West Virginia: Dark money tactics used in West Virginia’s primary could spread as midterm season heats up | CNN

A pair of mysterious pop-up super PACs, one with Republican roots and another tied to Democrats, spent more than $3 million in hopes of swaying West Virginia’s GOP Senate primary while keeping their donor lists hidden from voters until after the election. The groups arrived on the scene with blurry names, like “Mountain Families PAC,” but blunt intentions: to quietly use truckloads of outside money to feather their political beds ahead of the November general election. By the time their donors were revealed a few days ago, the primary felt like a distant memory. To do this, the PACs used legal tactics that were nonetheless designed to defy the spirit of current campaign finance law, campaign finance experts say.

Voting Blogs: The 2016 Election and the Coming Reform Debate | More Soft Money Hard Law

A partial picture of campaign finance in 2016, with much still to learn, suggests that the fully rounded-out version may feature surprises and interesting twists. It will certainly influence, perhaps even redirect, the debate over reform. For example: The aggressively “outsider” Republican nominee is relying on the party apparatus to fund the basics of his campaign. Trump is succeeding with on-line fundraising, as one might expect from outsiders, but it is not enough without the party doing, or attempting to do, what is needed. How well will the party do? Meanwhile, the Super PACs have been slow to extend their support to this candidate of self-declared if disputed wealth: while this may change in the weeks ahead, the wealthy have so far declined to shower their funds on this candidacy, instead putting much of their resources into congressional races. On the Democratic side, the Super PACs are active: the Washington Post’s Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy find that “once-reluctant Democrats have fully embraced” these entities as key requirements for being competitive. In the primaries, however, these PACs were a point of controversy and small donors financed an insurgent, outsider candidacy that was fully competitive with what the front-running candidate from within the party could muster. Meanwhile, while the rallying cry for reform remains Citizens United, the most prominent money behind the Super PACs money is individual and not corporate.

National: Foreign-connected PACs spent $10 million on the US election so far | Deutsche Welle

A DW analysis of campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics finds that US subsidiaries of international companies have so far spent almost ten million dollars (9.8 million euros) supporting candidates in this election cycle with most of the contributions coming from European-based firms ($8.6 million). The only other foreign, but non-European-based, companies that have spent money on the US election so far hail from five countries: Japan ($597,000), Israel ($159,000), Canada ($108,000), Mexico ($61,000) and Australia ($32,000). While foreign nationals without permanent US residence status and foreign entities are prohibited from contributing to US elections, American subsidiaries of foreign companies are not. Just like their US counterparts, they can legally establish so-called Political Action Committees (PACs) to collect contributions for political candidates from their US employees and families. All PACs are registered with the Federal Election Commission. “It doesn’t surprise me,” said James Davis, dean of the School of Economics and Political Science at St. Gallen University in Switzerland, when asked about the fact that PACs set up by European-based companies have so far contributed more than eight million dollars to the US election campaign.

National: Super PAC coffers swell with more than $700 million | The Washington Post

A burst of giving by liberal donors and a last-ditch effort to fend off GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump helped super PACs pick up nearly $100 million in new donations by the end of March, pushing the total raised by such groups this cycle to more than $700 million, according to a Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission reports. At this pace, super PACs will raise $1 billion by the end of June. In the entire 2012 cycle, such groups brought in $853 million, according to FEC filings. The Post is keeping a running tally of the largest contributors of the 2016 cycle, whose six- and seven-figure checks have allowed super PACs to spend $278 million so far on ads and voter outreach.

National: Campaign Finance Riders Face Fight in Year-End Spending Bill | Roll Call

Progressive and political money groups say they will intensify their lobbying in the coming days to prevent four campaign finance measures from hitching a ride on a year-end spending deal. With a deadline to reach agreement on government-wide funding less than two weeks away, the effort will be no easy pitch. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., authored one of the measures, which would relax limits on coordination between political parties and candidates. “They’re swimming upstream every step of the way,” said Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University professor who specializes in campaign and election issues. “Legislators are going to be hard-pressed to vote against an appropriation bill that’s otherwise appealing to them on the basis of some of these riders.”

