The revelation last week that Joe Ricketts, the founder of TDAmeritrade, was considering spending $10 million on slashing personal attacks against President Barack Obama seemed the latest evidence of the flood of new money entering politics. Within hours of the New York Times’s scoop of a proposed ad, however, the lesson that emerged was a very different one: How dangerous and embarrassing it can be for corporate figures to play in partisan politics. Ricketts found himself frantically distancing himself from a proposal from adman Fred Davis while he scrambled to insulate his business interests — the brokerage he founded, a hyperlocal New York news group he owns, the Chicago Cubs — from potential fallout from livid liberal customers. It was the highest-profile of a handful of recent squalls revealing some of the natural, political limits to direct corporate influence in electoral politics. “I shall have no further comment on this or any other election year political issue,” a chastened Ricketts said in a statement Thursday.
Corporate executives have long sought to influence the political process through lobbying expenditures, personal contributions, and occasional large-scale donations. The collapse of the Amercan campaign finance infrastructure over the last half decade has broadened the ability of corporations to give directly to campaigns, and opened the possibility of secret contributions through 501c4 advocacy groups. But SuperPACs like the one Ricketts contemplated, and an array of other vehicles for political money, require the disclosure of contributions; and as donors to Mitt Romney’s SuperPAC have learned this year, attempts to channel anonymous contributions through shell corporations tend to draw intense publis scrutiny.
“I think for a lot of companies that have broad consumer bases and that have spent billions on a brand that people really like, to then go and throw a couple thousand dollars at a political issue is, well, stupid. And so not surprisingly you don’t see many of them doing it,” said Allison Hayward, the vice president of policy at the Center for Competitive Politics, a conservative group that opposes campaign finance regulations. “Big companies that we all think about, that have big consumer bases, and that have spent tons of money trying to create public good will [would risk] throw[ing] that under the bus by trying to get involved in a political campaign.” Before Ricketts found himself scrambling to protect his business interests from his own contemplated attack ads, the highest-profile recent flap was over the retail giant Target.
Full Article: Ricketts’ Lesson In The Cost Of Politics.