Why is a GOP super PAC spending millions to help a progressive Senate candidate?

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The PAC is bankrolling ads praising North Carolina Senate candidate Erica Smith as 'one of us.'

A prominent Republican super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed on Thursday that it was spending millions on ads to support a progressive candidate running for Senate in North Carolina.

The ads specifically praise the candidate for backing Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC funneled $2.45 million last month — by far its largest expenditure — and another $500,000 this month to the Faith and Power PAC.

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That $2.95 million represents the sum total raised between Faith and Power's registration as a political committee on Jan. 29 and its most recent financial disclosure on Feb. 12.

Faith and Power PAC used the bulk of that money to support Erica Smith, a progressive North Carolina state senator who is seeking the Democratic nomination against vulnerable Republican Sen. Thom Tillis this November.

On its website, in radio spots, and in TV ads, Faith and Power PAC praises Smith for supporting the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, Donald Trump's impeachment, and gun control — things the Senate Leadership Fund has long vocally opposed.

One TV ad praises Smith for having "the courage to vote for Medicare for All" and calls her "one of us."

It is unclear who that "us" is. Though it is clearly not funded by progressives, the Faith and Power PAC appears to be masquerading as a left-wing organization. Its website cheers that "a new generation of leadership—starting with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—is rising to challenge the establishment and its worn-out political class. They are the hope of our future, and they need our help!" But it identifies no board of directors or staff.

So why would a super PAC whose sole goal is "to protect and expand the Republican Senate Majority when Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer, together with their army of left-wing activists, try to take it back in 2020" be bankrolling a super PAC that purports to be for everything they are against?

Stephen Law, president and CEO of the Senate Leadership Fund, admitted this week that the effort was intended to force Democrats to spend money in the primary.

"We thought that with a relatively small investment we could force them to spend a lot," he told The Hill on Thursday. "The goal was less to change the ultimate outcome in the Democrat primary than to force the Democrats into a high-spending situation."

He noted that Democrats in previous campaigns have used similar tactics, with some success.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has endorsed a different candidate for the seat, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, believing him the strongest candidate to take on Tillis. By running ads pretending to support Smith, Law hopes to force Cunningham's backers to pour more money into the North Carolina primary that could otherwise be spent elsewhere.

Faith and Power PAC and Tillis did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story.

In a statement on Friday, Cunningham slammed the McConnell-tied super PAC, saying its efforts were misleading voters.

"These tactics are the very corruption North Carolinians are fed up with because it's preventing us from taking action on the issues that matter to our neighbors," he said.

"I've got a message for McConnell and his allies -- your scheme won't work and I'll see you in November," he added.

Hugh Holston, Smith's campaign manager, said in an email, "Black women are not chess pawns for DC committees, this is a campaign made up of thousands of supporters counting on Erica's leadership. Erica is spending every day until March 3rd talking to the voters of North Carolina and I'd suggest that we all keep our eyes on serving them."

Updated with a statement from the Erica Smith campaign.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.