National: FEC Deadlocks On Whether Candidates Can Coordinate With Their Own Super PACs | Paul Blumenthal/Huffington Post

A request to relax limits on coordination between candidates and super PACs left the Federal Election Commission divided and, at times, confused at a hearing on Tuesday. Marc Elias, lawyer for House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC, laid out 12 questions asking the commission to decide when a candidate becomes a candidate under federal election laws, and whether candidates can coordinate with super PACs or nonprofits that plan to support them prior to publicly announcing their candidacy. The request laid out plans for House and Senate Democrats to establish single-candidate super PACs for prospective candidates to coordinate with prior to officially announcing their candidacy. This would dramatically expand the already overlapping worlds of campaigns and super PACs.

National: Your State And Local Elections Are Now A Super PAC Playground | Paul Blumenthal/Huffington Post

The influence of billionaires in the post-Citizens United era is in no way limited to the 2016 presidential and congressional elections. While the super-wealthy dominate those races, local and state elections in 2015 are also attracting big money from Forbes-listed billionaires and local wealthy interests that’s funneled through super PACs. Not all states, cities and…

Editorials: Wisconsin legislature should reject secrecy bill | Daniel I. Weiner and Brent Ferguson/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Last week, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill that would dramatically reduce voters’ ability to know which corporations, unions and wealthy individuals are funding state campaigns. The Senate is expected to vote on a companion bill (SB 292) shortly. Supporters of the measure say these changes are required by recent court decisions. Don’t believe it. If passed, SB 292 would radically change the law, not comply with it. As we explained in a letter to legislators this week, the Senate should vote it down.

National: Federal Election Commission Panel Delays a Decision on Spending in ’16 Races | The New York Times

The Federal Election Commission put off a decision Thursday on just how far so-called super PACs — a dominant force so far in the 2016 campaign — can go in raising millions of dollars for politicians. The inaction was not surprising for a commission often gridlocked by partisan divisions. Still, it frustrated Democratic lawyers, who had asked the commission last month for an “emergency” ruling on whether a dozen fund-raising tactics used by super PACs and politicians should be considered legal. A number of the tactics, like having super PACs host lavish fund-raisers for politicians before they actually announce their candidacies, have become common this election season, particularly among Republicans. A super PAC supporting Jeb Bush hosted him at several dozen events earlier this year before he declared himself a candidate, raising more than $100 million to support his now-flagging campaign.

National: F.E.C. Lawyers Say Common Tactics by Super PACs Should Not Be Allowed | The New York Times

Lawyers for the Federal Election Commission have concluded that some of the aggressive fund-raising tactics commonly used this campaign season by the candidates and “super PACs” should not be allowed under federal law, setting up what promises to be a heated debate Thursday on the issue between Democratic and Republican commissioners. In the draft of a legal opinion made public on Wednesday, the F.E.C. lawyers concluded that politicians can be bound by fund-raising restrictions even if they insist they have not decided whether to run and were simply “testing the waters” for a possible campaign. A politician cannot get around those restrictions simply by using a super PAC or another organization as a proxy to raise money, the lawyers concluded.

National: Some Candidates, Super PACs Draw Closer | Wall Street Journal

Republican presidential candidates are largely abandoning the caution of past campaigns in relations with the super PACs backing them, testing legal limits as the independent groups take over more functions from campaigns themselves. Super PACs, independent political organizations that stood on the fringes of the 2012 presidential election, are now moving to the center of the current campaign, changing the way presidential races are financed and run. Four years ago, the boundaries between the groups and the campaigns were clear. Now, as more money flows into super PACs instead of campaign accounts, the lines are blurring, making it hard to distinguish between the two political machines.

Editorials: How to Finish What Stephen Colbert Started | Trevor Potter/Politico

“Colbert Super PAC” exposed the troubling realities of money in politics more effectively than any PSA. But the crippling flaws in our campaign finance system that it was created to highlight have not abated in the years since—in fact, they’ve worsened substantially. The massive $144 million that Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls collectively raised in the third quarter of this year doesn’t include the untold millions funneled into their super PACs by deep-pocketed donors. When those numbers are disclosed in January, they will undoubtedly reveal that the money flowing to shifty outside groups is larger than ever. That is not even to count the funds being raised and spent in this election by candidate-allied nonprofit organizations, whose finances we will see, only in part, after the election is over. A little over a year after the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I appeared on national television to walk Stephen Colbert through the legal intricacies of establishing his super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and his dark money 501(c)(4), Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Shhh. Though my appearances on his show were no more than a few minutes each, during our discussions Stephen demonstrated his uncanny ability to take a complex, nuanced problem and distill it down to the absurd facts at its core. For example, one particularly memorable exchange from my first appearance came after I reminded him of the applicable regulations if he chose to form a PAC.

