With the clock ticking on a Republican-heavy congressional primary race in Southwest Washington, one candidate is suddenly benefitting from outside spending.
A new and largely anonymous super PAC this week unloaded $723,943 to support Christian podcaster and public speaker Heidi St. John, one of two far-right challengers seeking to unseat 3rd Congressional District incumbent U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.
The political action committee, called Conservatives for a Stronger America, formed this month, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. It’s tied to an elections consulting firm based in Massachusetts.
The funds — which will pay for television and radio ads — is the largest outside contribution to the race so far, which has been dominated by Republicans St. John, Herrera Beutler and career soldier-turned-FOX News pundit Joe Kent.
Officials with the St. John campaign, which had raised less than its fellow Republicans, told OPB they were pleasantly surprised. Campaigns are not allowed to coordinate with outside spenders.
“We do know one thing: they are willing to promote that Heidi St. John is the most pro-life, pro-second amendment, pro-TRUTH and most courageous Republican candidate in the race,” campaign spokesperson Lisa D’Andrea said in a text message.
Kent, who is directly competing with St. John for the district’s most conservative voters, immediately went on the offensive. He emailed supporters Thursday night to say the move was sabotaging the GOP’s conservative wing.
Related: Candidates challenge US Rep. Herrera Beutler from the right
The funds, he said, “prop up a spoiler candidate and split the vote so they can re-elect the Establishment’s RINO incumbent, Jaime Herrera Beutler,” using the acronym for “Republican in name only,” which some in the GOP use to refer to Republicans they deem inadequately conservative.
Kent is the target of another PAC, the Tampa, Florida-based Governing Majority Fund, which has spent nearly $100,000 on oppositional direct mailers this month. Since May, the Clearpath Action Fund in North Carolina has spent $95,000 supporting Herrera Beutler.
Herrera Beutler’s campaign declined to comment.
In sheer dollar amounts, this week’s contribution is a huge splash in what has been a contentious but relatively quiet race. In one fell swoop, the latest spending almost matches the roughly $900,000 St. John had raised through spring.
The campaign spending shows powerful interests at play, said Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, an auto repair shop owner who is the sole Democrat running for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.
Related: Democrats are hopeful in Washington’s 3rd District primary, even as national party focuses elsewhere
“Extremists and conservatives have turned buying a seat in Congress into a sport,” Perez said. “Working families like mine can’t afford to play politics.”
Much is unknown about the Conservatives for a Stronger America PAC. Filings show it was created by Massachusetts consultant Bulldog Compliance. The consultant is tied to many, similarly faceless political action committees across the country. Treasurer Charles Gantt did not respond to email requests for comment.
The campaigns of Kent and St. John have feuded for months in pursuit of former President Donald Trump’s supporters. Their dispute dates back to March 2021, when each publicly promised to withdraw and support whoever landed Trump’s endorsement.
When Trump endorsed Kent in September, St. John said the deal had changed and refused to drop out. She’s heaped accusations that Kent is secretly a Democrat. Kent was a registered Democrat in Oregon and said he voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary to give Trump better odds in the general election.
The race’s most recent campaign finance figures became public Friday.
Herrera Beutler kept yet another strong lead, bringing in $583,285, which gives her about $1.1 million cash to spend before the primaries; Kent raised $323,654, and reported $545,123 in cash-on-hand; St. John, $180,766 with $239,492 to spend; and Perez raised $138,275 with $102,027 available to spend.