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Rich Republican PAC may be key player in elections
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With a fat bank account and ambitious fundraising plans, the Republican group American Crossroads is positioned to play a powerful role in November's battle for control of Congress and the White House.
The Karl Rove-backed Crossroads, along with its non-profit arm Crossroads GPS, led the money chase among independent political groups known as "Super PACs" with a $51 million haul in 2011, according to financial reports filed late on Tuesday.
Super PACs, established after a 2010 Supreme Court decision, are independent political action committees that can raise unlimited funds from companies and individuals to spend on elections but cannot coordinate with candidates and their campaigns.
The largest of the Super PACs backing an individual presidential candidate, known as Restore Our Future, raised $30 million to support Republican Mitt Romney's bid for the White House.
The Crossroads groups have a goal of raising at least $240 million by November, to go toward efforts to defeat Democratic President Barack Obama, reclaim a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate and hold control of the House of Representatives.
The group is targeting about a dozen of the most competitive Senate races across the nation, and will decide which Republican candidates for the House to help as the November 6 election approaches, Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said.
As the election draws closer, it will shift spending from the presidential election to the fight for control of Congress, using a mix of political and issue ads, he said.
"An outside group can have an impact in a presidential election, but the vast majority of the messaging and paid media will be coming from the candidates and their coordinated surrogates over the last several months of the campaign," Collegio said.
"The closer we get to the presidential election, the less impact an outside group can have. But in Senate and House races that impact can still be felt," he said.
In congressional races, a big advertisement purchase from a Super PAC can have enormous influence.
"If you're talking about a House race in North Dakota, there are many groups that can have a major impact," Collegio said.
Crossroads spent about $15 million on issue ads last year during the negotiations over whether to increase the U.S. government's debt limit, urging House and Senate members not to back a deal that included tax increases. The final congressional agreement did not include a boost in taxes.
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On Wednesday, American Crossroads affiliate Crossroads GPS released a national television ad criticizing Obama's handling of Solyndra, a now bankrupt solar energy firm that was praised by Obama and received a loan of more than $500 million from the government.
Among the largest contributors to American Crossroads was Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, who gave it $5 million and whose holding company, Contran Corp., donated $2 million.
Crossroads GPS, formed under a separate portion of the U.S. tax code, does not have to disclose its donors.
Republican Super PACs such as American Crossroads far surpassed their Democratic counterparts in raising funds in 2011. The two Crossroads groups alone raised more than the $19 million gathered by six Democratic groups combined, including the pro-Obama Priorities USA.
Obama's campaign remained the biggest fund-raising juggernaut of all, however, bringing in about $130 million last year for his re-election effort in 2012.
Unlike Super PACs, the campaigns of Obama and the Republican presidential candidates are prohibited from accepting donations of more than $2,500 from individuals.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential front-runner, raised $57 million in 2011 to lead the party's presidential pack.
However, groups such as American Crossroads and other Super PACs could help Romney make up the fundraising gap with Obama, presuming Romney is the Republican presidential nominee this fall.
Crossroads has prominent Republicans such as Rove, the architect of former president George W. Bush's two successful campaigns for the White House, and former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, leading fundraising efforts on the group's behalf.
Democratic groups said their activists were not engaged in the election yet and they would begin to catch up in the Super PAC fundraising race once they were.
"Republican donors are excited because they are watching their primary and want to be involved," said a strategist affiliated with one of the Democratic groups. "Democratic donors don't yet have that sense of urgency, but they will once the general election heats up."
The growth of Super PACs has led to heavy spending on negative attack ads in the Republican presidential primary.
Independent political action committees supporting Romney and chief rival Newt Gingrich have exchanged fire in vicious ad campaigns in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida before contests in those states.
The ad wars could be a sign of things to come in the fall election.
"President Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate will face an unprecedented wave of money this year," the Democratic groups said in a joint statement. "Our groups stand ready to support Democrats in elections around the country."
(Editing by David Lindsey and Eric Walsh)
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