The Club for Growth is a 501(c)(4) political organization and an affiliated political action committee that raises money for candidates who support a low-tax and limited-government agenda. The group claims over 40,000 members.
In the 2002 Congressional races, 17 out of 19 candidates endorsed by the organization's PAC won. It also endorsed Mark Sanford in the South Carolina gubernatorial Republican primary as he defeated Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler.
In 2004, the Club for Growth's PAC caused a stir within the Republican Party by endorsing and heavily supporting U.S. Representative Pat Toomey, who challenged incumbent Senator Arlen Specter in the Republican primary in Pennsylvania. The organization was reported to have collected contributions totaling over $934,000 for Toomey. It also spent $1 million on its own independent television advertising campaign on Toomey's behalf. Toomey barely lost the race against Specter, 51%-49%, due in large part to President Bush, the RNC, and Sen. Rick Santorum all supporting the incumbent. Afterwards, Toomey accepted his current position as President of the Club for Growth.
The club invented the "RINO Watch" list to monitor "Republican office holders around the nation who have advanced egregious anti-growth, anti-freedom or anti-free market policies." (RINO is an acronym for Republican In Name Only.) The list has focused on Republicans who voted against tax changes and budget cuts supported by the Club.
In addition, the Club for Growth also makes independent expenditures encouraging certain moderate Republicans to vote more conservatively (i.e., running ads against Senators George Voinovich of Ohio, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island after these Senators objected to certain aspects of President Bush's tax cuts).
On September 19, 2005, the Federal Election Commission filed suit against the Club for Growth for violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act for failing to register as a political action committee in the 2000, 2002, and 2004 congressional elections. In September, 2007 the Club for Growth agreed to pay $350,000 in civil penalties. The agreement, if approved by a federal judge, would mark the end of the lawsuit.
After a good deal of electoral success in 2004, the Club continued its policy of supporting candidates conforming to its ideology for federal office, especially during contested primaries. Freshmen U.S. Congressmen Adrian M. Smith (R-NE), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Bill Sali (R-ID), and Tim Walberg (R-MI) all won their heavily contested primary elections in large part because of the Club's involvement. In fact, Rep. Walberg defeated moderate incumbent Republican Congressman Joe Schwarz in the August 2006 Michigan primary. Schwarz was backed by Pres. Bush, Sen. McCain, the NRCC, and almost all of the state's Republican establishment. The Club for Growth criticized Schwarz for a number of liberal views on fiscal issues including his votes against the elimination of earmarks in appropriations bills and his support of higher taxes while in the Michigan Legislature. He was the only incumbent Republican congressman defeated in a primary that year.
The Club was also able to boast of successfully supporting the reelection of Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) in a heavily fought race against liberal former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez. The were less successful however in supporting the "Three Mikes" for the US Senate (Mike Bouchard in MI, Mike McGavick in WA, and Michael Steele in MD.) Perhaps the biggest and toughest loss for the Club was Sharon Angle's defeat for Nevada's 2nd CD in the Republican primary. Angle was the first candidate endorsed by the Club for the 2006 campaign and it spent over a year raising close to one million dollars for her. The result was an exceedingly close loss to Dean Heller, who would go on to victory in November. The Club additionally supported the losing primary campaigns of Minnesota state senator Phil Krinkie for MN CD 6 and Oklahoma state rep. Kevin Calvey for OK CD 5. The winners of those primaries, Michelle Bachman and Mary Fallin respectively, both went on to be elected to congress in November. The Club also supported incumbent congressman Chris Chocola in his losing race in Indiana, John Gard's losing effort in WI's CD 8, and Rick O'Donnell's losing effort for the open 7th CD in Colorado. They did support the successful reelection of Rep. Steve Chabot in a hard fought OH CD 1 victory.
The most high profile race of the year for The Club was their support of conservative Cranston, Rhode Island mayor Stephen Laffey against liberal incumbent Senator Lincoln Chafee. Chaffee was able to hang on for a 54% to 46% victory in large part because of Democrats that crossed over to vote for him and from the strong aid of Sen. Elizabeth Dole, the NRSC, President Bush, and the rest of the party's establishment in Rhode Island.
