A new conservative group calling itself Americans for a Strong Defense and financed by anonymous donors is running advertisements urging Democratic senators in five states to vote against Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee to be secretary of defense, saying he would make the United States "a weaker country."
Another freshly minted and anonymously backed organization, Use Your Mandate, which presents itself as a liberal gay-rights group but buys its TV time through a prominent Republican firm, is attacking Hagel as "anti-gay," "anti-woman" and "anti-Israel" in ads and mailers.
Those groups are joining at least five others that are organizing to stop Hagel's confirmation, a goal even they acknowledge appears to be increasingly challenging.
The campaign to scuttle Hagel's appointment reflects the continuing effects of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which loosened campaign finance restrictions and was a major reason for the record spending by outside groups in the 2012 election. All told, these independent and largely secretly financed groups spent well over $500 million in an attempt to defeat Obama and the Democrats, a failure that seemed all the greater given the huge amounts spent.
While the campaign against Hagel, a Republican, is not expected to cost more than a few million dollars, it suggests that the operatives running the independent groups and the donors that finance them -- many of whom are millionaires and billionaires with ideological drive and business agendas that did not go away after the election -- are ready to fight again.
The outside activity is not confined to Republicans. Obama's campaign apparatus has transformed itself into a nonprofit political group, though it is not getting involved in the Hagel fight.
The biggest individual financier of the so-called super PACs that sought to defeat Obama, Sheldon Adelson, is so invested in the fight over Hagel that he has reached out directly to Republican senators to urge them to hold the line against his confirmation, which would be almost impossible to stop with six Republican "yes" votes and a unified Democratic caucus.
Another major Republican donor, Foster Friess, said that following last year's losses he said he was devoting most of his resources to an effort he called "Left-Right, Left-Right Forward March," which finds projects liberals and conservatives can support together, like water purification in developing countries.
Whatever its chances of success, the blitz against Hagel is of a sort that has generally been reserved for elections and some Supreme Court nominations. The last major Cabinet skirmish, over President George W. Bush's nomination of John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had no comparable outside media blitz.
That was before the Citizens United decision.
The most mysterious of the new groups is Use Your Mandate. Portraying itself as a gay rights group, it has sent out posts on Twitter questioning Hagel's gay rights record and asking, "Is this what we worked so hard for?" Established gay rights activists have expressed skepticism about the group's authenticity.
It has no website and it only lists as its address a post office box in New York. But paperwork filed with the Federal Communications Commission link it back to Tusk Strategies, a bipartisan political group founded by Bradley Tusk, a former strategist for Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York.
Tusk would only identify its financiers as Democratic "gay and LGBT people who have been active in campaigns around the country."
Yet federal records show that Use Your Mandate uses Del Cielo Media, an arm of one of the most prominent Republican ad-buying firms in the country, Smart Media, with clients that have included the presidential campaigns of former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.