Rove, of course, was not the only one who would be able to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling. On the Democratic side of the aisle, unions and wealthy liberals such as George Soros would benefit. And there were other Republicans, notably David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers backing the Tea Party, and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a Newt Gingrich man, who often were at odds with Rove.
Within two weeks of the Supreme Court decision, American Crossroads, Rove and Gillespie’s new 527 advocacy group, had its website up. There was no mention whatsoever of Rove. His exact relationship to the group was informal and was described in Politico as providing “a laying on of hands” to encourage wealthy Republican donors. He and Gillespie took off for Texas to meet with some of the men who funded the money machine that had served Rove for more than twenty-five years, and came away with a major pledge from Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, a longtime donor to Rove’s causes. Crossroads GPS, a sister group, was in the works under almost identical leadership. Thanks to its nonprofit status, it would not have to disclose the identity of its contributors.
And so, as a result of Citizens United, the super PAC was born. A new kind of political action committee, officially known as “independent expenditure–only committees,” super PACs were allowed to raise unlimited sums from individuals, corporations, unions, and other groups, provided they operated correctly and did not coordinate their expenditures with the needs of any given candidate.*
Soon there would be super PACs of every stripe imaginable. As Al Kamen reported in his column in The Washington Post, there would be Your America Inc., not to be confused with My America Inc. There would be Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow and Americans for a Better Tomorrow Today. There would be the Faith Family Freedom Fund and the Family Faith Future Fund. For geometry lovers, there was even Americans for More Rhombus.
On March 8, 2010, Gillespie was off to New York, where he pitched other Republican millionaires. Meanwhile, Rove’s list included Carl H. Lindner Jr., a Cincinnati businessman who owned the American Financial Group, a holding company whose primary business is insurance; and Robert B. Rowling, whose TRT Holdings owns Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym. In just one month, American Crossroads had obtained commitments of more than $30 million — about four times what the RNC had in its coffers. “Karl has always said: People call us a vast right-wing conspiracy, but we’re really a half-assed right-wing conspiracy,” explained one Republican fund-raiser. “Now, he wants to get more serious.”
With few exceptions — Mary Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president; former senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.); and GOP fund-raiser Fred Malek, the CEO and chairman of the fledgling American Action Network and a former aide to both Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush — those attending were operatives and fund-raisers whose names were of interest only to political insiders. “They were a number of like-minded people who were alarmed by the direction the country was taking and trying to counter that,” says one operative who was there.
“As we saw it,” says another, “this was a license to raise big money and participate in a new paradigm.”
In addition to Gillespie, Rove enlisted another former RNC chair, Mike Duncan, as chairman of Crossroads. Jo Ann Davidson, a former co-chair of the RNC, was made director. Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi, was an ally as well and yet another former RNC chair. That made a total of four former RNC chairs affiliated with Crossroads.
Rove also brought on Steven J. Law, former general counsel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as president of American Crossroads. In selecting Law as its president, Crossroads had effectively formed an extraordinarily powerful alliance with the Chamber. Once the epitome of Babbitt-like conformity and small-town boosterism, the Chamber of Commerce, under the aegis of its persuasive president, Tom Donohue, had been transformed into the biggest and most powerful lobbyist in the United States. From Goldman Sachs to British Petroleum, Microsoft to Wal-Mart, PepsiCo to General Motors, it represented oil companies, pharmaceutical giants, insurance companies, Wall Street investment banks, automakers, and more. In 2009 alone, the Chamber spent $120 million lobbying — five times what Exxon Mobil, the number-two lobbyist, spent.
Meanwhile, Rove and Gillespie put Crossroads in a network with four other groups — the American Action Network, the American Action Forum, Resurgent Republic, and the Republican State Leadership Committee — as part of an immense fund-raising and advertising machine, separate from the Republican National Committee, to win back both Congress and the White House. Greg Casey’s Business Industry Political Action Committee, also present, planned to spend $6 million to turn out the pro-business vote for the midterm elections. Norm Coleman’s American Action Network expected to spend $25 million. And the Chamber of Commerce was to announce a record election budget of $75 million — double what it had spent in 2008, a presidential election year — most of which would be targeted on nine or ten key Senate races and about three dozen House contests.
Rove and Gillespie pitched American Crossroads as the answer to outside groups such as George Soros’s Democracy Alliance or labor unions that had historically supported Democrats. “Where they have a chess piece on the board, we need a chess piece on the board,” said Gillespie, who is involved in all five groups in roles ranging from chairman to informal adviser.
But in fact it was much more than that. American Crossroads was an alternative to the RNC, which had crumbled under Michael Steele. “Karl set up a parallel organization,” says Roger Stone. “The center of energy will always be where the money is. Karl is playing for control of the party. That’s where the power and the money is.”
ABC Radio talk-show host John Batchelor, a Republican, put it in perspective. “America is a two-party state,” he says. “There are the Democrats. Then there’s Karl Rove.”
Excerpted from Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power by Craig Unger. Copyright © 2012 by Craig Unger. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.