The most influential political strategist of the 2012 campaign works out of an unmarked suite in an anonymous office park in suburban Virginia, a few floors above a Japanese-themed steakhouse. He does not work for one of the presidential campaigns. He is not a pundit.
But Carl Forti, a low-profile Buffalo native who served as the political director of Mitt Romney’s first White House campaign, will deploy at least $400 million in political money this season, more than Sen. John McCain spent running for president in 2008.
After years in the Republican Party trenches, Forti, 40, is now a consultant and strategist for the biggest of the outside groups and “super PACs” that are rapidly displacing parties as the means for raising and spending vast amounts of political money.
In those roles, his work embodies the coordinated punch brought by like-minded groups to the effort to oust President Barack Obama and give the GOP full control of Congress.
And as a veteran of Romney’s inner circle, he brings to the effort a keen understanding of the Romney campaign’s needs even as he is barred by campaign finance law from working directly with it.
Forti is the political director of American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by his mentor, Karl Rove; Forti’s firm, the Black Rock Group, is a consultant to tax-exempt groups like the 60 Plus Association, which are expected to spend millions of dollars on ads this fall; and he is a founder of Restore Our Future, the super PAC that helped Romney in his bid for this year’s Republican presidential nomination.
Now, with Romney prohibited from spending much of the cash he is raising until after the Republican convention in August, Forti and his clients are filling in the breach: Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, Restore Our Future and other Forti-linked groups have spent at least $35 million on advertising in 17 states against Obama since early April, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group.
During the race for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Forti was Romney’s political director, serving alongside the two men with whom he founded Restore Our Future last year: Charles R. Spies, the campaign’s chief counsel, and Larry McCarthy, a veteran ad creator. When Romney dropped out of the 2008 race, Forti signed on with Freedom’s Watch, a conservative group that spent at least $30 million in an effort to counterbalance liberal groups like MoveOn.org.
Forti has often worked at the edge of the regulatory envelope that governs outside spending. Freedom’s Watch ignored a demand from the Federal Election Commission that it disclose its finances, after reports that the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson had provided virtually all of the group’s financing and was directing its political spending. The commission’s members deadlocked on pursuing the investigation.