Hours after presidential candidate Donald Trump on Monday called for the “complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States, a super PAC supporting fellow candidate Jeb Bush had harsh words for the billionaire businessman who’s dominating Republican primary polls.
“Impulsive and reckless.”
Right to Rise USA, the super PAC supporting Bush, made the statement in a television ad that also questioned Trump’s terrorism response credentials as well as those of two other GOP frontrunners: Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Trump, Rubio and Cruz, the ad says, are ill-equipped to be president “when the attacks come here.”
The super PAC’s ads follow weeks of Bush sinking in national polls. It signals an effort by the richest super PAC in Election 2016 to help Bush regain traction in an increasingly ugly race.
The ad's sponsor
No other super PAC active in the 2016 presidential race has yet to match the spending power of Right to Rise USA, which Bush himself helped establish almost a year ago, long before the former Florida governor officially launched his presidential bid.
Thanks in part to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Right to Rise USA may accept unlimited contributions and dole out its cash as it sees fit — as long as it doesn’t directly coordinate with the Bush campaign.
But the definition of coordination is flimsy at best, opening the door for fairly intimate super PAC-candidate relations.
The Bush campaign pushed coordination limits first by working closely with Right to Rise USA and its sister leadership PAC before officially announcing his presidency. The super PACs top vendor — a largely untraceable limited liability company in Delaware — shares a post office box with a company run by Heather Larrison, the national finance director of Bush’s official presidential campaign.
Who's behind it?
Those flooding Right to Rise USA with money — and those behind the scenes keeping the group afloat — are not just drawn to Bush’s presidential platform.
Many of the group’s leadership and top donors are close confidants of Bush and his storied political family.
At the forefront is Mike Murphy. A longtime friend of Bush, Murphy is a top super PAC adviser and runs a strategic communication group called Revolution Agency — an agency responsible for numerous Right to Rise USA TV ads.
Larry McCarthy, who is been called the “master” of the negative ad, is also on the Right to Rise USA team. McCarthy’s advertising firm has produced ads for numerous groups such as U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Future Fund and American Crossroads. He was responsible for the infamous 1988 “Willie Horton” attack ad against Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
Paul Lindsay, the super PAC’s spokesman, is former communications director for American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC tied to GOP strategist Karl Rove. Lindsay is also a former communications director for the National Congressional Campaign Committee.
Right to Rise has raked in $103 million as of June 30. More than 20 individuals and corporate entities are known to have each given Right to Rise USA at least $1 million to that point.
Top contributors to the super PAC include a number of Bush’s former business associates. After quitting his corporate jobs to run for president, Right to Rise USA took in $1.7 million from executives, companies and organizations Bush worked with or had disclosed a financial stake in.
Some of the notable contributors with ties to Bush: Bob Diamond, who heads Barclays PLC, and Stephen Lessing, who has worked with Bush at Lehman Brothers and Barclays.
One of the mega donors: Floridian Miguel Fernandez, founder of equity firm MBF Healthcare Partners, who donated $3 million to Right to Rise earlier this year.
The super PAC’s war chest has almost certainly grown since June 30 — to an extent that will be revealed in January when the super PAC must next reveal its finances to the FEC.
Right to Rise USA, which did not return inquiries, has already aired the new ad the Boston television market, which includes much of New Hampshire, the state that in February conducts the nation’s first presidential primary.
Since launching its campaign, Right to Rise USA has also made several other notable ad buys costing well into the millions, including a September ad buy priced at $24 million.
To date, Right to Rise USA has spent more than $43.6 million on efforts designed to boost Bush's presidential fortunes, according to federal data compiled by the Sunlight Foundation.
For TV watchers in states that conduct early presidential primaries and caucuses, they have little choice.
Right to Rise USA is dominating the airwaves there, accounting for nearly one-fourth of presidential race-related TV ads aired this year, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from ad tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.
The pro-Bush super PAC has aired more TV ads — almost 15,000 — than any other presidential committee or non-candidate political group this year. In October, the group aired more than twice as many ads as any other group or candidate. In November, Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’s 5,281 ads barely edged out those sponsored by Right to Rise USA.
Meanwhile, Bush’s official campaign has itself only sponsored about 400 TV ads. Candidate committees may only raise $2,700 from an individual per election. Super PACs face no such fundraising restrictions.
The outsourcing of its political messaging hasn’t proved particularly effective for the Bush campaign. Latest polls show Bush well behind Trump, Cruz and Rubio — all targets of Right to Rise USA’s latest ad flurry — as well as retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
If Bush’s presidential run flops, he’ll join three other Republican candidates who relied heavily on outside spending before flaming out: Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal.
Right to Rise USA’s current ads also suggests a shift in Republican primary messaging: Candidates and presidential committees have — for the most part — strayed away from attacking other candidates in TV ads.
So far, about 83 percent of ads featured “positive” messages, according to an analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data.
This story is from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative media organization in Washington, D.C. Read more of its investigations on the influence of money in politics or follow it on Twitter.