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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Campaign for Primary Accountability

Political leanings: Anti-incumbent

Spending target: Unknown

The Campaign for Primary Accountability is a Texas-based super PAC founded in September 2011 by construction mogul Leo Linbeck III. Its stated goal is to “level the playing field in primary elections,” and it has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaigns against House incumbents from both parties.

Linbeck is the president and CEO of Aquinas Companies, a family construction business founded in 1938. He is not a political novice. He is the vice chairman of the Health Care Compact Alliance, a nonprofit that seeks to give states the power to suspend federal health care regulations. He describes himself as a “conservative communitarian.”

As of June 2012, the Super PAC had raised about $3.4 million and spent approximately $3.1 million in the 2012 election cycle. Most of its money comes from three conservatives: Linbeck ($1.5 million), businessman J. Joe Ricketts ($500,00) and Texas oilman Tim Dunn ($350,00).

Ricketts founded the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation in 1975. He, too, is active politically. He is the founder of Ending Spending (formerly Taxpayers Against Earmarks) and chairman of the Ending Spending Fund, a political action committee that “independently sponsors advertisements which advocate for the election or defeat of federal candidates across the country on the basis of a particular candidate’s position on Congressional earmarks, regardless of party affiliation.”

Dunn is heavily involved in the natural gas and mineral rights industry. His biography says that he is chairman of EnerQuest, CEO of CrownQuest, and a partner in Texas Land and Royalty. He is also the chairman of Empower Texans, a group of organizations that attempts “to create and sustain a system of strong fiscal stewardship within all levels of Texas government.” Empower Texans believes “that government must be limited, and that citizens must be empowered to hold their elected officials accountable.”

Another large donor to the Campaign for Primary Accountability is Eric O’Keefe, who is the chairman of the Health Care Compact Alliance. He is also a founding board member of U.S. Term Limits, which seeks to impose two-term limits on members of the Senate and three-term limits on House members.

As of June 2012, the Campaign for Primary Accountability has spent $1.8 million. That includes $969,909 against Republicans and $522,179 against Democrats. They have also spent $203,390 in support of Democrats and $121,001 in support of Republicans.

The group does not appear to use frequently cited controversial legislation, such as the federal health care law, the economic bailout, and the stimulus package, as a litmus test for their support. A New York Times editorial noted that it used a “Tea Party argument” against Rep. Jean Schmidt, a four-term Ohio Republican in the House, and a “liberal argument” against Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a nine-term Democratic congressman from Illinois.

The group’s spokesman, Curtis Ellis, told us that the Campaign for Primary Accountability will get involved only in primaries that meet certain criteria. He said the race has to involve an “entrenched challenger” in a “one-party district, and the group’s polling must show that “people are unhappy with the current representative.”