California: State Considers Tough Campaign-Finance Rules | Wall Street Journal

California is considering some of the nation’s strictest campaign-finance rules, aimed at keeping candidates from coordinating with groups able to raise unlimited amounts of money on their behalf. The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposals Thursday. The rules would apply to statewide and local elections. The vote comes as outside groups are playing a central role in national campaigns since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010. That ruling led to the growth of super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts in support of candidates, or their opponents, but cannot legally coordinate with candidate campaigns.

National: Super-PAC rules are super-vague | The Columbus Dispatch

Even on the nearly lawless frontier of bankrolling 2016 presidential campaigns, everyone agrees one important rule remains. Coordination is not allowed between a candidate’s official campaign organization and the mysterious entities dubbed super-PACs, or political-action committees that now fuel runs for the White House. There’s just one problem: Almost no one agrees exactly what coordination means. For example, leaders of John Kasich’s official campaign team and his super-PAC considered it legal to work together until virtually the minute the Ohio governor officially announced his presidential candidacy in July. But Jeb Bush’s super-PAC execs, fearful of violating the no-coordination rule, divorced themselves a week or two before the former Florida governor’s formal declaration.

National: Super PACs stretch the rules that prohibit coordination with presidential campaigns | Los Angeles Times

Long before Ben Carson jumped into the presidential race, some of his biggest fans were scouring the country for supporters. They set up a super PAC and began sending out brochures, eventually attracting thousands who signed up and gave money. When Carson actually got around to running, his campaign used those names to jump-start his early fundraising, according to John Philip Sousa IV, great-grandson of the composer and chairman of the 2016 Committee, a super PAC backing Carson. “It was that list that launched his campaign,” Sousa said, saying those names helped Carson build his $20 million in contributions.

National: Super PAC Contributions Can Be Considered Bribes: Judge | Huffington Post

A district court judge on Monday dismissed four corruption charges against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and his donor Salomon Melgen, but denied motions to toss out other charges including, notably, the senator’s solicitation of contributions for a super PAC. Lawyers for the senator had asked the court to dismiss charges related to the $700,000 in contributions from Melgen to Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC run by former aides to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that made independent expenditures to support Menendez’s 2012 reelection, which prosecutors allege were made in exchange for official acts. The basis for dismissal offered by Menendez’s lawyers were the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United and 2013 McCutcheon decisions. Those two cases redefined corruption as only explicit bribery, excluding influence and access. The senator’s lawyers argued that this redefinition of corruption and Citizens United’s declaration that independent expenditures “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” provided freedom of speech protections for all “efforts to influence and obtain access to elected officials,” including any campaign contribution.

National: It’s bold, but legal: How campaigns and their super PAC backers work together | The Washington Post

The 2016 presidential contenders are stretching the latitude they have to work with their independent allies more than candidates in recent elections ever dared, taking advantage of a narrowly drawn rule that separates campaigns from outside groups. For the first time, nearly every top presidential hopeful has a personalized super PAC that can raise unlimited sums and is run by close associates or former aides. Many also are being boosted by non­profits, which do not have to disclose their donors. The boldness of the candidates has elevated the importance of wealthy donors to even greater heights than in the last White House contest, when super PACs and nonprofits reported spending more than $1 billion on federal races. Although they are not supposed to coordinate directly with their independent allies, candidates are finding creative ways to work in concert with them.

National: The rise of dark money in 2016, unlimited and anonymous | Miami Herald

It looks like any political ad, opening with Sen. Marco Rubio warning that “evil is confronted or defeated, or it grows and it spreads.” A narrator marks the day President Barack Obama announced the Iran deal, a nuclear bomb exploding on the screen. “Congress can stop it,” the ominous voice says. “Marco Rubio is leading the fight. Tell your senators to join Marco Rubio and defeat Obama’s deal with Iran.” Shown nationally on Fox News as Rubio runs for president, the ad is not from the Florida Republican’s campaign or one of the super PACs that has injected hundreds of millions into politics. It is the work of a nonprofit group — and you will never know who paid for it. On the surface, the ad was a failure; Obama secured the votes Wednesday to withstand a congressional challenge to the Iran deal. But the seven-figure buy enhanced Rubio’s profile and underscores a major shift in politics. Nonprofits long have been used by organizations aligned with political bents, including the Sierra Club and the NRA, to promote “social welfare.” Then came the landmark 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United, which said corporations and unions were effectively the same as individuals and could spend directly on politics.

