KARL ROVE AND A FEW BILLIONAIRES WALK INTO A BAR…. About a month ago, a right-wing outfit called American Crossroads, created by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie to destroy Democratic campaigns, reported on its recent fundraising. After raising over $1 million in start-up funds, the GOP campaign operation had collected only $200.

While the figure prompted some guffaws, the delight on the left was short-lived — because that initial fundraising report proved to be misleading. Rove’s operation has actually collected $4.7 million since its launch, and a spinoff entity called American Crossroads GPS pulled in $5.1 million in June. All of these resources will go towards smearing key Democratic candidates over the next 100 days.

American Crossroads GPS can legally hide its donors, while the regular ol’ American Crossroads is required to report on its contributions and expenditures. So, while secrecy rules the day for the spinoff operation, Justin Elliott reports on who’s filling the coffers of Rove’s original campaign operation.

Virtually all of the $4.7 million raised by Karl Rove’s new conservative outfit was contributed by just four billionaires, three of whom are based in Dallas, Texas, and two of whom made their fortune in the oil and gas industry. […]

Salon’s review of its IRS filings show that four billionaires have contributed 97 percent of the $4.7 million it has raised to date. There are no limits on how much corporations, unions, and individuals can donate to 527 groups.

When Rove’s attack entity was launched, it was billed as a “grassroots” effort. If you count for conservative, billionaire oil men as “grassroots,” then American Crossroads is living up to its billing.

Also note, the original idea was for the outfit to raise $50 million for anti-Democratic attack ads. Kenneth Vogel reported this week, the goal was likely be easily surpassed: “A spokesman on Tuesday said American Crossroads GPS, combined with its parent group, intended to raise a combined total of ‘approximately $50 million’ to attack Democrats and boost Republicans headed into the 2010 midterm elections. But that seems to be a downgrading of ambitions, given that when American Crossroads publicly launched it boasted that it would raise between $50 million and $60 million, while the spin-off has set a budget of $43 million, according to the ‘concept paper.’”

Democrats can take some comfort in the RNC’s humiliating problems, but Rove and his cohorts are in a position to make up the difference. They won’t legally be able to coordinate with the parties, but they’ll be smearing Democrats relentlessly over the next couple of months, thanks to unchecked and unlimited contributions from billionaires to a shadowy GOP operation.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.