By: Alexander Burns
BRADENTON BEACH, Fla. — The billboard flickered from the side of a truck, displaying an image of Representative Vern Buchanan, Republican of Florida, wearing a yachtsman’s cap. Keith Fitzgerald, a local dignitary invited by the group Floridians for a Fair Shake, stood before it as he tore into the lawmaker’s record.
The congressman embodied “deep and profound corruption,” Mr. Fitzgerald told a thin crowd. The nautical caricature of Mr. Buchanan, a wealthy auto dealer, alluded to his purchase of a multimillion-dollar yacht on the same day he voted for a bill cutting upper-income tax rates.
Floridians for a Fair Shake has criticized Mr. Buchanan for months, with paid advertising, campaign workers, and events like this, on a recent Sunday in a beachside parking lot. Yet Mr. Fitzgerald, a former Democratic state legislator and something of the guest of honor, confessed, “Honestly, I don’t know a whole lot about this group.”
“They told me what they were doing,” he continued. “I’m not sure where the money comes from.”
Mr. Gerney also confirmed that the Hub Project controls a super PAC of its own, Change Now, which has been funding advertising this fall against a smaller list of Republican-held districts that includes some of the same targets. The group has filed a report with the Federal Election Commission showing it received $1.75 million in funding from the League of Conservation Voters, the influential environmental group, and several people involved with the effort said future reports were expected to show contributions from national labor unions.
Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United, a Democratic group that supports stricter campaign finance regulation, said dark money contributions were largely unpopular with voters. But she acknowledged that groups with “really innocuous-sounding names, like Americans for a Better America,” could leave a lasting mark with voters in part because they are perceived as independent from candidates.
“They really dislike dark money and any type of political spending,” Ms. Muller said of voters. At the same time, she noted, research suggests “voters trust outside-group ads more than they trust candidate ads.”
Mr. Dach said that the network of state groups had bolstered the Hub Project’s credibility with voters, connecting it with local activists who in some cases ended up starring in ads. Mr. Dach, a former Obama administration health care official, said the 14-month advocacy campaign had helped keep policy at the forefront of the midterm election.