Super PACs at the state and local level won’t just come in the form of business oriented groups with specific legislative goals. Another trend slowly developing—ideologically motivated Super PACs that are using smaller local campaigns just to get noticed. Liberty for All is one group trying to do just that.
A 21-year-old college student, John Ramsey, initially founded the 527 to back Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s presidential run.
But since then, Liberty for All has spent more than $500,000 running television ads in Kentucky supporting Republican Thomas Massie, who’s running in the state’s 4th Congressional District. More recently, the Super PAC began adding former aides from Paul’s New Hampshire staff to its roster and is working on developing a 501(c)(4) so it has an official political advocacy wing. While Liberty for All is still working up a list of 10 general election targets for this fall, one of its more interesting decisions is the group’s backing of Michael Cargill, a Democratic candidate for constable in Travis County, Texas.
He’s challenging incumbent Adan Ballesteros and has dubbed his opponent the “cocaine constable.” Cargill alleges the former Texas Department of Public Safety officer allowed 2,000 kilos of cocaine to cross the border from Mexico back in 1991, in addition to accepting cash gifts from drug cartels—claims Ballesteros vehemently denies. The allegation stems from a DPS investigation that resulted in Cargill’s dismissal from the agency some 14 years ago, but no charges were ever filed in the aftermath.
Politifact Texas dug into the claims being pushed by Cargill and Liberty for All, but couldn’t find enough to substantiate either side, leaving the claim unrated. Cargill was able to force the primary election to a runoff, set for July 31. Liberty for All, meanwhile, has spent more than $35,000 echoing Cargill’s “cocaine constable” message in campaign mailers.
“I’m hoping they’re going to be the tipping point,” says Cargill, who is welcoming the backing of the outside group. Liberty for All was drawn to Cargill’s cause because it views government as most relevant and unchecked at the local level, according to Preston Bates, the Super PAC’s executive director. But there’s another reason the group engaged in Cargill’s race.
“Local elections present opportunities to spend less money and have a long-run profound impact,” Bates says. “Plus, it’s good advertising for us.”
Despite their growing influence, a note of caution—state level Super PACs aren’t completely running amok. Many state-level groups still face regulation and a number of local campaign finance regimes are sorting out the post-Citizens United world with an eye toward curtailing the influence of such groups on the local level.
What is certain is that business and other local interests are increasingly headed the Super PAC route regardless of nuances in the rules governing them. Even in Arizona, where regulations on state-level Super PACs are more stringent, the groups are cropping up quickly.
The Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has had a PAC since 1978, but it recently formed a certified Super PAC. After obtaining the 500 individual contributions of $10 or more, as required by state law, the Super PAC set up shop, says Robert Medler, the Metro Chamber’s vice president of government affairs. Medler expects the chamber will begin evaluating pro-business candidates in the coming weeks.
“When you look at chambers of commerce and business organizations, the players have a Super PAC,” says Medler. “It’s a status symbol.”
Dave Nyczepir is the staff writer at Campaigns & Elections