The Club suffered two defeats in 2007 special elections.
- The Club endorsed state senator Steve Buehrer in the special election for Ohio CD 5 to replace the deceased Rep. Paul Gillmor. Buehrer however was defeated by Bob Latta, the son of former Rep. Del Latta, in the Republican primary in November 2007 by a 44% to 40% margin. Latta went on to defeat the Democrat and be elected to congress.
- The Club strongly supported Paul Jost, the chairman of the Virginia chapter of The Club for Growth, in the contest to replace deceased Rep. Jo Ann Davis in Virginia congressional district 1. In the nominating convention however Jost was defeated by state delegate Rob Wittman. Wittman went on to win the special general election versus Democrat Phil Forgit and was sworn into congress in December 2007.
The Club entered the 2008 election cycle by continuing to fund candidates for congress that support their stated goals of less taxes, more trade, and smaller government. In most cases the candidates they support are in conservative districts that should be held by a conservative Republican. It is believed however that they will not support a candidate if they are not viewed as a viable contender in their own right. This is allegedly why the Club failed to support Joe McLauglin in his primary challenge to Rep. Walter Jones in North Carolina's 3rd congressional district. McLauglin went on to lose by a 60% to 40% margin.
- The Club strongly supported state senator Andrew P. Harris in his successful primary campaign for Maryland's 1st congressional district against incumbent Republican congressman Wayne Gilchrest. Despite some polls and predictions that Gilchrest would survive, on the Feb. 12th primary Harris surged to a strong 44% to 32% victory. Gilchrest is the second incumbent Republican to be defeated by a candidate supported by the Club. The first was Rep. Joe Schwarz in Michigan in 2006.
- Chris Hackett for Pennsylvania CD 10 vs. incumbent Rep. Chris Carney. Hackett defeated Dan Meuser in the primary on April 22, 2008 by 52% to 48%.
- The Club backed State Sen. Steve Scalise in his May 3, 2008 special election victory for Louisiana CD 1 (vacated by Gov. Bobby Jindal) with 75% of the vote. He had previously defeated Tim Burns in the Republican primary by 58% to 42%.
- State Senator Tom McClintock in California's 4th congressional district to replace retiring congressman John Doolittle. McClintock defeated former congressman Doug Ose by a 53.7% to 38.7% margin in the June 3, 2008 primary.
- Congressman Steve Pearce for an open New Mexico senate seat (being vacated by Sen. Pete Domenici.) Rep. Pearce defeated Rep. Heather Wilson by a 51% to 49% margin in the June 3, 2008 primary.
- The Club endorsed Rep. Paul Broun in his reelection primary campaign versus state rep. Barry Fleming for Georgia's 10th CD. Broun, a staunch conversative Republican, surprised virtually all observers with a landslide 71% to 29% victory in the July 15, 2008 primary election.
- The Club supported the victorious primary reelection campaign of incumbent Republican congressman Doug Lamborn in the August 12, 2008 primary for Colorado CD 5. Lamborn won by a 46%-29%-25% tally in a rematch against two opponents he defeated in the primary two years previously. Lamborn was one of the biggest upset victors that The Club helped win in 2006.
- In the September 2, 2008 Republican primary for Arizona's CD 5 the Club endorsed former Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert. The seat is held by freshman Democratic Rep. Harry Mitchell and is viewed as a prime pick up opportunity for the Republicans. Five strong candidates entered the primary and The Club for Growth probably made the difference in the election as Schweikert narrowly defeated former candidate Susan Bitter-Smith by a 29.9% to 28% tally.
- In Mississippi's 3rd Congressional District, The Club endorsed Charlie Ross, a former state senator, for the position being vacated by the retiring Chip Pickering. Ross however was defeated in the April 1, 2008 primary run-off election by Gregg Harper 57% to 43%.
- The Club endorsed, but did not raise funds for, Matt Shaner in Pennsylvania's CD 5 (being vacated by Rep. John Peterson.) Shaner finished a close 2nd in the crowded April 22, 2008 primary to Glenn Thompson by a vote of 19.4% to 17.7%. Pennsylvania does not have run-off elections.
