Super PAC

Campaigns and Their Super PACs: Not As Autonomous As One Would Hope

Thanks to damaging Supreme Court decisions and a gridlocked FEC, Super PACs have become a central element in our presidential elections. Yet, Americans could at least comfort themselves with the notion that these PACs and the candidates they support were at least required to operate independently from one another. A recent article in the Washington Post proves otherwise.

The article argues that a close reading of the Federal Election Commission rules shows that candidates and interest groups can do more than make public statements about their needs and hope their counterparts are listening; they can actually communicate with one another directly. According to the Washington Post piece, “Operatives on both sides can talk to one another directly, as long as they do not discuss candidate strategy. According to an FEC rule, an independent group also can confer with a campaign until this fall about “issue ads” featuring a candidate. Some election-law lawyers think that a super PAC could share its entire paid media plan, as long as the candidate’s team does not respond.” The coordination is more extensive than people imagine, and, apparently, perfectly legal.

But even the lawyers working on this issue do not agree on what is legal and what is not. Phil Cox who works for America Leads (a Super PAC supporting Chris Christie), says, for example, “The system makes no sense. It’s crying out for reform. We need to put the power back in the hands of the candidates and their campaigns, not the outside groups.” Bob Bauer, a campaign finance lawyer, agrees,

“The problem isn’t that the law isn’t being enforced — the problem is that we need to rethink the whole thing from the ground up.”

This coordination is already affecting the 2016 elections. But even beyond returning power to the candidates, we need to return the power of influencing elections back to the people. Because, in the end, it is the people who need to be represented and therefore, heard. Perhaps this regulation avoidance will cause people to realize that it is the system that needs reform.

PFAW

Bush Fundraising Numbers Illustrate The Problem of Big Money in Elections

 Earlier this week, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush released his fundraising amount for the upcoming elections. Right to Rise, a Super PAC backing the candidate, announced that it had raised $103 million in the last six months, while Bush’s campaign had raised $11.4 million in the two weeks since his announcement, bringing the fundraising total to a stunning $114 million, 17 months away from Election Day. For comparison, at this point in 2011, Restore our Future, a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, had raised only $12.2 million.

 These shocking figures demonstrate the growing influence of big money on our elections and political process. $1 billion was spent in the 2012 federal elections, and the Koch brothers alone vowed to raise at least $889 million in 2016 from other wealthy donors. Since the wealthy have policy views that are strikingly different from that of the rest of Americans, this new system has disturbing implications for the state of democracy in the U.S. A Princeton study found that the viewpoints of the bottom 90 percent of income earners have no significant effect on public policy.

 One particularly troubling aspect of the Right to Rise fundraising numbers is their definition of “small donors” as those who donated less than $25,000. The fact that the Super PAC considers $25,000 to be the cutoff for small donations raises questions of exactly how much the 500 who raised more than that amount donated.

 Most Americans agree that the campaign finance system has gotten out of hand. Three out of four Americans support a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to set limits on campaign spending, and even presidential candidates such as Lindsey Graham, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton have stated their support for overturning  cases like Citizens United through a constitutional amendment.  With the American people so determined to maintain the integrity of our elections, a national conversation about the influence big money in politics is unfolding, laying a foundation for real reform in 2016 and beyond.

 

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Jeb Bush Shirks Campaign Finance Laws by Delaying Candidacy Announcement

A number of leading campaign finance lawyers assert that Jeb Bush’s continued refusal to declare himself as a 2016 presidential candidate, despite his robust fundraising, is a blatant evasion of campaign finance restrictions. The New York Times reported  today that campaign experts consider Bush’s activities, such as traveling to Iowa and other swing states and making stump speeches on his vision for the country, to have crossed the barrier into campaigning months ago. Organizations that work to eradicate big money in politics have taken action:

“Last week, two campaign watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether Mr. Bush had broken election law by evading restrictions on candidates. The groups called his noncandidacy ‘a charade’ and called on prosecutors to intervene because they said the F.E.C. — perpetually gridlocked — was unlikely to do anything.”

Skirting campaign finance restrictions for as long as possible is profitable for Jeb Bush as it allows him to rake in contributions exceeding the $2,700 limit for official candidates and to continue to coordinate with his super PAC. By delaying his official announcement of candidacy, Jeb Bush is able to bring in an exorbitant amount of donations from wealthy backers and corporations, ensuring that big money has a substantial voice in the 2016 election.

Learn more about Jeb Bush with our 2016 Republican Candidates Report.

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Jeb Bush's version of #GetMoneyOut more like #SaveItForLater

In telling his super-rich donors to hold off – for now – on seven-figure contributions, Jeb Bush shows just how outsized an influence money holds over our democracy. They are ready to give that and far more, and they will, but everyday Americans could work a whole lifetime and never come close to that kind of political spending.
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PFAW: Scandal Surrounding Senate President is More Evidence of Big Money Assault on Wisconsin

MADISON – Wisconsin Senate President State Senator Mike Ellis’ announcement Friday that he will not seek re-election, which arrived after Ellis was caught on camera claiming he might set up his own political action committee to attack his Democratic opponent, is evidence of the big money assault on the Wisconsin Legislature, said People For the American Way Regional Political Coordinator Scott Foval.

