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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne. We've seen this election season the power superPACs have had on pushing candidates ahead. The outside groups are raising millions of dollars in donations and throwing those millions into the Republican primaries, with political ads blaring on TVs across the country.
INSKEEP: But other superPACs areoperating more quietly right now, preparing for the day after the primaries end.
NPR's Peter Overby has this look at one of the most influential Republican superPACs, called American Crossroads.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Out the front gates of the White House, American Crossroads is three blocks to the right. But it's more than location that marks the superPAC as part of the Republican establishment. Its co-founders include two former Republican national chairmen, and consultant Karl Rove. To outsiders, it almost looks like a wing of the GOP.
SAUL ANUZIS: They have the credibility. People trust them.
OVERBY: This is Saul Anuzis, a long-time Republican national committeeman from Michigan.
ANUZIS: They know that none of them are strident or ideologues in that regard. They're party people.
OVERBY: As the two parties and their outside allies gird for the general election, Anuzis breaks down the financial battle this way...
ANUZIS: A third of all the money spent on federal elections will come from the candidates, a third will come from the parties, and a third will come from these independent groups and superPACs.
OVERBY: And American Crossroads, with $15 million on hand as of January 1, stands to be one of the central elements of the Republican effort. The CEO of American Crossroads, Steven Law, says they just have one goal.
STEVEN LAW: Groups like ours are not particularly interested in acquiring power. We're interested in influencing results.
OVERBY: And the Crossroads organization gets results partly because of a set-up that the other outside money groups have begun to emulate. The superPAC, American Crossroads, works with a partner, a non-profit issues group called Crossroads GPS, which Law also runs. The differences are small but meaningful. American Crossroads can run overtly political ads. But it has to disclose its donors. Crossroads GPS has to couch its ads in terms of issues. But the law allows its donors to stay secret. Law explains their mission this way...
LAW: On the policy side, we want to stop President Obama's agenda. On the political side, we want to replace him as president.
OVERBY: SuperPACs are known for their main activity - running blistering attack ads. The Crossroads groups do their share. The Wesleyan Media Project says Crossroads GPS spent $3 million last year buying issue ads in battleground states. Here's the current one.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ANNOUNCER: Typical Washington. Obama says spend more and promises jobs. Obama donors have...
OVERBY: Law says they're moving beyond just providing air support for grassroots groups.
LAW: Now, one of the things that I think we will engage in more this year is interacting with that grassroots universe out there.
OVERBY: Crossroads GPS had even produced an issues platform for the campaign.
LAW: We rolled it out a couple weeks ago. We've shared it with people on the Hill. We've also shared it with other advocacy groups.
OVERBY: And it's available for any candidates who want to use it. We know some things about how the Crossroads groups are financed. For American Crossroads - the side that discloses - a mere six donors last year gave a total of $13 million. In 2011, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS together raised $51 million. That's compared to 88 million raised by the Republican National Committee.
The RNC has high overhead, a national infrastructure and heavy debt from years past, which left it at the end of the year just $7 million in the black. So impressive were the GOP superPACs, in fact, that President Obama's campaign this week started urging donors to support a pro-Obama superPAC.
Meanwhile, Law says donors are more interested than ever in American Crossroads. He says the high-profile presidential superPACs have a lot to do with it, and disclosure doesn't seem as scary as it once did.
LAW: The truth of the matter is, if you're interested in direct political impact and election consequences, that's the most efficient way to invest your money.
OVERBY: That's a goal long sought by wealthy players in politics. Robin Kolodny is a political scientist at Temple University in Philadelphia.
ROBIN KOLODNY: SuperPACs are a different incarnation of an old idea, which is that you can't stop people who have strong preferences about expressing their ideas in elections from doing so.
OVERBY: And that old idea is taking on a dramatic new life in the 2012 campaign.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.