By REBECCA BALLHAUS – – – – –
The Republican money machine in recent weeks has dramatically escalated its effort to derail front-runner Donald Trump.
Super PACs have spent more than $9.5 million attacking Mr. Trump since the Feb. 20 South Carolina Republican primary, which the real-estate billionaire won by eight percentage points, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. That’s more than the total that groups spent attacking him in the previous eight months since his campaign began.
Leading the charge so far is the super PAC backing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who in the last week has launched a series of aggressive attacks against Mr. Trump, calling him a “con artist” and suggesting the billionaire had wet his pants during last week’s Republican debate. His super PAC, Conservative Solutions PAC, has spent more than $5 million attacking Mr. Trump in states including Illinois, Missouri and Florida. The senator’s home state holds its primary on March 15.
American Future Fund, a 501(c)(4) non-profit that doesn’t have to disclose its donors, has spent the second-highest amount against Mr. Trump in recent weeks, $1.8 million including a $1.75 million ad campaign in Florida launched on Tuesday. The group has not said it is affiliated with any candidate, but it has so far run ads criticizing Republicans Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Mr. Trump—and none against Mr. Rubio.
Two other groups launched seven-figure ad campaigns against Mr. Trump on Wednesday: Our Principles PAC, a group initially bankrolled by the billionaire Ricketts family, is airing ads in Michigan, Illinois and Florida criticizing Mr. Trump’s involvement in the now-defunct Trump University; and the fiscal conservative advocacy group Club for Growth is starting a $1.5 million campaign in Florida slamming Mr. Trump’s use of eminent domain and bankruptcy filings.
Our Principles PAC, which in February received $3 million from Marlene Ricketts, wife ofTD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, has picked up new backers in recent weeks. Minnesota broadcasting billionaire Stan Hubbard gave the group $10,000 on Wednesday.
“This is yet another desperate attempt by the out of touch establishment elites and dark money that control the weak politicians to maintain control of our broken and corrupt system,” said Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks. “Mr. Trump will continue to stand for the people and the issues they care about.”
The concentrated spending in Florida — $6.5 million of the total — is another indication that establishment Republicans are rallying behind Mr. Rubio, though he has won only a single state to date. A win in Florida, which has a winner-take-all delegate system, would give Mr. Rubio a much-needed injection of delegates and momentum. If he loses there, his path forward would be murky at best.