Super-Wacko-Birds

Ted Cruz has managed to distract attention from Rand Paul’s campaign launch by letting it be known that four Super-PACs have been set up to support his own candidacy, with commitments already in for a cool $31 million. If you boil off all the chattering about the size of the contributions (not really all that much in the larger scheme of things) and the amnesia about the role Super-PACs played in 2012, two things seem to make this noteworthy: how early the money came in, and the structure of the Cruz Super-PACS, which suggest an unprecedented degree of specialization and micro-managing of Grandee dollars.

This latter dimension was explored at Bloomberg Politics (which broke the story on the Cruz Super-PACs) by Julie Bykowicz and Heidi Przybyla:

One of the constellation of committees first reported Wednesday by Bloomberg appears to be underwritten by Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer and his family. Campaign lawyers said the arrangement is unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.

“It’s something to watch,” said Jason Abel of Steptoe & Johnson, who is not involved with the super-PACs. Abel and other lawyers speculated that multiple committees, all of which are named some form of “Keep the Promise,” were created to satisfy the whims of individual donors.

“It appears that setting up multiple super-PACs would allow maximum flexibility for certain donors to push their issues,” Abel said. The Campaign Legal Center’s Paul Ryan suggested that the arrangement creates “different pots of money for donors to fund different things.”

A strategist involved with the committees, who asked not to be named because he’s not authorized to speak publicly, corroborated those theories. Each of the super-PACs—Keep the Promise and three “sub-super-PACs” dubbed Keep the Promise I, Keep the Promise II and Keep the Promise III—will be controlled by a different donor family, and will likely develop different specialities, such as data mining, television advertising and polling, the strategist said.

If that’s accurate, it means another step in the evolution of Super-PACs as instruments for donor control of politicians. The 2012 versions were organizations set up by candidates to serve as conduits for big donor dollars that didn’t just go into the hungry maw of the campaign, much less national “issue organizations,” but went directly into ads or other tangible products. It seems the Cruz Super-PACs will allow even greater targeting of dollars beyond the control of the candidate and his dollar-hungry consultants. Add in the early timing, and it’s plausible that these Super-Wacko-Birds feel they are steering rather than simply maintaining the Cruz campaign. I guess that’s how these people want to roll.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.