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Dark money: Just when you thought you'd finally mastered all the intricacies of the behind-the-scenes campaign finance world -- knowing your 501(c)(4)s from your 527s -- along comes a totally new type of entity, or at least one new to dark money applications. It's a 501(c)(6), alternately described as a "trade association" or "chamber of commerce" -- but either way, its donors get to remain undisclosed. And wouldn't you know it ... the Koch brothers are the first to have one, as revealed by an IRS filing first leaked to Politico.

The group is known as Freedom Partners, was formed in November 2011, and is operated by GOP operative Marc Short. The amount of money it raised and spent in 2012 is staggering: $256 million, coming from only about 200 donors paying, at a minimum, annual dues of $100,000. If you're thinking that you didn't see any ads last year from "Freedom Partners," well, you didn't; they acted more as a consolidator and funneler of funds, passing that money along to groups that did do the advertising, like the American Future Fund, the 60 Plus Association, Concerned Women for America, Center to Protect Patient Rights, and the more-directly-Koch-linked Americans for Prosperity.

While that all sounds terribly ominous, remember that a) this doesn't suddenly reveal that a previously-unaccounted-for $256 million appeared out of the ether; it only finally explains the conduit by which all that money got from the nation's billionaires to the folks like AFF and 60+ that actually did all that advertising. And b) look at the results in 2012: all that money barely seems to have moved the needle, to the extent that the point of diminishing returns was just a small dot in the Koch brothers' rear-view mirror. (David Jarman)


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AK-Sen: State Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, who has reportedly been looking at a Senate bid for quite some time, is resigning his post in two weeks, ostensibly to join the race. Nathan Gonzales reported earlier this year that some local Republicans feel that Sullivan is their best bet to take on Dem Sen. Mark Begich, at least in part thanks to Sullivan's fundraising connections. (He's tight with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman) But while Sullivan has held a variety of government jobs, he's never won elective office before, and he also faces Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and 2010 nominee Joe Miller for the GOP nomination.

IA-Sen: Despite pleas from powerful Republicans that he move the state party convention up from July, GOP chair A.J. Spiker says the date will remain firm. If no candidate in the Senate primary achieves 35 percent of the vote, the nomination would get decided by convention, and GOP bigs want it to take place as early as possible. But Spiker is insisting that the convention not be held until after the secretary of state certifies the results of the June primary, which can take up to four weeks.

NC-Sen: Rev. Mark Harris, a prominent Baptist leader who had been considering a Senate bid, announced on Thursday that he would indeed join the field of Republicans hoping to take on Sen. Kay Hagan next year. So far, the only other prominent GOP candidate in the race is state House Speaker Thom Tillis.


FL-Gov: Former Florida CFO Alex Sink, the Democrats' nominee for governor in 2010, now says she'll decide on whether to attempt a second such run by Oct. 25, when the Democratic Party hosts its state convention. Ex-Gov. (and former Republican) Charlie Crist is also weighing a bid and was also expected to decide by October, but reporter Adam Smith says that timetable is now "unsure," perhaps because Crist wants to minimize the amount of time GOP Gov. Rick Scott would have to attack him.

MI-Gov, -Sen: EPIC-MRA, one of many Michigan pollsters with uneven track records, has new numbers on both of the state's marquee races next year. In the gubernatorial contest, they see GOP Gov. Rick Snyder leading ex-Rep. Mark Schauer 44-36, up from a 39-39 tie in May. And for the open Senate seat, EPIC finds Dem Rep. Gary Peters leading ex-SoS Terri Lynn Land 38-37, the first time they've polled that matchup.

Both of these results make me raise an eyebrow—PPP had both Democrats ahead by 4 and 5 points respectively back in May, but that was a while ago. Still, I'd hold off on making any conclusions about EPIC's results unless and until we have confirmation from someone more reliable. (I'd point out, for instance, that this poll gives Obama a 39-60 job approval rating—far worse than his national average, in a state he won by over 9 points last year.)

NJ-Gov: After being teased for days that his first general election ad was coming, GOP Gov. Chris Christie finally released the spot on Thursday. It's a positive one, with a narrator saying that Christie, "working with both parties" achieved "four balanced budgets" and "no new taxes for anyone." There's also a reference to Hurricane Sandy at the end: "When tragedy struck, he was there every step of the way." Christie is reportedly spending $1.5 million to air the ad on broadcast television in both the Philadelphia and New York City media markets.

VA-Gov: A new poll from Purple Strategies, which bills itself as a bipartisan firm, sees Democrat Terry McAuliffe leading Republican Ken Cuccinelli by a 43-38 margin. The pollster also finds very high unfavorables for both: 24-39 for McAuliffe and 29-49 for Cuccinelli.


NY-01: Well, this doesn't sound good. You might recall that last year, Dem Rep. Tim Bishop was accused of helping a wealthy constituent, Eric Semler, obtain a permit for a fireworks display, then asking for a contribution. The Politico piece which broke the story insinuated that there was a quid pro quo, but both Bishop and Semler denied any such arrangement, and Bishop insisted that his congressional office helped with the permit while it was his campaign staff who reached out to Semler for the donation. Bishop's 2012 Republican opponent, Randy Altschuler, ran ads attacking Bishop over this alleged scandal, but the incumbent held on, though only by a narrow 52-48 margin.

