By Kim Dixon
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A major Republican-linked fundraising group has amassed $25 million this year to finance attacks on President Barack Obama and other Democrats in the 2012 elections.
American Crossroads, conceived by Republican guru Karl Rove, is a new breed of political committee that can raise unlimited cash, thanks in part to recent court decisions loosening federal campaign finance laws.
Crossroads aims to spend $120 million to try to unseat Obama in 2012 and has already run ads including one mocking his comments about a "recovery summer," set to rock music.
Obama's popularity and re-election prospects have been hit hard by the sputtering economy and high jobless rate.
Crossroads is one of many so-called "outside groups," or those not officially associated with a candidate or party, making its presence as campaigning heats up ahead of the November 2012 elections.
"If they follow through on their intention to raise $120 million, that gives us a preview to what undoubtedly will be a staggering amount of spending by outside groups from corporations, unions, and other sources in 2012," said Paul Ryan, associate legal counsel at the Campaign Legal Center.
Total outside spending in the 2008 elections -- before the court decisions -- was just $300 million.
Among Crossroads donors listed in a report by the Federal Election Commission, Ken Griffin, chief executive of hedge fund Citadel Investments, gave $300,000. He also gave money to the group in 2010.
In 2008 Griffin "bundled" at least $50,000 in funds for both Obama and Republican John McCain. Based in Chicago, Griffin was one of several high-profile hedge fund managers who helped Obama in 2008.
KEEPING PACE WITH OBAMA
Republican election lawyer Michael Toner said the Crossroads money will help the eventual Republican nominee keep pace with Obama's fundraising after weathering an expensive primary fight. Obama has no primary opponent.
"Those funds are going to be necessary to compete with record breaking funds raised by an incumbent president," he said.
Several investors -- and hedge funds in particular -- have publicly soured on Obama, mainly over his stance on tax policy and what they say is his unfair characterization of Wall Street as populated by "fat cats."
Griffin has made campaign donations mostly to Republicans recently, but he also has sent checks to some Democrats over the years, according to FEC reports. One person close to him said Griffin will definitely back a Republican in 2012, but has not yet decided which one.
Ken Langone, an investment banker and early investor in Home Depot, gave $25,000 to American Crossroads, according to the Federal Election Commission filing, required because of he group's heavy spending in a Nevada special election.
Democratic-leaning groups have also been pulling in donations, but they are trailing Republican groups, which outpaced them by millions of dollars in last year's congressional elections when Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and gained seats in the Senate.
"Liberals are trying to mobilize using the same vehicles, but they are behind the Republicans in organizing efforts and fighting uphill against a dispirited base," said George Washington University professor Chris Arterton. "It will be hard for the Democrats to catch up."
Priorities USA, run by former aides to Obama, has begun to run television ads in politically important states like Iowa and Florida to help re-elect Obama.
(Additional reporting by Eric Johnson; editing by Vicki Allen and Christopher Wilson)