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Some Super PACs Are Still Searching for Their Cause

Two weeks after Herman Cain suspended his presidential campaign, a new super PAC with the unusual name of Cain Connections registered with the Federal Election Commission.

Even more curiously, the political action committee’s chief organizer is a political operative with apparent ties to Rick Perry. Cain Connections is one of several second-tier super PACs that have attracted little notice in this GOP primary but that have quietly funneled money to consultants and direct-mail firms, sometimes with mysterious agendas.

While better-known super PACs such as the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future announce millions of dollars in campaign ads, these lower-profile PACs have operated with smaller budgets but still have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations. In some cases, it’s unclear how the money will be spent.

Even as the Cain Connections PAC has opened its doors, another pro-Cain PAC has renamed itself, and still another has suspended operations. A super PAC backing Perry has also renamed itself, dropping any mention of the Texas governor from its moniker.

Some of these PACs have brought in far more than they have actually spent on candidates; others appear poised to switch allegiance and back a candidate other than the one the PAC originally championed; others still might quietly close up shop. Ushered in by last year’s landmark Citizens United ruling, super PACs may raise and spend unrestricted money if they operate at arm’s length from candidates and parties.

The Cain Connections PAC drew notice because of its timing and because the PAC’s treasurer is Anthony Holm, a former gubernatorial campaign consultant to Perry. Holm was accused in Texas of assisting state Green Party leaders there in a bid to siphon off votes from Democrats during the 2010 campaign, said Matt Angle, director of a Democrat-friendly nonprofit known as the Lone Star Project.

“It’s certainly reasonable to ask whether or not the Perry connection with Holm is still there and why he is really doing this,” said Angle, a former chief of staff to ex-Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas). Following Cain’s departure from the field, Perry struggled to win over the former pizza magnate’s conservative followers, who instead appeared to flock to former Speaker Newt Gingrich.

“It’s curious that one of Gov. Perry’s operatives is supposedly putting up a Herman Cain PAC,” said Craig McDonald, executive director of the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice. “Is it going to attack Newt Gingrich?”

Holm did not respond to requests for comment.

Two other pro-Cain PACs have shifted focus in the wake of his departure from the field. The Draft Herman Cain PAC alerted the FEC in late November that it would rename itself the Beat Obama PAC. The PAC has yet to publicly disclose its funding sources. PAC treasurer Randy Goodwin said the PAC is “testing the appetite for supporting another candidate” in a series of mailings to donors. In the meantime, the PAC is “concentrating on the reasons why Obama should not be reelected,” he said.

Unlike many of the PACs supporting GOP hopefuls, Goodwin added, the Beat Obama PAC is not an unrestricted super PAC but a conventional PAC raising money from conservative small donors.

Yet another pro-Cain PAC, a super PAC known as the 9-9-9 Fund, will suspend its operations until after the new year, said its chief organizer, GOP political consultant Jordan Gehrke. That PAC has doled out almost $800,000 in political expenditures, public records show, mostly on phone banks, direct mail and purchasing voter lists.

“It could be a long nominating process, so we’re not necessarily in a hurry to jump in and make a decision at this point,” said Gehrke. The PAC’s donors are committed to backing a conservative candidate, he said. Options include picking an alternative candidate and campaigning to oppose President Barack Obama in the general election.

The super PAC once known as Americans for Rick Perry still backs the Texas governor, said its treasurer, California political consultant Bob Schuman, but it’s renaming itself the Restoring Prosperity Fund. The PAC had raised $193,000 as of the most recent public reporting period but only spent $17,243. A good chunk of that went to Schuman’s consulting firm, the Schuman Group.

The PAC expects to raise and spend about a half-million dollars by the end of the year, Schuman said, and will dispatch volunteers to Iowa right after Christmas. He said the PAC has not aggressively raised money in recent months to make room for another, higher-profile super PAC backing Perry called Make Us Great Again, which recently reported a $499,377 ad buy.

Large or small, super PACs have drawn fire lately, even from the candidates they back. Romney said on the MSNBC program “Morning Joe” that super PACs are a “disaster” and should be eliminated, even as the pro-Romney Restore Our Future PAC launched a $3.1 million ad campaign on his behalf.

Gingrich reportedly told supporters in Iowa that they should ask Romney to take the Restore Our Future ads off the air — just as a new pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, launched a big fundraising drive in preparation for its own ad buys.

Watchdog groups have accused the super PACs of circumventing contribution limits and illegally coordinating with the candidates they endorse. Campaign officials for the candidates receiving super PAC help, as well as the PAC organizers, have all said such committees operate independently from the campaigns.

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