bears watching what further role Freedomworks plays in this election.
Former Republican U.S. House leader Dick Armey runs Freedomworks and the organization has given millions to Tea Party candidates. This includes spending $341,503 this spring toward a successful effort to oust veteran Indiana Senator Richard Lugar in a Republican primary. Freedomworks deemed Lugar insufficiently conservative and put money behind Tea Party-backed Richard Mourdock, the eventual nominee.
According to campaign manager Fahey, the cash influx to Walsh is not that worrisome for Duckworth, who is ahead in the polls. “We always anticipated that this was going to be a close race,” Fahey says.