A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS

Political Leanings: playersguide2014_135pxRepublican

Spending target: Unknown

The Crossroads “twins” are affiliated conservative/Republican advocacy groups that are among the biggest outside players influencing national and state elections. Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Karl Rove, who served as senior adviser to President George W. Bush, were instrumental in helping to launch American Crossroads in 2010. They “encouraged the formation” of American Crossroads and served as “informal advisers” and fundraisers, according to the group’s spokesman, Jonathan Collegio. The group then formed Crossroads Grassroots Political Strategies (Crossroads GPS) as a sister organization in June 2010. In January 2014, Gillespie announced that he will challenge Democratic incumbent Mark Warner in the U.S. Senate race in Virginia.

American Crossroads is a so-called “super PAC,” allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts provided all donations and expenditures are reported publicly. Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)(4), was formed, according to Carl Forti, political director for American Crossroads, because “some donors didn’t want to be disclosed” and were “more comfortable” giving to an entity that keeps donors’ names secret. Crossroads GPS steadfastly refuses to disclose any information about who gives to it. The money raised from secret donors can be quite substantial. ProPublica’s analysis of the group’s 2012 tax returns found 50 anonymous contributions of more than $1 million, including one of $22.5 million.

The chairman of American Crossroads is Mike Duncan, a former Republican National Committee chairman. Its president and chief executive officer is Steven Law, a former deputy secretary of labor in the administration of George W. Bush. Law also served as general counsel to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The biographies of Duncan, Law and other top staffers can be found here.

The Crossroads groups were among the biggest outside spending groups in the 2012 elections. Draft tax returns revealed that the two groups combined to raise more than $325 million during the 2012 election cycle — $9 million more than the Democratic National Committee. They reported to the Federal Election Commission that a combined $176 million of that was spent on advertising and election communications. In addition, they spent undisclosed amounts on voter turnout efforts and other activities.

That $176 million total was over $30 million more than the next-biggest outside spending group — Restore Our Future, a pro-Mitt Romney super PAC — and over $100 million more than the highest-spending left-leaning group, Priorities USA/Priorities USA Action.

In addition to the presidential election, the Crossroads groups got involved in dozens of congressional races. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, much of their spending — $159 million — was directed at attacking Democratic candidates. Sometimes these attacks twisted the facts. In Nevada, Crossroads GPS spent $768,000 on a television ad that stretched the truth regarding allegations of ethical misconduct raised against Democratic Senate hopeful Shelley Berkley. False claims would be made by both sides of that campaign, as we wrote in our article “Outside Groups Twist Truth in Nevada Senate Race,” although Berkley would go on to lose the election.

In Florida, American Crossroads spent $1.8 million attacking Sen. Bill Nelson for “cast[ing] the deciding vote for Obamacare.” The ad also made some well-worn claims, which we refuted in “Scary Medicare Claims,” warning of death panels and Medicare rationing due to the Affordable Care Act. Despite the heavy spending, Nelson would coast to victory in his bid for reelection.

American Crossroads was able to rely on a relatively small number of large donors in the election season. In all, 17 percent of its contributions came from Texas billionaire Harold Simmons and the Contran Corporation, a massive holding company he controlled. Simmons continued to lead the way for the 2014 cycle with a $1 million contribution by Contran, which ranks as the third highest contributor. Simmons, a corporate investor who specialized in leveraged buyouts, died on Dec. 28, 2013.

Despite the huge sums raised and spent by the Crossroads groups, their track record in the 2012 elections was underwhelming. A study by the Sunlight Foundation found that just 14 percent of the total spent by Crossroads GPS on advertising and election communications went to support candidates who went on to win, or to oppose candidates who lost. The figure for American Crossroads was even worse, 1.29 percent. As a result, some donors felt their money was wasted, and fundraising this year is down compared with 2012.

As of its September monthly report filed with the Federal Election Commission, American Crossroads had raised more than $10 million in 2014 and had spent nearly $10.2 million on independent expenditures. American Crossroads began the year by spending over $470,000 opposing Democrat Alex Sink in Florida’s special House election. Its largest expenditures to date have been in the Arkansas Senate race, where over $2.4 million has been spent opposing Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley and supporting Republican Joni Ernst. It also has spent nearly $2 million to help defeat Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and nearly $1.9 million to help Republican Thom Tillis challenge Sen. Kay Hagen in the North Carolina Senate Race. It has also spent more than $1.2 million in the Alaska Senate race.

Crossroads GPS, the 501(c)(4), has spent more than $4 million opposing Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and more than $1 million each to help Republican challengers in the Arkansas, Alaska, and North Carolina Senate races.

Fact-checking American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS:

Real People Really Misleading in Florida, Feb. 21, 2014

Twisting Begich’s Response to VA Scandal, June 4, 2014

More Carbon Tax Distortions, July 24, 2014

Crossroads GPS’ Twisted Tale, Aug. 12, 2014

More Senior Scare in Arkansas, Aug. 22, 2014

A Game of Telephone in Colorado, Sept. 5, 2014

Special Interest Battle in Midwest Races, Sept. 23, 2014