Karl Rove-linked group seeks to raise $120 million for 2012 elections

@katiecouric: Karl Rove - Katie Couric speaks with Karl Rove, Former Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush.
Karl Rove, Former Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Adviser to President George W. Bush.

Updated 12:37 p.m. Eastern Time

A pair of Karl Rove-affiliated conservative groups - American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS - announced Tuesday morning that they are seeking to raise $120 million through the end of 2012 to help defeat President Obama and boost the electoral prospects of Republicans.

The groups, which are also tied to prominent GOP operative Ed Gillespie, cast the effort as necessary to combat spending by unions, which they said spent $400 million to boost Mr. Obama in the 2008 race and will spend "significantly" more in 2012.

"You can't outspend the unions - but you can outcompete them with a faster and leaner organization that offers more bang for the buck," Crossroads Communications Director Jonathan Collegio said in a statement Tuesday morning. "That is what the Crossroads groups plan to do in 2012." The group also said Tuesday it is setting up a "Presidential Action Fund" that will focus on effective messaging.

(Collegio pointed to this Associated Press story when about the $400 million union spending figure. The Service Employees International Union says it spent $85 million in the 2008 cycle, while the other large labor union - the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - spent $67 million on political activities in 2008.)

Outside groups rose to prominence in the 2008 election cycle thanks in part to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allowed for unlimited corporate and union spending to influence elections. They were also boosted because prominent conservative donors, concerned about the competence of the Republican National Committee under then-chairman Michael Steele, were looking for alternatives. While American Crossroads, a so-called 527 group, must disclose its donors, Crossroads GPS - a 501(c)(4) group - can keep them secret. (One important note: 501(c)(4) groups have to spend at least half their money on public policy advocacy and other issues not tied to electoral politics.)

The Crossroads groups raised $71 million in the 2010 cycle, making them the second-largest outside spending force behind the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, according to the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper found that outside groups, among them the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, supporting each side spent about $300 million in the cycle.

Charles and David Koch, the billionaire businessmen who have become a target of liberal ire for their aggressive spending on behalf of conservative politicians, are planning to contribute and steer $88 million to conservative causes in the 2012 cycle, sources told Politico last month. While Rove and Gillespie's operation is focused on winning elections, the Koch brothers are reportedly pushing a more ideological vision for the GOP focused on free markets and smaller government. The brothers helped found the Americans for Prosperity groups, which spent heavily in the 2010 cycle and which keep their donors secret.

Charles Koch said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Tuesday that "years of tremendous overspending" by the government drove him and his family to become politically active.

"Because of our activism, we've been vilified by various groups," he said. "Despite this criticism, we're determined to keep contributing and standing up for those politicians, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who are taking these challenges seriously."(The Public Campaign Action Fund deemed the op-ed hypocritical for claims like "Too many businesses have successfully lobbied for special favors and treatment by seeking mandates for their products, subsidies [in the form of cash payments from the government], and regulations or tariffs to keep more efficient competitors at bay" in light of Koch Industries' own lobbying and the federal subsidies the company receives.)

With some on the left feeling they had been caught flat-footed by the rise of the conservative outside groups in 2010, liberal groups have been mobilizing to create what they cast as a counterweight. One such group is American Bridge, which is affiliated with Media Matters founder David Brock and former Maryland Lieutenant Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.