Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton are asking donors to write the checks to get their campaigns started. Yet these “new” candidates have been fueling their presidential ambitions for months — years, in Clinton’s case — thanks to outside groups that will continue serving as big-money bank accounts throughout the race. In the 2016 presidential field, creative financing abounds. While donors can give a maximum $2,700 apiece per election to their favorite candidatdte’s campaign, the presidential contenders offer generous supporters plenty of other options. Outside groups that can accept checks of unlimited size include personalized super PACs that, while barred from directly coordinating with candidates, are often filled with their trusted friends. There are also “dark money” nonprofit policy groups that keep contributors’ names secret.
With less than 100 days to go in the presidential race, nine single-candidate “super” PACs — political action committees that can raise and spend unlimited sums on political expression – have spent $125 million advocating and advertising for their preferred candidate, a CBS News analysis of Federal Election Commission reports shows. Through the first half of 2012, the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future, was the most active super PAC, raising $81 million and spending $60 million through June 30. Two-thirds of its spending, or $40 million, went to negative ads attacking Republican primary opponents Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Super PACs established for six also-ran Republicans — Gingrich, Santorum, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain — spent a combined $36 million dollars on advertising and advocacy during the primaries, which effectively ended when Santorum dropped out in April.
When the super PAC backing Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future, files its June donation report on Friday with the Federal Election Commission, it is expected to show a six-figure contribution from Wyoming businessman Foster Friess, his first to the group. But an unwelcome scrutiny came to Friess, Nevada billionaire Sheldon Adelson and some of the other wealthy donors to these super PACs, and some are planning for much of their future generosity to be behind a cloak of anonymity. Friess said he has decided his financial donations in the future will mostly be to groups that do not have to disclose their donors. He said he is planning on contributing to five or six so-called 501(c)(4) groups named after the section of the tax code they are organized under. These are nonprofit organizations that can advocate on behalf of social welfare causes or to further the community. He refused to discuss which groups, but did say one recipient could be an affiliate of American Crossroads, the group founded by Karl Rove.
It seemed like just another campaign appearance – Mitt Romney taking time from the trail to address a ballroom full of well-heeled donors. It was anything but. When Romney spoke last summer at fund-raisers for a super PAC run by three of his former top aides, it marked a turning point in his campaign and, in some ways, in the modern history of campaign finance. The group, Restore Our Future, capitalized on Romney’s support to raise $57 million by the end of April and has become one of the most powerful forces in the race for the White House – the financial engine behind the fusillade of broadcast ads, most of them harshly negative, that felled his GOP challengers one by one. No candidate in the 2012 race adapted more swiftly and effectively to the rise of the super PACs in the wake of US Supreme Court and other rulings that effectively removed any barriers to individual and corporate donations to such so-called independent groups.
Voting Blogs: Super PACs, “Shadow Super PACs” and the Avalanche of Money | Campaign Legal Center Blog
Super PACs are a blight on America’s political landscape. They provide a means for very wealthy individuals and corporate special interests to evade anti-corruption laws that have been on the books for decades. The courts have long recognized that large contributions to political candidates can corrupt and reduce public confidence in our democratic system. So courts have upheld limits on how much individuals may contribute to candidates, as well as outright bans on corporate and union contributions to candidates. But today, Super PACs are operating as de facto campaigns unrestricted by such limits. Super PACs have the ability to both distort the political process and to affect the outcome of a federal election. Super PAC spending buys access and influence for the Super PAC funders.
Republican super PACs and other outside groups shaped by a loose network of prominent conservatives – including Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and Tom Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – plan to spend roughly $1 billion on November’s elections for the White House and control of Congress, according to officials familiar with the groups’ internal operations. That total includes previously undisclosed plans for newly aggressive spending by the Koch brothers, who are steering funding to build sophisticated, county-by-county operations in key states. POLITICO has learned that Koch-related organizations plan to spend about $400 million ahead of the 2012 elections – twice what they had been expected to commit. Just the spending linked to the Koch network is more than the $370 million that John McCain raised for his entire presidential campaign four years ago. And the $1 billion total surpasses the $750 million that Barack Obama, one of the most prolific fundraisers ever, collected for his 2008 campaign.
When MaryAnn Nellis tried to pay for groceries on April 14, her credit card was declined. Later, she said, she found out why: Her credit card company, Capital One, had flagged an earlier purchase as potentially fraudulent. The problem? A $5 donation to Friends of Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor’s campaign committee, Nellis said. Nellis told a Capital One representative she had not made the donation to Walker, who is fighting an effort to recall him as governor in a closely watched, expensive election set for June 5. “Over my dead body,” said Nellis, a potter and retired teacher in upstate New York who describes herself as “adamantly angry and upset” at Republicans such as Walker. Nellis disputed the charge and she was issued a new card. Though the amount of money was small, ProPublica decided Nellis’ complaint was worth following up. There have been other reports recently about insecure campaign-donation websites and the potential for fraud. Earlier this month, The Washington Times reported that Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Republican Mitt Romney, was using a collection system that made online donors’ credit card informationaccessible to even amateur snoopers.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United allowed them. Political candidates rely on them. And Stephen Colbert parodies them. But as a former chair of the Federal Election Commission and the lawyer behind Colbert’s super PAC — Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow — I find that most people don’t understand the role that these largely unaccountable organizations play in American politics. As the GOP primary race draws to a close, let’s take a look at some common misconceptions about groups powerful enough to evade traditional limits with a single bound.
1. Super PACs are transparent because they are required to report the names of donors.
Under federal law, political action committees must report the names of their donors. And under the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, corporations are permitted to spend money on political speech. So super PACs — allegedly independent political action committees that can collect unlimited cash — regularly disclose corporate contributors. But transparency can be a bit blurry at times. In 2011, the Mitt Romney-linked Restore our Future super PAC reported a $1 million contribution from “W Spann LLC.” Never heard of it? Neither had several enterprising reporters, who learned that its address in New York was the same as that of Bain Capital — Romney’s former firm. After the press demanded to know what Romney was hiding, a former Bain executive came forward to say that the donation was his. He had given it through a shell corporation that his lawyer had created for that purpose. How often does this happen? What if W Spann had been funded by another corporation or a foreign national — one whose lawyers had been a little less obvious when picking an address? Disclosure isn’t the same as transparency.
Yesterday the long-developing ties between two Republican super PACs and Mitt Romney’s campaign grew stronger when the campaign announced that veteran GOP strategist Ed Gillespie would come aboard as a senior adviser. Gillespie is a founder of and adviser to American Crossroads, which has stockpiled $26.9 million so far this election cycle, much of which is expected to be spent helping the Republican nominee; it’s increasingly likely that will be Romney. Another Crossroads adviser is Carl Forti, who is also president of the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The two super PACs, awash in money, share a number of benefactors. Many of the largest donors to Crossroads are also major donors to Restore Our Future, and vice versa. And many have maxed out to the Romney campaign itself, which has been struggling, relatively speaking, to raise cash.