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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Freedom Path

Political leanings: Conservative/Republican

Spending target: Unknown

Freedom Path is an issue-advocacy organization with ties to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, former Nevada Sen. John Ensign and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. Ensign chaired the NRSC from 2007 to 2008, and Hatch served as vice chairman for the 2010 election cycle. Freedom Path’s filings with the Federal Election Commission bear the names of several people who worked for the senators and/or the NRSC, which is dedicated to electing Republicans to the Senate.

Freedom Path so far has produced TV ads and mailers supporting Hatch’s 2012 reelection bid. The group also has supported Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. J. Scott Bensing, a Freedom Path board member, told Roll Call that the group will be active in Nevada and Texas and a few other states in 2012. The organization is not to be confused with FreedomWorks for America, a Tea Party-aligned group, which has run ads criticizing Hatch.

Freedom Path is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, which means it can raise unlimited amounts of money and does not have to disclose its donors. Based in Salt Lake City, the group has spent $300,000 so far this year on TV ads and mailers — all of which supported Hatch and attacked his Republican challenger, Dan Liljenquist. Hatch easily won the primary.

Freedom Path Action Network, a sister super PAC, has an address in Reno, Nev. It is allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money provided all donations and expenditures are reported publicly. Its FEC filings show the super PAC was created in January 2011, but has been largely inactive.

Bensing is a Utah-based lobbyist who once served as Ensign’s chief of staff and as executive director of the NRSC. Bensing’s clients include Zuffa LLC, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Zuffa executives Dana WhiteFrank Fertitta and Lorenzo Fertitta (and the Fertittas’ spouses, Jill and Teresa) have donated $37,500 to Hatch’s reelection campaign. Bensing also donated $1,250 to Hatch’s campaign during the 2012 election cycle.

Mark Emerson, another board member, served as chief of staff to Ensign when he was a Nevada congressman and to former Rep. Chris Cannon, a Utah Republican. Emerson also worked for Hatch and was executive director of the Utah Republican Party. Emerson made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. House to represent Utah’s 2nd District in 2000. He was president of English Language Learning Instruction System (Ellis Inc.) before it was acquired by Pearson Digital Learning, where he is director, according to Freedom Path’s FEC filing.

The group hired the consulting firm November Inc., which is run by Mike Slanker, a former NRSC political director and Ensign aide. Slanker managed (see page 8) Ensign’s 1998 and 2000 election campaigns. Slanker’s wife, Lindsey, was the NRSC’s finance director. Slanker explored the idea of working for Hatch’s campaign during this election cycle but ultimately declined.

Freedom Path Action Network uses the law firm Gober HilgersChris Gober once served as general counsel to the NRSC and represented Ensign during government investigations after his affair with an aide’s wife. Ensign resigned from the Senate on May 3, 2011.

Update, July 26: We updated this item to reflect campaign finance data through June 30, 2012.