A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Independence USA


playersguide2014_135pxPolitical leanings: Socially liberal/gun-control advocate

Spending target: Unknown

Independence USA is a super PAC that focuses largely on helping to elect candidates who support stricter gun-control laws. It was founded in October 2012 by Michael Bloomberg, and, so far, has been entirely funded by the former New York City mayor.

Bloomberg was a lifelong Democrat who switched parties in 2000 to run for mayor, winning in 2001 and 2005 as a Republican. He left the GOP party in 2007 to register as an independent. He won reelection a third time in 2009 on the Republican and Independence Party lines. Bloomberg could no longer run for reelection under the city’s term limits rules, leaving office at the end of 2013.

His PAC says it will “support moderates on both sides of the aisle — as well as independents — who have shown a willingness to work in a bi-partisan fashion.” But it is socially liberal, saying it will focus on issues involving “gun laws, education policy and marriage equality.”

Independence USA entered the 2012 campaign cycle late, indicating that it would spend between $10 million and $15 million in just a few weeks. It did. Campaign records show the PAC spent nearly $10 million — all of which came from the personal fortune of Bloomberg, a multi-billionaire who founded Bloomberg LP, a financial news and information service. In addition to funding Independence USA, Bloomberg contributed $2.5 million, in January 2014, to the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC dedicated to keeping the U.S. Senate in Democratic control.

Independence USA largely spends its money backing candidates who support gun control and opposing those who don’t. It spent a total of $3.3 million to help Democratic challenger Gloria Negrete McLeod upset longtime Democratic Rep. Joe Baca in California’s 35th Congressional District. (The race was between two Democrats because of the state’s new primary election system, which pits the top two primary candidates against each other in the general election regardless of party.) The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, said Baca had won the National Rifle Association’s endorsement in previous elections, while Negrete McLeod supported the gun-control measures proposed by President Obama.

The PAC spent another $2.3 million in a failed attempt to unseat freshman Republican Rep. Daniel Webster in Florida’s 10th Congressional District. Webster was endorsed by the NRA. His Democratic challenger, Val Demings, was described by the Orlando Sun Sentinel as “a former Orlando police chief who has sided with Bloomberg on gun control issues.” Webster won, despite being outspent by Demings and Independence USA.

It is not known how much Independence USA expects to spend in the 2014 campaign cycle, but, in 2013, the PAC spent about $6.3 million — including $2.9 million on independent expenditures in three special elections, according to its year-end campaign finance report. (Independent expenditures is the term for money spent on communications, such as TV ads, for or against a candidate.)

Much of that money was used to attack Democrat Deborah Halvorson’s record on gun control in the Democratic primary of a special election to replace Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who resigned his seat in Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District shortly after winning reelection in 2012. Bloomberg’s PAC supported one of Halvorson’s opponents, Robin Kelly. The PAC poured $2.2 million into the race — far more than any other outside group. Kelly won the primary. In declaring victory, Kelly said: “We sent a message that was heard around our state and across the nation that the NRA’s days of holding our country hostage are coming to end.” Kelly easily won the general election.