Karl Rove’s Big Money Party

While the Tea Party gets the headlines, Bush's Ex-Brain is quietly transforming American politics again—for the worse, of course.


I hate to break this to you, gentle readers. But Karl Rove is back in a big way — and tricky as ever. And as always, his nefarious efforts to manipulate American voters are being bankrolled handsomely by Texas gazillionaires.

While we’ve all been abuzz about the resurgence of “small-government” Republicanism — perhaps you’ve heard of this thing called the Tea Party? — Bush’s Ex-Brain has been stealthily organizing a “shadow GOP” funded by the some of the fattest cats in America (and Texas). Rove’s new big-money cabal, which aims to spend more than twice as much on this year’s congressional elections than the Republican Party did in 2006, might be the single most important political development of 2010. Also the single most destructive.

Over the last few weeks, there’s been a trickle of ominous reports about Rove and his longtime political BFF, Ed Gillespie, creating 527 groups and teaming with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to take full advantage of loosened restrictions on corporate campaign spending after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January. But the devilishly ambitious extent of Rove’s latest power play had not come to light until this week. In the May 27 issue of Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson reports that Rove and Gillespie are masterminding two 527 groups that are working in concert with the Chamber of Commerce to raise and spend an astronomical $135 million on the midterm elections. The goal: “electing candidates loyal to the GOP’s wealthiest donors and corporate patrons.”

Read the story. And weep. It opens with Rove hosting a late-April meeting of ” the heavyweights of the GOP’s fundraising network” in his D.C. home. “In attendance were the political director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as the leaders of two new mega-dollar campaign groups loyal to Rove: American Crossroads and the American Action Network. Rove’s plan was straightforward: to seize control of the party from Michael Steele, whose leadership of the Republican National Committee was imploding in the wake of a fundraiser at a lesbian bondage club. … With the media’s attention diverted by the noisy revolt being waged by the Tea Party, the man known as ‘Bush’s brain’ was staging a stealthier but no less significant coup of the Republican Party.”

The time for a coup was ripe, with Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele (never in favor with Rove) doing his darndest to drive away big-money donors from the party. After forming as one of the nation’s five 527 groups in March, American Crossroads—officially run by a former Chamber political director, but puppet-mastered by Rove—has already pulled in an eye-popping $30 million of commitments from the likes of Dallas high-rollers Harold Simmons (who was instrumental in the Swift Boat Veterans campaign against John Kerry and turned leveraged buyouts into an art form) and Trevor Rees-Jones, an oil and gas executive who’s kicking in $1 million.

That makes Jones the second-biggest single 527 contributor this year. The first biggest? Another Texan, Houston homebuilder and Rick Perry patron Bob Perry, who’s given $2.5 million to the Republican Governors Association. (Check out Dave Mann’s related story here.)

The beauty part? Rove and Gillespie, backed by their patrons, can potentially operate more effectively than the RNC by craftily exploiting campaign laws that still place some limits on the official parties. “As free-agent strategists,” Dickinson writes, “they are in a unique position to skirt such prohibitions and coordinate all parts of the GOP – both inside and outside the official party structure – because they’re not officially in charge of any of it. In the run-up to November, they will be the ones ensuring that the many tentacles of the court-sanctioned shadow party – from startups like American Crossroads to stalwarts like the National Rifle Association – operate in concert.”

What does Rove’s Big Money Party want? Same thing the Bush Republicans wanted — and got. Dickinson sums it up well: “The wealthy donors he is courting see government not as a lean, mean guarantor of free markets but as a multitrillion-dollar bailout machine.” As one “top Democrat” tells Rolling Stone, “This is the plutocratic wing of the GOP getting together and deciding that, in the era of unlimited corporate contributions, they don’t need a formal Republican Party anymore.”

Same as it ever was, in other words. Only worse.