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Super PACs Shift Focus to Congressional Races

Super PACs have jumped feet first into Congressional races in recent weeks, the latest public disclosures show, with the conservative groups Club for Growth Action and FreedomWorks for America leading the way.

The most recent batch of campaign finance reports, filed with the Federal Election Commission on May 20, suggest that unrestricted super PACs that played a dominant role in the Republican presidential primary are shifting their focus to House and Senate contests. Recent disclosures also illustrate an ongoing cash advantage for GOP-friendly super PACs, particularly conservative ones.

Club for Growth Action, which favors small government, spent $2.2 million on House and Senate races in April, according to the latest FEC reports. The group raised just less than $723,000 last month, bringing its receipts for the election cycle to $6.6 million, a total that places it among the top-grossing super PACs.

FreedomWorks for America, a tea party-friendly conservative group, spent just less than $400,000 on some half-dozen Senate races last month, FEC reports show. The super PAC raised $345,000 in April, bringing its total for the election cycle to $4 million.

Both super PACs have spent heavily in GOP primaries, and helped conservative Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in his successful primary challenge earlier this month to incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar.

Both groups also have backed Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz in his bid to win the state’s GOP Senate primary. Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is not seeking re-election. FreedomWorks has also spent more than $636,000 in an attempt to oust GOP incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

The two super PACs are also going after Democrats. FreedomWorks has targeted four incumbent Democratic Senators in recent weeks: Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jon Tester of Montana and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

Club for Growth Action has spent more than $200,000 to back Scott Keadle, a Republican county commissioner in North Carolina running for the 8th district seat now held by incumbent Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell.

Democrat-friendly super PACs have also stepped up their Congressional spending in recent weeks. House Majority PAC, which backs Democrats running for the House, spent several hundred thousand dollars in a handful of races in April and May. That included ads assailing Republican Jesse Kelly, who is running against Democrat Ron Barber in the special election to replace former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

Majority PAC, which backs Senate Democrats, spent about $1 million in April and May on several Senate races. This included more than half a million dollars to back McCaskill and former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who is running for Senate there. Majority PAC also spent more than $300,000 to oppose Ohio Republican Josh Mandel, who is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, and some $25,000 on anti-Lugar online ads.

As a whole, super PACs backing Democrats have lagged far behind their GOP counterparts throughout this election cycle. Because Majority PAC and House Majority PAC file disclosures to the FEC every quarter, not every month, their April receipts are not available. However, first-quarter filings show that Majority PAC had pulled in $4.2 million as of March 31, while House Majority PAC raised $4.5 million. Another leading Democratic super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, has raised $5.8 million in this cycle.

Priorities USA Action, the leading Democratic super PAC backing President Barack Obama, updates its FEC filings every month and reported collecting $1.6 million in April, bringing its total receipts for the election cycle to $10.6 million.

By contrast, Restore Our Future, the leading GOP super PAC backing presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, raised $4.6 million in April, bringing its total receipts for the cycle to $56.5 million.

Adding to the GOP advantage is the more than $100 million that the pro-GOP super PAC American Crossroads has raised in conjunction with its nonprofit affiliate, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies. Both Crossroads groups have run ads in the presidential and congressional races.

A closely watched wild card group also spending heavily in congressional races is the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which pulled in just less than $380,000 last month, bringing its total for the election cycle to $2.9 million.

The group made about $240,000 in campaign expenditures in April, the latest FEC disclosures show. The super PAC describes itself as a nonpartisan organization focused on unseating incumbents, and has helped oust lawmakers from both parties in Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania. But virtually all its donors are longtime GOP contributors, and the super PAC recently hired a tea party organizer — underscoring the growing heft of super PACs with a conservative bent.