“Mike Ellis apparently felt he had no choice but to raise big cash just to compete, and allegedly was willing to compromise his ethics in the process,” Foval said. “The fact that the Senate President got caught planning to form a super PAC to attack Penny Bernard Schaber is just evidence of a larger problem – too much political money driving who gets elected in Wisconsin.”

People For the American Way and its allies have repeatedly highlighted how Wisconsin Republicans have enacted policies that benefit the wealthy and powerful corporate interests. Since 2010, Wisconsin’s GOP legislators have enacted restrictions on women’s health, restrictions on voting rights, and restrictions on collective bargaining for public employees, as well as a budget that favors wealthy tax payers rather than the middle class. PFAW’s Foval called on citizens to fight back against big money in politics and strike back at the voting booth.

“The time has come for Wisconsin’s voters to take back our state by registering to vote, hitting the streets to knock doors, and voting for progressive candidates who represent the people instead of big money donors,” Foval said.  “This isn’t cause for celebration. It’s a call to put our heads down, and get to work to elect new leadership to the Wisconsin Legislature and Governor’s office.”

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Delaware General Assembly Members Send Letter to Washington Urging Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

Earlier this month, members of the Delaware General Assembly began gathering signatures for a letter to be sent to Senator Carper, Senator Coons, and Representative Carney urging them and their colleagues to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases.
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New Hampshire Moves Forward With First Steps to Overturn Citizens United in Bipartisan Vote

In a bipartisan vote yesterday, the New Hampshire House passed a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of our elections and overturn Citizens United.
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July 24, 2012 PFAW Written Testimony to the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights

RE: Taking Back Our Democracy: Responding to Citizens United and the Rise of Super PACs

Two Powerhouse 501(c)(4) ‘Social Welfare Groups’ Buy Election Anonymously

In this years presidential election cycle 501(c)(4)s Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity have outspent all super PACs combined...
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Activists and People For Protest Karl Rove and American Crossroads

Today, in the scorching D.C. summer heat, activists marched over two miles from the “Take Back the Dream Conference” to rally outside of the offices of Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and his super PAC American Crossroads. Crying out, “Karl Rove can’t buy my vote” and “Whose democracy? Our Democracy!” activists made their voices heard throughout the city, and protested not only Karl Rove and his nefarious networks, but an electoral system that disenfranchises the disenfranchised, and empowers the empowered.

People For’s Diallo Brooks spoke at the rally, and encouraged activists to continue fighting for a just society. “This is about preserving our democracy, that is why we are here!” he cried out to the audience, and not losing his sense of humor, concluded, “Stay cool in the heat, yall!”

 

PFAW

Super PACs Make 2008 Look Like Child's Play

In total, the candidates in the 2008 presidential election spent just over $1 billion on their campaigns. Just four years ago, President Obama raised $750 million, primarily via small donations from grassroots supporters. But the landscape looks pretty different in 2012: that amount will be surpassed by just a handful of GOP patrons and super PACs alone.

Made possible by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, dark money organizations like Restore Our Future and American Crossroads will raise and spend virtually unlimited amounts to prop up Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican ticket. Politico notes that American Crossroads and the affiliated Crossroads GPS, a Karl Rove brainchild, is expected to spend up to $300 million. That’s almost as much as John McCain spent on his entire 2008 run.

The bulk of campaign expenditures go to advertising – and $1 billion certainly buys a lot of airtime. Thanks to Citizens United, this elite group of financiers can buy the loudest, most far-reaching voice in the 2012 elections. The amount collected by Super PACs and 501 c(4)s dramatically dwarfs traditional party and direct-campaign fundraising, which is the mechanism by which the grassroots are able to contribute to the process. The contrast is stark:

Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC, spent twice as much on the air as the campaign did in the thick of the primaries: Through March, the campaign had put $16.7 million into TV, while ROF shelled out $33.2 million.

In Florida, the super PAC outspent the campaign, $8.8 million to $6.7 million. (The campaign can get more spots per dollar because of more favorable rates.) In Michigan, it was $2.3 million to $1.5 million. In Ohio, ROF outspent the campaign, $2.3 million to $1.5 million.

The Citizens United decision has granted the 0.01% more leeway to try to buy our democracy than ever before. The sheer numbers make the need for constitutional remedies to overturn that decision and restore the balance of influence in our elections to everyday Americans is more apparent than ever.

PFAW

Citizens United Turns 2012 Race into Billionaire's Playground

If there was any question that the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United skews the balance of influence in our elections to the rich, an analysis by Rolling Stone shows that the real beneficiaries of the decision are really the very very rich. This profile of the 16 donors who have given at least $1 million to super PACs supporting Mitt Romney, including hedge fund managers, hotel tycoons, oil barons and of course, William Koch, reveals who is making the biggest impact in the presidential election.

