Club for Growth Action

On its website, the Club for Growth describes itself as “the leading free-enterprise advocacy group in the nation.”[1]  In practice, it spends millions of dollars each year to elect Republicans. Club for Growth Action is a Super PAC subsidiary of the 501(c)(4) nonprofit Club for Growth, meaning that it is able to spend unlimited amounts. As noted by USA Today in September 2013, “Ten individuals donated nearly half of the money that has flowed since January 1, 2011” to Club for Growth Action.[2]  According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Club for Growth Action has combined with Club For Growth’s traditional PAC arm to disburse nearly $33 million in independent expenditures since Citizens United was handed down, a figure that does not include any ‘non-candidate issue ads’ run by the Club’s nonprofit arm.[3][4]

The Club for Growth also has numerous state affiliates. One affiliate, Wisconsin Club for Growth, has recently been mired in legal controversy. During Gov. Scott Walker’s recall in 2011, Walker directly solicited donors to give to the Club due to its independent expenditures on his behalf – seemingly in violation of campaign coordination rules.[5] As detailed by the Center for Media and Democracy, “Some secret donors later received special treatment from the Walker administration, such as the mining company CEO that donated $700,000 and saw Walker prioritize a mining bill, and the chain hardware store owner who gave $1.5 million and received $1.8 million in tax credits from Walker’s jobs agency.”[6] A Politico article suggested that the scandal might be “Scott Walker’s Whitewater”.[7]

Ironically, Justice Kennedy’s opinion in Citizens United v. FEC asserted that “The appearance of influence or access… will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy. By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate.”[8] Nonetheless, in July 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted 4-2 to throw out the case and to effectively void the Wisconsin law prohibiting coordination between independent expenditure groups and candidates.[9] Notably, the four judges voting with the Club received $1.77 million in independent expenditures on their behalf from the Club during their previous electoral victories, as well as millions more from other closely associated groups.[10]

In 2016, the Club has announced that it will spend $2.5 million against Russ Feingold, a long-time champion of campaign finance reform who is running for Senate in Wisconsin.[11] The Club is also attempting to influence the Democratic primary in Florida. Before Rep. Alan Grayson entered the race, the Club’s nonprofit arm ran $1 million in digital ads to praise his opposition to a proposed renewal of the Export-Import Bank.[12] Per the Miami Herald, “The ad’s real goal is to go after [ECU-endorsed] Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter, the top Democrat who has declared his Senate candidacy. Grayson hasn’t decided whether to jump in the race yet, but Club for Growth seems to want him to — thinking he might be easier to beat in a general election than the moderate Murphy.”[13] Grayson later entered the race.

As of April 30, 2016, Club for Growth Action had slightly over $2 million cash on hand.[14] The group’s leading donors for the 2016 cycle include shipping CEO Richard Uihlein, who has donated $3.25 million, and brothers Jackson and Warren Stephens, each of whom have donated $2.5 million.

[1]The Club for Growth – About – What We Do.”

[2]10 people heavily fund conservative anti-tax Super PAC.” Fredreka Schouten, USA Today, 09/25/13

[3]Club for Growth Action 2016 – Summary – Spending by Cycle.” The Center for Responsive Politics, accessed 02/09/16

[4]Club for Growth 2016 – Summary – Spending by Cycle.” The Center for Responsive Politics, accessed 02/09/16

[5]Scott Walker’s Wisconsin and the End of Campaign Finance Law.” Lincoln Caplan, The New Yorker, 07/21/15

[6]Five Things to Know About the Scott Walker John Doe Ruling.” Brendan Fischer, The Center for Media and Democracy PRWatch, 07/16/15

[7]Scott Walker’s Whitewater?” J.R. Ross, Politico, 02/26/15

[8] Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310, 2010 at 44, 01/21/10

[9] State of Wisconsin ex rel. Schmitz v. Peterson, 2015 WI 85, 2013AP296-OA & 2014AP417-W through 2014AP421-W & 2013AP2504-W through 2013AP2508-W, 07/16/15

[10]John Doe prosecutor asks one or more Justice to step aside.” Patrick Marley, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 02/13/15

[11]Club for Growth to spend $2.5 million to back Johnson re-election campaign.” Donovan Slack, USA Today, 08/18/15

[12]Club for Growth attempts to troll Alan Grayson into Florida Senate race.” Dave Weigel, Bloomberg, 05/26/15

[13]Conservative Club for Growth praises Alan Grayson in new ad.” Patricia Mazzei, The Miami Herald, 05/26/15

[14]Club for Growth Action – FEC Form 3X.” Federal Election Commission, 04/30/16, p. 2