With the 2010 congressional races now moving sharply into focus, Republican operatives in Washington have quietly begun assembling new organizations to target big-money donors for six-figure contributions to select GOP candidates.
Last month, a group of former campaign consultants and aides to Sen. John McCain filed tax papers needed to form a new fundraising group under the name Grow Our Party, and began approaching large donors.
A solicitation document obtained by ABC News lays out the group's pitch: "For each race on which Grow Our Party focuses, we will sponsor television and radio ads that aid key candidates, influence voters through direct outreach programs and engage local grassroots leaders," the appeal says.
"All contributions to Grow Our Party will go directly to helping targeted candidates. We use only Presidential-level pollsters, ad makers, strategic advisors, direct mail and phone vendors to ensure an elite level of targeted persuasion efforts," it says, before asking for donations as high as $500,000.
The group is chaired by Bill Bloomfield, a Manhattan Beach, California developer who has donated heavily to Arnold Schwarzenegger and who headed up volunteer recruiting efforts for McCain in 2008. Bloomfield bundled between $250,000 and $500,000 for McCain's White House bid and donated more than $58,000 personally, according to the Center for Responsive Politics Bo Harmon, a veteran campaign consultant who served as a McCain direct mail specialist in 2008, Trevor Potter, McCain's long time legal adviser, and John Green, a DC lobbyist who also served as a top McCain adviser, have all taken on leadership roles.
Despite the presence of so many former McCain aides – and Harmon's suggestion that the group may put money behind McCain's effort to fend off a primary challenge in Arizona – the founders do not want the group to be tied to McCain effort. In fact, Harmon said, McCain had no hand in its formation.
"Grow Our Party will support Republican candidates across the country at all levels who are helping to show those voters that there is a home for them within the Republican Party," Harmon said in an email response to questions.
The group, which has been organized under section 527 of the tax code, meaning it can collect unlimited amounts from individual and corporate donors, has been seeking support from what political fundraisers call whales – donors who can contribute massive amounts. Harmon would not identify any donors, but their names will be disclosed in periodic filings with the IRS.
Grow Our Party joins several other major efforts to launch new Republican political groups, including one by a group of party operatives from Capitol Hill who have opened a policy shop that will furnish candidates with position papers and research. American Action Network is being overseen by former Sen. Norm Coleman and run by Rep. Eric Cantor's former chief of staff, Rob Collins.
The groups are forming in part to counter the surge in prominence of several Democratic groups over the past decade, including the creation last year of Organizing for America, the massive grass roots entity formed by President Obama's top aides after the 2008 election. Labor organizations and the group MoveOn.org are also gearing up for the 2010 contests.
Republicans made similar efforts in advance of the 2008 election season, but most of them never got off the ground. The most prominent of them was called Freedom's Watch, which was intended to bolster GOP efforts, but largely fizzled as major donors either sat out the campaign or placed their money elsewhere.