Pro-Gingrich super PAC builds shadow campaign

Washington PostJanuary 25, 2012 

They're hiring field directors, setting up phone banks, building get-out-the-vote teams and crafting a message strategy worthy of a presidential candidate.

But the "they" in this instance isn't a national campaign; it's the people behind a super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich.

And they are doing what Gingrich's topsy-turvy campaign hasn't been able to: raise lots of money quickly and build a campaign infrastructure ready to go up against the massive operation of his leading rival, Mitt Romney. How well they succeed could shape what is now widely seen as a two-man contest and determine how many weeks, or even months, it will take to decide the race.

"It is new territory," said Gregg Phillips, an Austin-based strategist and political director for Winning Our Future, the pro-Gingrich group. "I know all of the PACs are doing something different. I think probably Romney's people see themselves as a money machine that will beat up on Newt and beat up on anybody else in the race. We see it a little bit differently. We see it more as a supplement to the work that the campaign is doing."

On Monday, news broke that Miriam Adelson, wife of billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, would give another $5 million to the pro-Gingrich group. That's enough to finance a formidable ground game in Florida, where Gingrich and Romney are competing fiercely to win the state's Jan. 31 primary.

The contest in many ways has already been defined by the activities of super PACs, independent committees that have spent millions on political ads to help their candidates and hurt their opponents. The groups have proliferated since the Supreme Court decided in 2010 that, unlike traditional campaigns, super PACs may collect unlimited contributions from individuals and companies to exercise their right to free speech.

Winning Our Future is testing the Supreme Court decision by using unlimited donations for such on-the-ground activity as phone-banking, which might be construed as going beyond protected speech. And, by setting up a shadow campaign complete with field directors, volunteers, poll workers and drivers, they are testing the law that prohibits coordination between a super PAC and the campaign it supports.

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