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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Campaign for Primary Accountability

playersguide2014_135pxPolitical 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 for challengers in Congressional 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 chairman of the board of the Competitive Governance Institute, which encourages individuals to get involved in local government and self-governance, and he was the vice chairman of the Health Care Compact Alliance, a nonprofit that seeks to give states the power to suspend federal health care regulations. Linbeck describes himself as a “conservative communitarian.”

So far, CPA has raised only $41,166 for the 2014 election cycle, almost all of which came from Linbeck himself. According to its website, the PAC’s goals for 2014 are to unseat New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel and Alabama Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus. As of June 17, 2014, it has not spent any money for or against any candidate, but Linbeck wrote in January 2013 that the “CPA is planning to aggressively engage in House primaries of both parties in 2014.”

In the 2012 election cycle, the super PAC raised more than $3.6 million and spent more than $3.2 million. It spent more than $1.8 million in independent expenditures, including $969,909 on campaigning against Republicans and $522,176 against Democrats. It also spent $203,390 in support of Democrats and $121,001 in support of Republicans. It spent the most money on successful campaigns to unseat Rep. Silvestre Reyes in Texas’ Democratic primary and Rep. Don Manzullo in Illinois’ Republican primary, and an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Rep. Bachus in Alabama.

The races in which CPA becomes involved are those with an “entrenched challenger” in a one-party district, and the group’s polling must show that “people are unhappy with the current representative,” the group’s spokesman, Curtis Ellis, told us in 2012.

Most of the PAC’s money in 2012 came from three conservatives: Linbeck ($1.5 million), businessman J. Joe Ricketts ($500,000) and Texas oilman Tim Dunn ($500,000). Ricketts and Dunn are also engaged in other political organizations. Ricketts — founder of the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade — also founded Ending Spending (formerly Taxpayers Against Earmarks) and is chairman of the Ending Spending Action Fund, a political action committee that “independently sponsors advertisements which advocate for the election or defeat of candidates across the country on the basis of a particular candidate’s position on fiscal issues.”

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 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 its co-founder, Eric O’Keefe, who also helped launch the Health Care Compact Alliance. He is also the 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.

CPA was a cause of controversy during the 2012 election cycle. In March 2012, the National Republican Congressional Committee, whose goal is to maintain the GOP majority in the House, warned that it would not hire firms that work for the CPA. A month later, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor attracted media attention when he donated $25,000 to the CPA, funds that he wanted the PAC to use to support Illinois Republican challenger Adam Kinzinger’s bid to unseat Manzullo. Cantor campaign spokesman Ray Allen said that the contribution was meant to be used solely in that race and that “Leader Cantor does not support the actions of this organization in any other election.”