Now, though, the Office of Congressional Ethics has referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee, which will take up a further investigation. Particularly troubling is this email (flagged by Roll Call's Emma Dumain) from Bishop to billionaire Robert Sillerman, a friend of Bishop's who referred Semler to the congressman, after Bishop had smoothed the way for the fireworks show to proceed:

Ok, so just call me the friggin mailman – we are all set with Eric Semler. Hey, would you be willing to reach out to him to ask for a contribution? If he donates before June 26, he and his wife can each do 5 large – if it is after June 26, they can each do a max of 2500…
That certainly doesn't look good. There's also the 1-percenter aspect of this story which doesn't exactly play well, either: politician goes out of his way to help wealthy hedge fund manager secure permit for private fireworks display at Hamptons home for son's bar mitzvah, then solicits donation. This could cause real trouble for Bishop, who represents a very swingy district, once again.

TX-32: "Tea Party Activist Challenges Republican Incumbent" is not usually very newsy, but in this case, Katrina Pierson was immediately endorsed by FreedomWorks after announcing her effort to unseat GOP Rep. Pete Sessions. Still, targeting Sessions, a former NRCC chair, is definitely "come at the king" territory, and FreedomWorks had zero success going after sitting Republican members of the House last year.

In fact, I only see a couple of races that even fit that mold—Ron Gould in AZ-01 and Evan Feinberg in PA-18—in their 2012 expenditures. The most FreedomWorks spent was about $35,000 on Feinberg, who got killed, 63-37. So unless her patrons are prepared to shell out a lot more, Pierson is going to have a hell of a time getting anywhere.

OR-05: Republican state Rep. Julie Parrish, who had apparently been considering a run against Dem Rep. Kurt Schrader, has instead decided to seek re-election.

Other races:

New Jersey: It is a pretty rare, and cherished, nugget of information to get public polling down to the state legislative level. But that is precisely what we have in a new poll out from the Stockton Institute. They went into one of the few swing LDs in the Garden State (the southern-tier 2nd district) and gave us new nums on every race on the books. The gubernatorial numbers and Senate numbers aren't as instructive, since they are statewide races. But it would seem to me that both GOPer Chris Christie (up 56-34 on Barbara Buono) and Democrat Cory Booker (up 49-38 on Steve Lonegan) might be underperforming here a bit.

In those marquee lege races, the big news is in the state Senate, where Democratic Sen. Jim Whelan has a 51-39 lead over his GOP challenger, Atlantic County sheriff Frank Balles. This is considerably better than Whelan performed in 2011, when he beat then-GOP assemblyman Vince Pollistina by a 53-47 margin. In the Assembly, the GOP holds both seats, and narrowly (by 4-6 point leads), look to finish in the top two in November. New Jersey's Assembly races take the top two votegetters, which actually makes a 4-point edge a little more formidable than it might be in a pure head-to-head. (Steve Singiser)

Grab bag:

Maps: Here's a fascinating county-level map from 1861 of the prevalence of slavery in the Southern states, which Lincoln himself apparently consulted often during the Civil War.

Contrast that 1861 map with the 2010 Census map of percentage of black residents, county-by-county. The first thing you'll notice is that very little has changed; while there has been a lot of migration to big cities, enough of those slaves' descendants have stayed in place that the overall percentages haven't changed much. The most interesting change appears to be Kentucky's Bluegrass region, where there was a large slave population in 1861 that has since completely dispersed; the question is where and when this happened? Also worth noting are the losses in the Houston, TX, and Nashville, TN areas and the "Little Dixie" region of central Missouri, but also the seeming gains in the lowland areas of North Carolina. (David Jarman)

Polltopia: It's a tough week to be PPP. On Wednesday, the firm received brickbats for withholding then publishing a Colorado recall poll that it initially believed to be flawed. Then on Thursday, the New Republic's Nate Cohn, who has long been a vocal critic of PPP's, published a lengthy piece criticizing the firm's methodology.

Cohn's premise is a bit curious, since he begins by acknowledging PPP's accurate track record, but then insists: "Pollsters, though, tend to judge one another based more on methodology than record." That's a bit like saying meteorologists care more about putting together an elegant forecast model than getting tomorrow's weather right. Maybe that's true in certain quarters, but for polling clients, accuracy is undoubtedly paramount.

Cohn's arguments, which are laid out in detail, are not amenable to a quick summary, so you should read the piece yourself to judge whether you agree with the author that "[i]n employing amateurish weighting techniques, withholding controversial methodological details, or deleting questions to avoid scrutiny, the firm does not inspire trust." Cohn claims that his concerns are not "abstract," citing the cases of disgraced pollsters R2K and Strategic Vision. Those firms, however, collapsed because they were accused of making up fake polls, which is an entirely different story. No one questions that PPP makes actual calls to actual humans and puts together actual polls.

In response, PPP's Tom Jensen acknowledged that their "methodology is unique within the industry" and also published his lengthy correspondence with Cohn. Jensen says of their emails: "I also think it shows the extent to which we were very willing to share details of our methodology with him, which I think sort of calls into question a lot of his attacks on our transparency."

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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