Party Elites Helping Insurgent Candidates in the Push to November

Tea Party favorite Rand Paul has backing from Steve Forbes and Jeb Bush.

July 27, 2010 -- Establishment money is helping to fuel the campaigns of anti-establishment candidates.

Consider Kentucky's Rand Paul, a favorite of small-government "Tea Party" activists. Since winning the GOP primary May 18, the ophthalmologist and first-time candidate has been busy working to rebuild his campaign coffers. This month, he collected $50,000 at a fundraiser with former presidential candidate Steve Forbes at New York's Harvard Club. Monday night, a fundraiser in Kentucky featured former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the son of a U.S. president and the brother of another one. Tickets started at $1,000 a person.

The fundraising with his party's elite hasn't altered Paul's push for "real reform in Washington," said his spokesman Jesse Benton. "It's great to see a broad coalition of people coming to support him because it takes a broad coalition of people to win a United States Senate seat," Benton said.

Four of the highest-profile insurgent candidates who won GOP primaries in this year's turbulent elections are beginning to tap donations from political action committees, along with the organizational strength and financial resources of their party's leaders, newly filed campaign reports and interviews show.

Until recently, candidates backed by the burgeoning Tea Party movement "were putting up very modest fundraising numbers ... because people who make big political contributions rarely want to bet on a long shot," said Dave Levinthal of the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money. "But as some have won their primaries, their political legitimacy has attracted attention."


• In Utah, Republican Mike Lee, who helped knock out three-term incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett at a GOP nominating convention in May, raised about $100,000 on July 13 at a Washington fundraiser with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Dan Hauser, Lee's deputy campaign manager. Lee, who was backed by the California-based Tea Party Express, won the GOP nomination last month.

"Any time you finally have a nominee, the doors are a little bit more open than they were before," Hauser said. "We don't take the position that PAC money is inherently evil. As long as contributors understand Mike's stances, we will accept the money."

• In Nevada, Republican Sharron Angle, another candidate who touts her outsider credentials, raised more than $2.6 million from April 1 through June 30, narrowly besting her rival, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who raised $2.4 million. More than $303,000, or nearly 10 percent, of Angle's total haul in the election cycle came in the form of contributions collected through Club for Growth, an influential Washington advocacy group that pushes for lower taxes and smaller government. Angle's campaign did not return telephone calls.

The Club for Growth has long been active in congressional races around the country. This year, it is collecting smaller donations from its 50,000 members and "bundling" them together for candidates who support "economic freedom," said David Keating, Club for Growth's executive director. Candidates helped by Club for Growth in this election cycle include Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., who had Tea Party support to win a special election last month, and Tea Party-backed Doug Hoffman, running for Congress in New York.

• In Florida, Republican Marco Rubio raised $4.5 million from April 1 through June 30, the biggest haul in the quarter for a candidate in an open Senate race. It included nearly $257,000 in donations from political committees, such as business PACs and the campaign committees of Republican leaders. In the previous three months, he reported $27,000 in contributions from such committees.

Among Rubio's PAC donations: $10,000 from the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. Its 300,000 members oppose federal regulation of their business and view Rubio as "the state's rights candidate in this election," said Nathan Riedel, who oversees political affairs for the group.

Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos said the "heart and soul" of the campaign's fundraising remains grass-roots donors. But "as people have learned about him and what he stands for," Burgos said, "it's just natural people would come to recognize Marco as the only candidate who is prepared to go to Washington to be a check and balance."

This year, Rubio defied party leaders to mount a primary campaign against Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist is now running as an independent.

Rubio was endorsed Friday by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, but he said support from the nation's biggest business group doesn't diminish his outsider credentials. "Folks are buying into our agenda," he said. "We're not buying into their agenda."