The new super PAC backing Rick Perry has drawn up plans to spend $55 million as part of an ambitious campaign strategy aimed at blowing away the Texas governor's rivals in early primary states and securing him the Republican nomination by next spring, according to internal committee documents obtained by NBC News.
The documents underscore the central role that such super PACs — or super political action committees unconstrained by any limits on how much they can collect from wealthy donors and corporations — will play in the 2012 presidential election.
They also show that the strategists behind the new Perry super PAC, led by a longtime Perry confidant and backed with infusions of cash from major Perry donors, are preparing to mount a full service political operation — complete with TV advertising, direct mail and social media outreach.
If it realizes its goals, the super PAC — which calls itself "Make Us Great Again" — will likely eclipse the financial operations of Perry's official presidential campaign committee, according to some Republican consultants.
"The super PAC will probably outspend the legal presidential deal," said Scott Reed, a veteran GOP strategist. "Look, these super PACs have changed the way presidential campaigns are run."
The internal documents outlining the group's plans were distributed within the last week to some Perry supporters and campaign consultants; a source with access shared them with NBC News.
Asked for comment, Jason Miller, a spokesman for Make Us Great Again, said in an email: "You're referring to an early planning document that is now outdated. As the dynamics of this primary have changed, so have our targeting and spending." He declined to elaborate.
Ray Sullivan, chief spokesman for the Perry campaign, said in an email: "I am not familiar with Make Us Great Again and am unaware of their budget or intentions."
The first splash by Make Us Great Again may come shortly when it is planning to begin phase one of a four-phase strategy — a $5 million advertising buy on Fox News and Iowa TV stations aimed at building the Texas governor's name identification and touting his economic record in Texas, according to one of the documents, a Power Point slide presentation the group has prepared for prospective donors.
One of the prospective new ads, in an apparent attempt to play off the recent spate of bad weather news, depicts storm clouds of "recession, unemployment and debt" that, a narrator pronounces, "Barack Obama has brought" to Washington.
"Rick Perry can make America great again," the narrator continues. "As governor of Texas, Perry created 1 million new jobs, cut taxes and reduced waste — true conservative leadership that works. We've weathered the Obama storm long enough. Rick Perry for president."
The ads, which essentially echo Perry's basic campaign message, are sure to be challenged by the Texas governor's rivals: Critics charge his claim to have created a million new jobs ignores the fact that a substantial number of them are in low-paying service positions and that the Texas unemployment rate last month increased to 8.4 percent — the highest state rate in 24 years (although still below the national average of 9.1 percent).
Still, the scale of Make Us Great Again's plans and the nature of its operations illustrate how super PACs are transforming presidential politics.
The super PACs are theoretically independent of the formal presidential campaigns and are barred by law from "coordinating" their spending with them.
But in fact, the Perry super PACs — like similar organizations set up to boost Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and President Barack Obama — is being run by close personal and professional associates of the official presidential campaign's operatives: Mike Toomey, the super PAC's co-founder and now one of Austin's foremost lobbyists, is Perry's former chief of staff and shares ownership of a New Hampshire resort island with Dave Carney, the chief strategist for the Perry presidential campaign.
The super PAC also recently hired as its executive director Scott Rials, a veteran Georgia consultant, who recently worked closely with Carney and Perry presidential committee campaign manager Rob Johnson on Newt Gingrich's presidential bid (until all three resigned as part of a mass exodus from the former House speaker's campaign).
Most importantly, the "independent" super PACs — thanks to last year's Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case — can collect unlimited amounts from wealthy donors and directly from corporations. This gives them the latitude to potentially spend even more money than the presidential campaigns themselves, which are still constrained by official limits of $2,500 per donor.
It is a point that the Make Us Great Again strategists are emphasizing in courting wealthy donors.
GOP race over by March?
One Perry backer who has been briefed on the group's plans said that Toomey has told associates and prospective donors that "you can't run" a presidential campaign with limits of $2,500 for a donor and $5,000 for a couple; the only way to do so now is with a super PAC.
Asked about the remark, Miller, the Make Us Great Again spokesman, declined to comment.
As if to underscore the point, George "Brint" Ryan, a wealthy Texas accountant and the co-founder with Toomey of Make Us Great Again, has pledged $500,000, according to the Perry supporter. Like some other prospective super PAC donors, Ryan has been a consistent backer of Perry's gubernatorial campaigns — having contributed together with his wife a total of $563,334.
Ryan also has benefited from Perry's administration: Perry appointed him to the University of North Texas board of regents and the Dallas tax services firm Ryan runs was awarded $927,500 in tax rebates from a Texas Enterprise Zone program that Perry created.
The Make Us Great Again strategy, according to the Power Point presentation, is predicated on winning at least two of the first three GOP contests — in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. It notes that in every GOP primary battle since 1980, the winner of two of these three contests has gone on to win the nomination.
"What Does History Teach Us?" reads one slide. "No candidate has ever gone on to secure the nomination without winning in the traditional early states. …We have to win the battle of ideas, organization and momentum in the early states and carry that into March."
Phase two of the strategy calls for spending $20 million on the three major early states (as well as Florida and Nevada), according to another slide of the Power Point presentation. This would be followed by a third phase of the strategy — dubbed "Nomination Push" — during which the group would spend another $20 million on 20 states that form the next wave of contests through March 24. These states, which Make Us Great Again strategists view as decisive, include most key Southern battlegrounds — including Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia — where Perry will be expected to have a major home turf advantage.
The final phase of the strategy — dubbed "Finish" — calls for spending only $10 million after March 25 — a sign that the super PAC architects expect the nomination battle to be essentially over by then.