This Politico article caught my eye last week. Its title is, “Playing to donors, GOP Groups Spill some Secrets” but, from a MoF perspective, this undersells the article. It is a great look at how, ten years after BCRA, the network of affiliated party groups is different from a formal organization like the RNC.

One interesting contrast is that the outside groups face competitive pressures in the market for donors. Politico (Vogel) reports:

Conservative super PACs and outside groups face the very real possibility they’ll have spent $1 billion and failed to elect Mitt Romney or deliver a GOP Senate.

That means professional political types could have a lot of explaining to do, especially to the rich donors who financed the record spending spree and are wondering if their investment was squandered

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.

In the short run, outside groups compete for donors by making the case that their group will make the best use of additional funds. In the medium term, groups that fail to achieve their goals may be disappear in a cloud of donors’ disgust.

Contrast this with RNC politics from 2009 to the present. In 2009, Michael Steele was elected RNC chair in an open and fair process. Then, for a variety of reasons (I claim no expertise in RNC politics), his chairmanship came under fire. Still, he was the chairman of the RNC, and critics had little choice but to engage in politics–leaking stories about his mismanagement, urging him to resign, and waiting out the end of his term. Awkwardly.

Ten years ago, most of the outside money would have gone to party committees like the RNC in the form of “soft” money, and at any given time the party would have a central leader and a single strategy, e.g. an allocation of funds for advertising vs. voter turnout.  The network party of 2012 is more agile, and if you like to fire people who provide services to you, you will love having a range of outside groups to choose from. However, in the 2012 game, the party’s electoral strategy is dictated–at least in part–by the uncoordinated preferences of partisan donors. If they have a taste for, say, vicious attack ads over voter turnout, a party’s overall competitiveness may suffer.

[Cross-posted at Mischiefs of Faction]

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Gregory Koger is a professor of political science at the University of Miami. All views expressed are his own.