Even Americans for Prosperity, the main political group of the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch (once regarded as the most secretive of secret spenders), has opened up about its spending, instructing its press shop to provide reporters with details about its $72 million worth of ad buys.
So the operatives running the superPACs and nonprofits are scrambling to prove they made a difference in any way they can. They're positioning themselves to claim credit for successes, dodge blame for failures and prove that they're not one-trick ponies that can only do narrowly targeted advertising.
A coalition of groups in the Koch brothers' network -- including Americans for Prosperity, 60 Plus, Concerned Women for America and CitizenLink -- met recently to discuss how to prove they were giving donors bang for their buck.
The pro-Romney Restore Our Future superPAC has been boasting to donors that its advertising in Michigan and Wisconsin helped make both states competitive, while the nonprofit American Future Fund has sought to differentiate itself from the crowd by spending on anti-Obama ads in Midwestern turf not long ago regarded as nearly impossible for Romney to win -- Minnesota.
It's all being done with an eye toward after the election, when operatives, donors and fundraisers expect a major reshuffling of the conservative groups that reaped an unprecedented flow of cash resulting from rich Republicans' enmity for President Barack Obama and from the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision loosening campaign finance rules.
"Without question, after it's over, there is going to be a sorting out of who got the job done, and I think there will be some who might lay claim to accomplishments that they maybe didn't personally accomplish," said Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot.
"Some of these organizations will gain in stature and some will probably fall by the wayside," said VanderSloot, who has contributed $1.1 million to Restore Our Future, raised at least $2 million more for Romney's campaign and hinted he might have given to Crossroads.
To be sure, after every election there's typically both a donor drought and a bit of upheaval in which some techniques and operatives rise and fall. But the combination of a Democratic president seen as beatable plus a concerted effort to create a permanent coalition of unlimited money independent groups that form a shadow partyrivaling the traditional party committees ups the ante this year.
Restore Our Future, which had raised $97 million through August, has sought to protect its standing with donors, holding phone calls with them at least twice a month, along with regular gatherings on the sidelines of Romney campaign finance events, including one in August at the Republican National Convention in Tampa featuring Olympic gold medalists and a "strategybriefing" on Tuesday afternoon at New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel.
Co-founder Charlie Spies wouldn't comment on either Rove's criticism or the calls but did say "we don't have to 'protect' ourselves because we have kept our donors involved with our strategy every step of the way, and their support is evidenced by their continued generous giving."
If Obama beats Romney and Democrats maintain control of the Senate, conservative finance operatives predict that there are going to be a whole lot of angry donors demanding answers or, worse, closing their checkbooks.
In fact, some are already expressing more interest in grass-roots organizing, partly as a result of mounting questions about the effectiveness of the record television ad barrage, said Ned Ryun, president of American Majority Action.
The Koch brothers' groups are also emphasizing voter contact and mobilization ahead of Election Day.
Koch political operative Sean Noble recently led a meeting in Washington outlining metrics to demonstrate effectiveness to donors in the weeks before the election, including total number of voter contacts. The meeting drew representatives from Koch-backed groups Americans for Prosperity, the conservative seniors group 60 Plus Association and the Hispanic outreach outfit Libre Initiative, Concerned Women for America and the James Dobson-affiliated evangelical outfit CitizenLink.
AFP has seen its fundraising soar -- it's on pace to spend $135 million in 2012 -- by demonstrating to donors that it's not just focusing on the next election, said its president, Tim Phillips. "Our mission is to build a long-term grass-roots infrastructure focused on economic freedom in the states that's going to be bigger, stronger and more organized in January of 2013 to fight the next wave of issue battles," he said.
"There are plenty of groups doing TV ads -- and that's good, by the way -- but if you're a donor who thinks TV ads are important, and you also want to have your money build a grass-roots infrastructure that can knock on hundreds of thousands of doors and make millions of calls, then there really isn't anybody like Americans for Prosperity," he added.
Yet this particular election has created the ideal environment for conservative fundraising, suggested the Koch brothers' top fundraising operative in an email last week urging groups in his network to hit up donors now.
Kevin Gentry wrote, "If you're involved in the public policy process and if your work is related to the appropriate role and size of government in a free society, then right now you should be at the ultimate point of your fundraising effectiveness."
That gusher won't continue after Nov. 6, said Stanley Hubbard, a Minnesota media mogul and major Republican donor.
"No matter what, there's going to be a little slowdown, because people have been giving so much money in this particular time period that I think they're going to take a breath," Hubbard said. "After 2013, it's a different story again. Then, you reassess the situation, see where you are and ask if there is any critical need to donate."
Hubbard attends the Koch brothers' donor summits, has given to Americans for Prosperity and, through his company, donated at least $250,000 to Restore Our Future and Rove's Crossroads. He said he'll continue his AFP giving, because "they always deliver," but suggested the jury was still out on Crossroads. "I think their ads are pretty good, so we'll see what happens," he said. "Who knows? ... They might fold. I have no idea what they're going to do."
Of course, donor attitudes will still depend on the final results. "If Romney wins, all will be forgiven. There will be fewer questions," Ryun said. "They're less likely to ask to see data on specific deliverables and return on investment."
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