A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Senate Conservatives Fund/Senate Conservatives Action

playersguide2014_135pxPolitical leanings: Conservative

Spending target: Unknown

The Senate Conservatives Fund is a political action committee dedicated to electing “true” conservatives to Congress and purging incumbent Republicans who don’t measure up to that standard. Senate Conservatives Action is its like-minded super PAC.

SCF originally focused only on the Senate, but in 2013, it broadened its reach to House races with its House Conservatives Project, endorsing for reelection a freshman Republican who cast his first House vote against John Boehner for speaker of the House.

SCF was founded in 2008 as a leadership PAC for Jim DeMint, then a Republican senator of South Carolina. DeMint, described as a “tea party hero,” is now president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. He cut formal ties with SCF in July 2012 to allow it to become an independent PAC, and create Senate Conservatives Action, a super PAC that can accept donations of any size. Both groups are run by former DeMint staffers, including Matt Hoskins, who serves as SCF’s executive director.

Hoskins said creating the super PAC “will allow us to take the next step and gradually increase our independent expenditures.” He said: “The more radio and television ads we can run to promote conservative candidates, the more races we’re going to win.”

In 2012, Senate Conservatives Fund and Senate Conservatives Action, combined, made almost $5 million in independent expenditures — which is the expense of running ads either supporting or opposing federal candidates. More than $1.3 million of that was spent by the super PAC, including more than $510,000 in support of Texas’ Ted Cruz, who was first elected to the Senate that year.

But lately, the PACs mostly take on incumbent Republicans whom they find to be insufficiently conservative. “We do not support liberal Republicans and we’re not affiliated with the Republican Party or any of its campaign committees,” the SCF website says.  The group says it “looks for new leaders who will stand up to the big spenders in both political parties.”

For instance, both PACs are actively campaigning to retire Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. RetireMitch.com, an SCF-sponsored website, states: “Mitch McConnell has helped Democrats pass bailouts, debt limit increases, tax hikes, and funding for Obamacare.” That last point — funding for Obamacare — was the focus of a $340,000 TV ad buy, and a $47,000 radio ad buy, SCF made against McConnell in the summer of 2013. “McConnell’’s the Senate Republican Leader, but he refuses to lead on defunding Obamacare,” the TV ad’s narrator says. SCA followed that up with its own six-figure TV ad buy against McConnell in the fall.

SCF has endorsed McConnell’s challenger, Matt Bevin, in the Kentucky GOP primary. It’s also backing Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel against six-term GOP Sen. Thad Cochran, and it’s supporting Dr. Milton Wolf against three-term GOP Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas.

SCA, in addition to the TV ad campaign criticizing McConnell, has funded $368,000 in ads against Sen. Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat, for being a “liberal” and a $263,000 TV ad campaign supporting Chris McDaniel for being a “bold conservative champion.”

Senate Conservatives Fund calls itself a “grassroots organization.” It raised, and spent, nearly $16 million in 2012, including $3.5 million on ads (mostly) in support of Republicans. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown was the lone Democrat the group targeted with ads in 2012. More than 40 percent of the money it spent was distributed as political contributions from the PAC to candidates’ committees, and as earmarked contributions, which are funds that are designated for a specific candidate by a donor, but passed through the PAC.

Federal law caps individual donations to PACs at $5,000 per year, and SCF says that its average donation is just $45. All donations over $200 are disclosed to the Federal Election Commission.

However, Senate Conservatives Action can take donations of unlimited amounts, and as of January 2014, it had raised more money for the two-year 2014 election cycle ($1.6 million) than it did for the 2012 cycle ($1.5 million). A huge chunk of its 2014 haul — $1 million — came from the late Bob Perry, a Texas developer and GOP megadonor. The group also received $100,000 from businessman Richard Uihlein, another wealthy contributor to Republicans.

SCF, too, is well on its way to surpassing its past fundraising. So far, the group has taken in more than $7.7 million, according to its most recent FEC filing. That’s more than 80 percent of its 2010 haul of $9.3 million, the last cycle not featuring a presidential election.

Fact-checking Senate Conservatives Fund/Senate Conservatives Action:

A Misleading Attack on McConnell, June 27, 2013