Illinois recently hosted a rather bitter primary fight that pitted two House Republican incumbents: Adam Kinzinger and Don Manzullo. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) intervened in the race, throwing his support to Kinzinger, the freshman, over Manzullo, a 20-year-incumbent, to the surprise and disappointment of the GOP establishment.
Cantor’s move ruffled feathers in GOP circles, but the story grew more serious late last week when Roll Call reported that Cantor donated $25,000 to an anti-incumbent super PAC to be used against Manzullo.
The political action committee in question is the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which targets congressional incumbents in both parties for defeat, and which ran a series of attack ads against Manzullo. The super PAC is generally seen as a scourge by House Republicans, which makes Cantor’s $25,000 donation to the group that much more insulting to the party.
According to the Majority Leader’s office, Cantor doesn’t really support the Campaign for Primary Accountability, he just gave it $25,000. Why? As a Cantor spokesperson told Roll Call, it’s because Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), who also supported Kinzinger, told Cantor it’d be a good idea.
The explanation isn’t going over well with Cantor’s own caucus. For one thing, Cantor never told other members of the House Republican leadership that he was sending a check to an anti-incumbent PAC. For another, rank-and-file GOP lawmakers facing attacks from the Campaign for Primary Accountability expect their own Majority Leader to have nothing to do with the group.
By Friday evening, Cantor launched an outreach effort to quell the damage…. With members settling in for the holiday weekend, multiple House GOP aides said the Virginia Republican had begun phoning colleagues who the Campaign for Primary Accountability had targeted to smooth over any hurt feelings. […]
“It’s just a mess,” said one leadership aide. “I don’t know how you wouldn’t weigh the pros and cons and decide this wasn’t the best move to make.”
“People are a little bit stunned,” said a senior House GOP aide. “It’s one thing for [Cantor] to endorse Kinzinger, or even to have the Young Guns [Action Fund] running ads for him. It’s a whole other level for Cantor to be giving to an organization that is trying to defeat all these Republicans. Very surprising.”
Making matters slightly worse, there’s reason to believe Cantor’s office isn’t telling the whole truth about what transpired.
As far as the Majority Leader is concerned, he sent the PAC $25,000, but effectively earmarked it – the money could only be spent on the Kinzinger/Manzullo race in Illinois. This is important because Cantor doesn’t want to be confronted by his own Republican colleagues, asking why his money is being used to defeat them personally.
But is this explanation accurate? Not according to the PAC, it’s not.
…CPA is challenging that version of events. Appearing on CNN Friday evening, Leo Linbeck, a Houston construction magnate who is one of the super PAC’s primary funders, said he was not aware that Cantor’s donation had been earmarked specifically to target Manzullo.
“It’s news to me. I don’t know what their expectation was,” Linbeck said. “For us, it came in, it went to our super PAC, and we spent it on the activity that was underway.”
Also keep in mind, the National Republican Congressional Committee – the entity responsible for electing Republicans to the House and supporting them in their re-election bids – has not only distanced itself from the Campaign for Primary Accountability, but also severed relationships with campaign consulting firms that have done business with the PAC. It is, in other words, persona non grata in Republican circles.
But that didn’t stop the Republicans’ House Majority Leader from cutting it a five-figure check and then fibbing in his explanation. No wonder Cantor’s in the GOP doghouse.