National super PACs have had a major impact in the 2012 cycle to date. Now, as the presidential primary is joined by state level contests, it looks like they may be coming to a town near you.
Two former aides to former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D), Jeff Ruppert and Louis Capobianco, have filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and are actively building Ohians for Opportunity, a super PAC focused solely on the crucial swing state that they hope will be an influential force on the liberal side of the political spectrum.
“We view this as another tool for progressives to get involved in Ohio,” Ruppert told TPM in an exclusive interview, saying the new super PAC is “…critical for our friends and allies to use to further progressive causes.”
“It was an opportunity,” Capobianco told TPM, also saying that his former boss and current Obama re-election co-chair, former Gov. Stickland, will not be involved in fundraising for the super PAC. “We wanted to be prepared.”
There’s good reason for those on the left side of the aisle to get ready — conservatives have been gathering funds for 2012 at an astounding rate nationally. Besides the major super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates (which has totalled nearly $65 million), Karl Rove-affiliated American Crossroads super PAC has raised more money than all super PACs defining themselves as “liberal” combined, according to FEC filings and the Center for Responsive Politics. And that includes super PACs allied with progressive powerhouses like the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, and Priorities USA, supporting President Obama.
But Ohioans for Opportunity is one of the first major super PACs to appear at the state level. The quintessential swing state on the presidential side, Ohio also has a major Senate race in 2012. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is a first term incumbent that won his seat in the Democratic wave of 2006, and enters the race with good poll numbers. But his likely opponent — state Treasurer Josh Mandel — has been a prolific fundraiser if mostly unknown thus far. Democrats in the state respect Mandel’s ability to raise cash, so a super PAC supportive of Brown will likely be welcome news for Dems, especially if national conservatives attack hard in the state.
“The races are going to depend,” Capobianco said when asked by TPM where their super PAC may focus its efforts. “We as individuals are very supportive of Senator Brown. Obviously there are other folks playing in these spaces, and we want to make sure we are value added….This entity was formed with interest in multiple races.”
Thus far, super PACs have seemed especially good at one thing — going negative. And with no official connection between super PACs and the campaigns they support, individual candidates are able to say they have nothing to do with all the nastiness, decry it and still accept the political benefits of the televised onslaught.
Ruppert and Capobianco also said they hope to draw some strength from the surge of activity on the progressive side after Ohio’s referendum on Senate Bill 5, legislation passed by Republicans in the state that would have stripped collective bargaining rights public unions in the name of curtailing state and local budgets. Ohio voters rejected the measure by over twenty points, as a major political organization funded by Democratic allies and labor unions sprang up to defeat it. Ohioans for Opportunity may benefit from some of that energy, they said.
“It appears that there’s a group who are remaining motivated in 2012 and mobilizing folks who who supported their cause,” Ruppert said, declining to say whether SB 5 would be a major wedge issue driven by the super PAC.
But along that line, Ruppert said that the new super PAC can be a source of progressive support where it may have been limited before. “I work with many groups, and you see people that want to be involved, but they get blocked in one way, blocked in another,” he said. “Citizens United opened up just another way to be involved in the process.”
TPM asked if the new super PACs were a positive development, if it allows more people to participate.
“I don’t know if its positive or negative,” Capobianco said. “It’s the law.”
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Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.