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    Tea Party super PAC pours funds into congressional races

    Goal is purging GOP of those too moderate

    AP/File
    US Senator Pat Toomey benefited from $2.7m spent on negative ads by the Club for Growth Action super PAC.

    A super PAC that spent more than $5 million to help elect Tea Partiers to Congress in 2010 has already surpassed that fund-raising total this election year. But while there is a bigger prize at stake in 2012 - the White House - Club for Growth Action has not touched the presidential race, and its major donors have contributed little to presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

    Instead, the super PAC has worked to purge the GOP of what it calls RINOs - Republicans in name only - in congressional primaries.

    “Our members are excited to defeat President Obama, but our focus is on electing progrowth candidates to Congress,’’ said Barney Keller, spokesman for Club for Growth Action. “We’d like to endorse a presidential candidate in a future election, but we were unable to do that this cycle.’’

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    Club for Growth Action is an arm of the conservative Club for Growth, a 75,000-member group that for more than a decade has endorsed free-market candidates and bundled donations for them.

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    The Club for Growth was among the first to take advantage of a landmark Supreme Court ruling that permitted unlimited political spending by super PACs. It formed Club for Growth Action in August 2010, and the new super PAC raised millions in three months before that fall’s election.

    Most of its expenditures were devoted to aiding Pat Toomey, former Club for Growth president and Tea Party movement favorite, in his bid to replace Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Club for Growth Action walloped Toomey’s Democratic opponent, Joe Sestak, with $2.7 million of negative advertising, helping Toomey win by the narrowest of margins, 51 percent to 49 percent.

    “If there’d been no outside spending, it’s hard to say that Joe would not be in the United States Senate,’’ said J.J. Balaban, Sestak’s media strategist in the campaign.

    The successful spree offered a glimpse of the super PAC influence that has shaded this year’s presidential race in unprecedented fashion.

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    Yet Club for Growth Action, which has collected $6.6 million in the current election cycle, has spent nothing to support or oppose any candidate for president, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Its attention has remained on congressional races, and after directing all of its opposition spending at Democrats in 2010, the super PAC has aimed 100 percent of its 2012 negative expenditures - some $4.2 million - at Republicans it considers too liberal.

    The shift does not reflect a philosophical change, Keller said.

    “It’s just that by the time we formed the super PAC in August [2010], all the primaries were over,’’ Keller said. “This year, we’ve focused on some important primary races, but there’s really no trend.’’

    In advance of last week’s Republican primary in Texas, where GOP Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is retiring, Club for Growth Action poured $2.5 million into ads opposing David Dewhurst, the frontrunner. Dewhurst won the crowded primary but Ted Cruz, the Club for Growth’s endorsed candidate, fared well enough to force a July 31 runoff.

    Club for Growth Action also spent $1.5 million on the Indiana Republican primary, helping Tea Partier Richard Mourdock defeat 35-year incumbent Senator Richard Lugar.

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    The people who bankrolled Club for Growth Action’s efforts two years ago have also kept their focus on congressional races.

    The Globe studied the 2012 political contributions of the 64 living individuals who gave at least $10,000 to Club for Growth Action two years ago; one donor, Roger Milliken, died eight weeks after the 2010 election.

    These five-figure donors have contributed a total of $5.9 million in the current election cycle but only $113,000 has gone to Romney or Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting his candidacy. Most of that money, $68,000, has come from one man, C. Kevin Landry, senior adviser at the private Boston equity firm TA Associates, who contributed to Restore Our Future.

    The 64 donors have remained loyal to Club for Growth Action, giving the super PAC another $3 million this election cycle. They are also responsible for more than 10 percent of the $4 million raised by Freedomworks for America, another super PAC that aids Tea Party candidates.

    Only 16 have given to Romney’s presidential campaign; the $40,000 total to the former Massachusetts governor is roughly one third of the $113,900 contributed to Cruz and less than half the $97,250 given to Jeff Flake, the favorite to replace Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.

    Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.