Less than a year after the conclusion of his marathon Senate contest against Al Franken, Norm Coleman is back. He’s teaming up with other GOP heavy-hitters on a new group that will likely take advantage of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision to pour money into congressional races this fall.
Coleman is the CEO of American Action, which launched in February, billing itself as an “action tank” — thinking without action is for liberals, it seems — that will act as a center-right version of the Center for American Progress. That’s the John-Podesta-run operation that has proven adept both at incubating progressive policies and at shaping the day-to-day political debate. The yearly budget for the new venture has been reported at around $4 million.
Through its political arm, the American Action Network (AAN), Coleman’s group plans to spend a reported $25 million to run ads around 8 to 10 Senate races, and 25 House races this year, the former senator told National Journal. And it will be helped by January’s Citizens United decision, which said that corporations can spend unlimited amounts on ads that directly advocate the election or defeat of candidates. “We’ll use the tools available to us in the post-Citizens United [world],” he told National Journal.
The group has assembled an impressive coterie of Republican power players. It was the brainchild of Fred Malek, the influential Washington GOP operative who, as a young aide in the Nixon White House, agreed to the president’s request that he count the number of Jews then working for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Also on the group’s board are former Republican senators George Allen and Mel Martinez, and former House members Jim Nussle, Vin Weber, and Susan Molinari. Haley Barbour, Jeb Bush, and Ed Gillespie also are reportedly involved. And the group’s executive director, Rob Collins, is a former chief of staff to Rep. Eric Cantor, the GOP whip.
In an interview with TPMmuckraker, Collins downplayed American Action’s plans to get involved in congressional races, describing the group as “primarily a policy organization,” and stressing that no decisions had been made on which races it would seek to influence. “We’re still working on some of the more logistical ends of the operation,” he said.
Collins declined to provide information on the group’s funding, saying that, like groups across the political spectrum, it doesn’t reveal its donors. That raises the possibility that AAN could conceivably function, like the Chamber of Commerce may do, as a way for corporations to direct unlimited funds to support or oppose specific candidates, without the money being tied to them.
AAN released a poll today finding a dead heat in the Pennsylvania House race for the seat previously held by the late John Murtha. Collins said AAN was considering running ads in the race, which is between Democrat Mark Critz and Republican Tim Burns.
As for its plans to take advantage of the Citizens United decision, Collins said: “We will comply with the law.”