“$10,000 is great for a candidate, and they’re appreciative,” Sullivan continued. “But that and another $10 million is what they need to run a campaign. We wanted to be able to do more.… Under the current environment, that doesn’t make the kind of impact Marco wanted to make.”
That’s why Rubio’s group, Reclaim America, has stepped beyond the usual leadership PAC role. In addition to the $10,000 that Rubio’s PAC sent to Representative Tom Cotton’s Senate campaign in 2013, it directed another $18,000 to the Arkansan by soliciting and collecting money straight from Reclaim America donors. On top of that, Reclaim America spent another $200,000 airing its own pro-Cotton TV advertisement last fall as Democrats began attacking him.
Reclaim America also aired TV ads supporting Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire as gun-control advocates went after her voting record last year, and the Rubio PAC just started running TV ads in support of Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst this week.
Another potential 2016 presidential candidate, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, did a similar thing last election, when his leadership PAC (Reinventing a New Direction, which—you guessed it—shortens to RAND PAC) spent $400,000 on ads bashing five Democrats running for Senate over foreign aid. Rubio’s group bundled donations for several Republican Senate candidates in 2012, too.
On the other side, more-conventional spreading of leadership PAC dollars seems to be down. The two leading potential Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, don’t have them. An array of pro-Clinton super PACs have already formed to marshal money on her behalf, including Ready for Hillary, which took a legal step this week that allows it to donate to candidates like a leadership PAC, while Biden is reportedly uninterested in forming a leadership PAC partly because of concerns about its impact.
You can count the candidates who have received donations from Rubio, Paul, or Senator Ted Cruz on two hands (though there is plenty of time left for them to give money), while New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s perch as chairman of the super-PAC-like Republican Governors Association offers a vehicle for raising and spending money that makes a leadership PAC redundant.
Several regular industry PACs have adopted souped-up outside spending strategies similar to those of Rubio and Paul. The American Society of Anesthesiologists has spent about $300,000 on independent expenditures this year, well ahead of its pace in 2010 and 2012, when almost all of its $620,000 in direct election spending came in the late summer and fall. The American Hospital Association PAC spent about $400,000 in early May to produce and air TV ads supporting Democratic Sens. Mark Begich in Alaska and Mark Pryor in Arkansas. That’s more money than the AHA spent on Senate races in either 2010 or 2012, coming all of six months before voters in either state will cast ballots.