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McConnell-allied political funds keep his leadership secure

Lesley Clark, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- No matter how much President Donald Trump taunts Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader's position is secure because of a powerful super PAC that has spent millions of dollars on Senate campaigns, ensuring the loyalty of his Republican caucus.

The Senate Leadership Fund, one of two outside groups run by McConnell loyalists, spent nearly $86 million in the November 2016 elections to benefit Republicans. That made it the third-largest outside spender, trailing only the super PACS that backed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential primary contender Jeb Bush.

McConnell has remained silent about Trump's criticism, but Steven Law, the super PAC's president and a former chief of staff to McConnell, noted that the Senate Leadership Fund is off to its strongest fundraising start in an election off-year, with concerns about Trump's presidency.

"With all the chaos and dysfunction that we've seen from the White House, there's just a very strong recognition of the importance of a disciplined, functioning Senate majority with Sen. McConnell at the helm," Law said.

The group and another, One Nation, emerged in 2015 with McConnell's encouragement to quell worries that Republicans did not have support from an outside group that would focus on protecting and expanding its Senate majority.

They countered Democratic efforts, launched after a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the spending of unlimited amounts of money. Groups allied with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., raised nearly $67 million for the 2014 elections, when Democrats lost control of the Senate.

"As leader, Sen. McConnell has to guide his caucus and frequently he has to lead his members into difficult legislative terrain," Law said. "It's important for these members to know someone will have his back when it counts."

The PAC spent most of its money in just eight states, with most of it paying for negative ads against Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That included almost $14 million in North Carolina, where Republican incumbent Sen. Richard Burr held off a challenge from a well-funded Democrat.

"Mitch McConnell built the Republican majority, he maintained the Republican majority and all Republicans owe a deep sense of gratitude to him," said Paul Shumaker, a North Carolina Republican strategist and campaign consultant to both Burr and Sen. Thom Tillis. "Any future success anyone is going to have, Mitch McConnell is going to be a player in that success. That's the result and reality of his leadership."

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