- The Club endorsed Woody Jenkins for Louisiana CD 6 being vacated by Rep. Richard Baker. He was defeated on Sat. May 3, 2008 by Democrat Don Cazayoux by a 49% to 46% margin. Louisiana does not have a run-off for special general elections.
- The Club supported State Senator Harri Anne Smith's losing campaign for Alabama's 2nd congressional district (being vacated by Rep. Terry Everett). Smith placed second in the June 3, 2008 primary with 22% of the vote and faced a run-off on July 15, 2008 with State Rep. Jay Love who earned 35% of the vote. The NRCC and most Republican officials eventually endorsed Love as Smith was seen by many to be running a weak campaign. Smith lost the July 15, 2008 run-off to Love by a 53% to 47% margin.
- The Club endorsed Dr. Bob Onder, a state rep., for the open seat of Rep. Kenny Hulshof in Missouri's 9th CD. Hulshof is leaving the seat to run for governor and Onder faced a competitive Republican primary in the August 5, 2008 election in which he was defeated by former state rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer by a 39% to 31% tally. The Club made no mention of Onder's defeat on their webpage.
- In an odd twist, The Club ran a series of ads attacking moderate Republican state treasurer Lynn Jenkins in her quest to be elected from Kansas' 2nd congressional district, but yet did not endorse her opponent, former Rep. Jim Ryun. Jenkins faced a heated battle with the former Congressman Ryun as he was seeking to regain the seat he lost in a 2006 upset. The current representative, Democrat Nancy Boyda, is seen by many as the most vulnerable Democrat in congress. It is unknown why The Club ran ads against Jenkins, but yet did not endorse or support Ryun directly. On August 5th Jenkins won a narrow 51%-49% victory over Ryun. The Club made no mention of Ryun's defeat on their webpage.
- In the August 26th Republican primary fight between Lt. Governor Sean Parnell and incumbent Rep. Don Young for Alaska's only congressional seat, the Club spent close to a million dollars against Young. Young has long been labeled a king of pork barrel politics and is the father of the "Bridge to Nowhere." The result of the election produced a nail-bitter victory for Young by 304 votes. With 93,544 votes counted on election night Young led Parnell by 151 votes (45.57% to 45.31%) with a third candidate, State Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, receiving the remainder of the total. The in-state absentee ballots and questioned election day ballots were counted on Friday, September 5, 2008 and the vote tally was updated to show Young adding to his narrow lead. At that point Young led over Parnell by 239 votes (45.45% to 45.22%). A final tally of overseas absentee ballots further added to Young's lead. The final total as of Thurday, Spetember 18, 2008 showed a 304 vote victory for Young over Parnell and LeDoux (Young 48,195 or 45.5%; Parnell 47,891 or 45.2%; LeDoux 9,901 or 9.3%.) Parnell decided against requesting a recount and conceeded defeat.
Unless otherwise stated, the Club will support all of their victorious primary candidates against their opponents in the November 2008 general election. Candidates the have the Club's support, but that did not face competitive primaries include;
- Sen. John E. Sununu's (R-NH) reelection versus former New Hampshire Gov. Jean Shaheen, a rematch of the 2002 election.
- former Congressman Bob Schaffer for the open Colorado senate seat of Sen. Wayne Allard versus Democratic Rep. Mark Udall.
- former State Rep. Dean Andal for CA CD 11 (seat held by Rep. Jerry McNerney.) This seat is viewed as another possible Republican pick-up.
- The Club is supporting the reelection campaign of Congressman Tim Walberg in Michigan's 7th district.
2008 Presidential Election
During the 2008 Republican presidential primaries The Club was critical of Mike Huckabee, using funds from backers of Mitt Romney to attack him as the "tax-increasing liberal governor of Arkansas" . Huckabee, in turn, has referred to the Club for Growth as the "Club for Greed.
The Club has occasionally made statements both in support and opposition to various proposals by Sen. John McCain. To date they have not endorsed a presidential candidate, but have released statements praising Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. McCain.