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'Independent'? Maybe, but super PAC heavily backs Perry

A new super PAC proclaims its independence but has launched a website filled with photos of Rick Perry and campaign bullet points about the Texas governor’s record.
Image: Rick Perry
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the focus of a new super pac.Eric Gay / AP file
/ Source: NBC News

While still proclaiming it is "independent," the new powerhouse super PAC called "Make Us Great Again" has launched a website filled with photos of Rick Perry and campaign bullet points about the governor’s record creating jobs and lowering taxes in Texas.

"Rick Perry Can Make America Great Again," reads the headline on the group’s home page.

The pro-Perry message isn’t a surprise: The group was co-founded by Austin super lobbyist Mike Toomey, who was Perry’s chief of staff (and shares ownership of a New Hampshire island with David Carney, Perry’s campaign strategist.)

But it marks one more step removing the illusion of "independence" surrounding super PACs, which are proliferating this year because of their ability to collect unlimited amounts of money from corporations and wealthy donors. (Backers of Rep. Michele Bachmann's candidacy announced Wednesday that they have formed a new super PAC, Citizens for a Working America, to promote her candidacy.)

When it filed legal papers with the Federal Election Commission two weeks ago, the organizers of Make Us Great Again made no mention of Perry. Like the legal filings of other super PACs, they declared they were an "independent" political committee that would not make contributions "direct" or "via coordinated communications" to any particular federal candidates. They also checked off a box saying they would back or oppose "more than one federal candidate."

But the names of no other candidates other than Rick Perry appear on the website of Make Us Great Again. The name "Perry" appears 15 times, along with this message: "We’ve weathered Obama’s storm long enough. New jobs start with new conservative leadership. Rick Perry for president."

"We're a completely separate entity," Jason Miller, a spokesman for Make Us Great Again, when asked about the super PAC's connections to Perry's presidential campaign. The group was formed by "supporters" who "want to see Rick Perry president"  but who are not coordinating their activities with the candidate, he said. Perry also "at present" has no plans to speak at any of the group's fundraising events, he added.

Going a step further
In leaving no doubt about its goals, the pro-Perry Make Us Great Again appears to be going a step further than the super PACs backing the other leading president candidates.

"Restore Our Future," the super PAC founded by three former political aides to Mitt Romney, has no photos of the former Massachusetts governor on its website, even though the group’s organizers have explicitly said their goal is to elect Romney president (and Romney has appeared at its fundraising dinners.)

Similarly, Priorities USA Action the super PAC created this year by two former White House aides to President Barack Obama, including Bill Burton, his former spokesman, has no photos or explicit references to the president on its home page (although it does have a YouTube video attacking Republicans for criticizing his policies.)

The group is "an independent expenditure" PAC that "supports candidates who will advance policies that provide the strongest and most sound outcomes for middle class families," reads the message on the group’s website.

"The Perry PAC appears to be dropping all pretenses," said Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer for the Campaign Legal Center, which has been strongly critical of the role of super PACs.

Nor is it the only pro-Perry super PAC to do so. There are at least six other pro-Perry super PACs backing his candidacy, and several of them are just as explicit, including Americans for Rick Perry and Veterans for Rick Perry.

But Make Us Great Again is considered the most powerful of the pro-Perry PACs and the one that is likely to raise and spend the most money. In addition to Toomey — one of the most influental of statehouse lobbyists — its other co-founder, G. Brint Ryan, is a prolific Perry fundraiser and donor who has contributed more than $550,000 to the governor's campaigns. "To the exent that there is an official PAC ... they're it," Robert Schuman, the founder of Americans for Rick Perry, told the Wall Street Journal.

Ryan said he fully expects that, once they start running campaign ads, the other super PACs will be equally explicit about their goals. So long as they are not caught "coordinating" with the campaign committees of the presidential candidates about what ads they run and when, the super PACs have "wide latitude" to raise and spend money as they see fit, he said.