In a democracy, we should be electing those who represent vast swaths of the American people. But one thing is clear: the special interests propping up Romney’s campaign have very little in common with average Americans. As Rolling Stone notes:

Most of the megadonors backing his candidacy are elderly billionaires: Their median age is 66, and their median wealth is $1 billion. Each is looking for a payoff that will benefit his business interests, and they will all profit from Romney's pledge to eliminate inheritance taxes, extend the Bush tax cuts for the superwealthy – and then slash the top tax rate by another 20 percent. Romney has firmly joined the ranks of the economic nutcases who spout the lie of trickle-down economics.

How are these individuals able to throw so much of their wealth into the race? Essentially, Citizens United allows individuals and corporations to skirt the caps on contributions to campaign treasuries by funneling money through entities like Super PACs and 501c4 organizations:

Under the new rules, the richest men in America are plying candidates with donations far beyond what Congress intended. "They can still give the maximum $2,500 directly to the campaign – and then turn around and give $25 million to the Super PAC," says Trevor Potter, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center. A single patron can now prop up an entire candidacy, as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson did with a $20 million donation to the Super PAC backing Newt Gingrich.

It’s unlikely that these donors are throwing so much money into the race solely for bragging rights – they certainly have agendas of their own. Most of the individuals profiled in the article stand to benefit from Romney agenda: more tax cuts to the rich, lax regulation of Wall Street and other industries, a hamstrung E.P.A, lucrative government contracts – and their outsized contributions demonstrate their belief that money buys influence. Citizens United exacerbated this unfortunate reality. At least that can be fixed by the people, with an amendment to the Constitution.

PFAW

A Look at Citizens United in Practice

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, election watchers have predicted that the influx of unaccountable and often anonymous election spending would lead to a dramatic increase in dirty, dishonest attack ads. A report by the New York Times confirms those fears. High-profile Republican strategists for a super PAC funded by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts created a proposal titled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good,” which lays out an aggressive character attack against the President. Focusing on his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the ads will seek to portray the President as unfit to lead because of his formative experiences – a strategy that his 2008 opponent, Senator John McCain, refused to authorize. Even Mitt Romney has avoided such attacks, believing that they would backfire – but unaccountable super PACs are not necessarily taking it off the table:

“Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed,” the proposal says. “And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”

How can one person’s extreme opinion make its way to aerial banners flying over the Democratic Convention, outdoor advertisements and television screens across the country?

“Joe Ricketts is prepared to spend significant resources in the 2012 election in both the presidential race and Congressional races,” said Brian Baker, the president and general counsel to Mr. Ricketts’ super PAC, called the Ending Spending Action Fund. “He is very concerned about the future direction of the country and plans to take a stand.”

Thanks to his wealth and Citizens United, he can do just that. Unfortunately, average Americans don’t have this luxury, and our democracy suffers greatly as a result.

Following the outcry in response to today’s article, Mr. Ricketts issued a statement claiming he had never approved the plan and disavows the type of politics it represents, saying that the proposal “was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take.” Nonetheless, the critical harm posed by Citizens United is clear. Just because Mr. Ricketts chose not to run this attack ad doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. The need to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United to protect our democracy from the lopsided influence of wealthy special interests is even more clear today.

PFAW

Super-PAC Tuesday

Ten states are holding primaries and caucuses today, earning March 6th the title of “Super Tuesday.” Participants will show up, cast their vote, and hopefully feel good for participating in the democratic process and fulfilling their civic duty.

But thanks to Citizens United, and the Super PACs that flawed decision gave rise to, the voters are not the stars of this show. An outpouring of cash from a few extremely wealthy donors has dramatically altered the campaign landscape, altering the balance of influence from individual donors and grassroots donors to rich special interests and corporations.

As illustrated above by Dave Granlund, tonight’s contests should really be called Super-PAC Tuesday. NPR reports that in the ten states up for grabs, Super PACs have spent a whopping $12 million for ads:

Leading the way is Restore Our Future, the superPAC that backs former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. According to Federal Election Commission numbers, Restore Our Future has spent $6.9 million on the Super Tuesday states.

"The groups have clearly taken the lead in advertising for the whole Republican primary. They're very much taking the lead in advertising for Super Tuesday. It's mostly the 'Restore Our Future show,' followed by Winning Our Future, which is the Gingrich group, and Red, White and Blue, which is the Santorum group," says Ken Goldstein, who tracks political ad spending for Kantar Media CMAG.

Red, White and Blue has spent some $1.3 million on Super Tuesday, and has been running an ad in Ohio that goes after Romney for his alleged similarities to the man all Republicans want to defeat in November: President Obama.

These ads supposedly (and unconvincingly) act independently from a candidate’s official campaign, meaning that candidates are unaccountable for their content. But as Katrina vanden Huevel points out in today’s Washington Post, these superPACs reach “barely a legal fiction,” populated as they are with former staff and fundraisers for the candidates they “independently” support.  And this is in addition to the spending by 501 c-4 organizations the sources for which do not even have to be disclosed.

This is not what democracy looks like. We have to end unfettered political spending in our elections system – and solutions like the DISCLOSE Act and a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United are gaining steam. $12 million worth of ads on Super-PAC Tuesday alone should convince everyone that enough is enough.

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