Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rove's Swift Boat Backer

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By Zachary Roth

He’s back! Harold Simmons, the man who bankrolled the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry, is the primary funder of Karl Rove’s “grassroots” group that threatens to shake up this fall’s midterms.

The billionaire Texas businessman who funded the Swift Boat attack on John Kerry is back in the saddle—along with a few other conservative money-men—bankrolling Karl Rove’s latest effort to win control of Washington for the Republican Party.

American Crossroads, launched with fanfare as a “grassroots” group in March by Rove and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, raised $3.4 million last month, according to forms submitted by the group to the IRS and examined by The Daily Beast. That’s by far the best monthly haul to date for the group, which aims to help GOP candidates this fall by running ads and talking to voters in Senate races across the country.

The June contributions offer the first hard evidence that Rove’s new project can be a major player this fall in support of GOP candidates across the country.

But 97 percent of that total came from three deep-pocketed backers of conservative causes. Rove and Co. took in $1 million from Southwest Louisiana Land LLC, one of numerous companies run by Harold Simmons. The media-shy Dallas investor and waste industry magnate, who declined through an assistant to comment for this article, may be the closest thing the right has to its own George Soros. In 2004, he was one of three major backers—to the tune of $2 million—of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which helped sink Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign with a series of misleading TV ads attacking the Democrat’s Vietnam record. In 2008, Simmons sought to reprise that role, giving $2.8 million to the American Issues Project, which ran ads tying Barack Obama to Bill Ayers. Simmons was also a major backer of Sen. John McCain and, in the 1980s, a contributor to the defense funds of the Iran-Contra figures Oliver North and John Poindexter.

American Crossroads also received $1 million from TRT Holdings, which controls the Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym chains. The firm is owned by Robert Rowling, a Dallas-based oilman and major bankroller of conservative causes. Rowling gave $1 million to another group, Progress for America Voter Fund, to support President Bush in 2004; his office did not respond to a request for comment.

And the biggest single contribution to American Crossroads, $1.3 million, came from B. Wayne Hughes, the Malibu-dwelling CEO of Public Storage, who reportedly gave $1 million to help elect Arnold Schwarzenegger governor of California. (Asked for comment, a spokesman for Public Storage said Hughes does not speak to the press.)

American Crossroads had announced this spring that it planned to raise $52 million, but until recently had managed just over $1.75 million, Politico has reported. Aside from a $250,000 contribution from Hughes in March, American Crossroads’ only other major reported take-in has been $1 million in April from Trevor Rees-Jones, another Texas businessman and major Republican financier.

The June contributions offer the first hard evidence that Rove’s new project can be a major player this fall in support of GOP candidates across the country. Already, it has spent $360,000 on ads in Nevada—criticized as misleading in the local press—attacking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is in a tight re-election race with Republican Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle. The group also has named 10 other swing Senate races, in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington, where it plans to get involved on behalf of the GOP nominee.

American Crossroads recently created a spinoff group, American Crossroads GPS, which reported raising $5.1 million in June, its first month in operation. But because that group is set up as a 501c4 rather than a 527, it can run only issue-based ads, not direct advocacy for the election or defeat of a candidate. The designation also means, however, that unlike the original American Crossroads, the group does not have to disclose its donors.

A spokesman for American Crossroads did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the group’s financing.

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