Freedom PAC, the second shadowy political-action committee in Florida's U.S. Senate race, announced itself Wednesday and pledged to get Congressman Connie Mack elected.
The announcement of the "Super PAC" comes just as Mack endured back-to-back losses in recent Republican straw polls and questions about his campaign, which only has about $1.3 million in the bank. Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson has $9.5 million on hand.
Freedom PAC, which can raise and spend unlimited sums from corporations to help out Mack, can effectively erase the cash deficit Mack has with Nelson. The committees are prohibited from coordinating most of their activities with the campaigns.
Mack was targeted in February by what appears to be a pro-Nelson committee, Saving Florida's Future, which released a Web ad. It mocked the Fort Myers congressman as a "Mini Mack" shadow of his dad, lobbyist and former Sen. Connie Mack III.
"Congressman Connie Mack has been fighting for Florida throughout his distinguished career in public service," Freedom PAC said in a written statement. "His goal is to promote the ideals of Freedom, Security and Prosperity and we believe he is the only person who can defeat Senator Bill Nelson this fall."
Another advantage of Freedom PAC: It could give Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater pause as he decides whether to enter the Republican race. Mack is the frontrunner right now — ahead of former Sen. George LeMieux and businessman Mike McCalister.
Unlike the other candidates, Atwater is the only one who has run and won in a statewide election. Like Mack, Atwater is the scion of a Florida political family.
Heading the so-called "Super PAC" is Matt Williams, an experienced Florida hand and former campaign manager for Attorney General Bill McCollum, who lost a squeaker of a 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary to the self-financed Rick Scott.
Rounding out Freedom PAC's consultant ranks: Rob Cole, adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and former New York Gov. George Pataki; and Jake Menges, adviser to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
The three all have ties to Arthur Finkelstein, adviser for McCollum, Mack and the former senator, who wrote a fundraising-pitch letter Wednesday that complained about the way the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times cover his son.
Mack's campaign also boasted Wednesday of winning an unscientific online poll and trumpeted the endorsement of the American Conservative Union, a Washington group headed by lobbyist and former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Al Cardenas.
Super PACs began to spread after the January 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case. They were instrumental in the Republican presidential primary by helping Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum mount spirited challenges to Mitt Romney. Each has a Super Pac that backed him, as does President Barack Obama.
Under federal law, a federal candidate may solicit for his Super Pac but only up to the federal limit, which is $5,000 per year, said Kenneth A Gross, elections-law expert with the Washington law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
However, regardless of what a candidate solicits, donors can decide to give as much as they want. That type of help is key in Florida, where a successful statewide campaign generally needs to burn through $1 million or more a week on television ads at the height of the election.