New GOP Super PAC Wants to Be Kickstarter of Political Ads

Digital Republican Shop Launches Platform to Fund Soft Money Ads on TV and Web

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"Sit down and shut up!"

In a new ad, that bit of vintage Chris Christie serves as an implied response to a series of strategically-edited clips of President Barack Obama, portrayed as a fumbling, wishy-washy orator. The spot, loaded with other one-liners from the New Jersey governor, was produced for just-launched Citizen Super PAC, a quirky brainchild of small digital political consulting shop Tusk Digital.

But the ad has yet to be funded and hasn't run on YouTube or TV. If all goes according to the Citizen Super PAC plan, funding will come from everyday people pledging small amounts of money to the PAC via a platform developed by Tusk.

"It's the Kickstarter of political speech," said Ron Steslow, president of Tusk Digital. "Don't think of this as a Super PAC," he continued. "We're really just about giving people a platform to support the ads they want see."

This is a political action committee, though, and like all others, it must report its independent expenditures to the Federal Election Commission, just like American Crossroads, Ready for Hillary, or any other soft-money group.

At launch, which is planned today, the CitizenSuperPAC.com site will have six ad campaigns available to fund. The ads were produced by political media consultants that have asked to remain anonymous, according to Mr. Steslow. In the initial stages, the system will feature spots that will run as digital video units. Would-be campaigns may indicate targeting details including audience segments or geographic locations of a potential campaign.

The organization is not backing any one candidate, though Citizen Super PAC is decidedly partisan. Tusk is a Republican shop. Indeed, Mr. Steslow is acting digital director for the Carly Fiorina campaign, and his legal partner and Citizen Super Pac co-founder, Chris Gober, serves as Ted Cruz's legal counsel. So, to stay on the right side of FEC rules, Citizen Super PAC has internal firewalls set up to prevent staff working on campaigns from making any decisions regarding ad content or timing of ad campaigns funded through the system.

However, considering the remarkably crowded GOP presidential primary, that leaves no shortage of candidates whom ads funded through the platform could support. The system will also feature ads focused on issues, and, of course, ones opposing Democratic candidates. In the future, the platform's creators hope to use it to fund ads supporting local and statewide candidates, and possibly field organizing operations.

"We have no plans to support any Democratic candidates," said Mr. Gober.

Another way Citizen Super PAC is following the standard Super PAC model closely: It bought a list. The organization has purchased voter-contact information including a file of between 500,000 and 1 million email addresses it will use to promote the ad funding platform.

The system will charge donors only once the required threshold for each campaign – which could be as little as $5,000 -- is met. When the minimum pledge amount is met, the campaign will run as advertised, as digital video pre-roll or interstitial, or as a TV spot. Citizen Super PAC will take a 5% cut of all donations, in addition to diverting funds from pledges to pay for credit card processing.

The platform could serve as a vehicle for consultants that have already created ads that were deemed too edgy, or just not right for clients. "They've got this great stuff sitting in the can that they can't use," said Mr. Steslow. Around 15 ad producers have signed on to upload their spots to the platform. Producers won't pay to have their ads in the system, and the PAC won't pay for ad production, but it will give creators a fixed payment when a campaign is funded.

"Eventually, you will see ads on the platform that are edgier and more creative than the stuff that currently ends up on TV, because creators will have to compete to have their projects funded, and they won't be encumbered by what a particular client will approve," said Mr. Steslow.

If a media firm has intellectual property rights to an ad, that spot could show up in the system even if another PAC ran it already. Or, an ad could be provided to Citizen Super PAC by another group as an in-kind contribution. An ad transfer from a candidate campaign to Citizen Super PAC or vice versa, however, would not be allowed under FEC rules.

But why would a voter choose to support a little-known Super PAC with no affiliation to any specific candidate when there are already several other well-established organizations begging for their unlimited donations? It's all about control, said Mr. Steslow, who argues that funders of the new PAC have more say because they are funding specific campaign ads and media buys.

"When you give to another organization…you really have no control over what they do with their money."

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