National: Hillary Clinton Unveils Campaign-Finance Plan | Wall Street Journal

Hillary Clinton is rolling out a policy plan Tuesday aimed at lifting the veil on some of the wealthy donors who have bankrolled political campaigns while taking advantage of laws that allow them to remain anonymous. Mrs. Clinton, who along with her husband has been among the most prodigious fundraisers in U.S. history, is also proposing ways to give candidates more incentives to collect money from small donors. Since entering the race in April, Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, has said she wants to impose new restraints on campaign spending to restore people’s confidence in the political system. Along with her top rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, she has taken aim at a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that gave rise to political-action committees known as super PACs, which are permitted to raise unlimited sums of money on behalf of candidates.

Editorials: Dumbing Down American Politics: Lawrence Lessig and the Presidency | Thomas E. Mann/Institute of Governmental Studies – UC Berkeley

Donald Trump and the Amen chorus of Republican presidential aspirants may have appeared to monopolize the capacity to make fantastical claims about what’s wrong with America and how to fix it. But a rival has appeared on the scene, outlining a very different fantasy plan to run for president on the Democratic side of the aisle. Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig looks meek — a dead ringer for Mr. Peepers – yet is anything but. Lessig built an impressive career in legal scholarship on the regulation of cyberspace, and the mild-mannered, soft-spoken academic became a cult hero among libertarians fearful of increasing legal restrictions on copyright, trademark and the electromagnetic spectrum. But Lessig’s transformation into a political activist was spurred by his personal revelation that money in politics is the root of all our governing problems. Eliminate the dependence of elected officials on private donors and the formidable obstacles to constructive policymaking will crumble. Simple but searing truth, or a caricature of a complex governing system shaped by institutions, ideas/ideologies, and interests?

National: Mega-donors extend ‘shelf life’ of struggling 2016 hopefuls | AFP

Chris Christie and Rick Perry may have stalled in the US presidential race but they could struggle on to the first primary votes, thanks to the mega-donors keeping their campaigns afloat. But in American politics a few generous donors can keep a sputtering campaign alive, even when the political winds fail to fill a candidate’s sails. “This is the bring-your-own-billionaire election,” Chris Gates, president of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan, pro-transparency group that is tracking 2016 campaign finance, told AFP on Monday. “It does allow them to hang on,” he said of the largesse. “It extends the shelf life of candidates who may not be creating any buzz or fire in the electorate.”

National: Billionaires crowd out the bundlers in White House race | USA Today

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Montana lumber company owner Sherm Anderson found it “fairly easy” to help raise $2 million from his fellow Republicans to boost Mitt Romney’s presidential hopes. Anderson expects a far tougher road in 2016, given the growing dominance of super PACs and other outside groups that are amassing millions in political contributions from a small cluster of the nation’s richest individuals. “It turns small contributors off,” Anderson said. “They say, ‘Gee whiz, I thought I was helping by giving $100 or $1,000, but how can I help when someone else is giving $100,000?’ These super PACs are definitely changing the dynamic,” he said.

Editorials: The Affluent Ante Up for the Presidency | The New York Times

When the Republican candidates for president expounded on what they would do for ordinary Americans in their debate this month, they neglected to mention that more than half the money underpinning their campaigns has been coming from just 130 big-spending families and the businesses they run. These families are determined to influence the election with six- and seven-figure checks. The stark, sad truth of modern campaigning is that a small pool of the richest Americans is making the candidates in both parties increasingly dependent on special-interest money. Fewer than 400 of the nation’s most affluent families have supplied almost half of the money raised so far by presidential candidates in both parties, according a survey of federal campaign data by The Times.

Editorials: A wealthy oligarchy of donors is dominating the 2016 election | The Washington Post

The United States may be turning a corner in presidential politics. Although the election itself is more than a year away, the latest reports to the Federal Election Commission show that a wealthy oligarchy of donors has come to dominate campaign finance, particularly in the crowded Republican contest. Fewer than 400 families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the campaign so far, according to an analysis by the New York Times. This class of wealthy patrons, some with new fortunes and others of long-standing, is throwing money into campaigns, not of all which will end happily. But the preeminence of this clan of tycoons so early in the season is not a good sign.

National: 67 donors and gusher of cash change 2016 race | Politico

The flood of seven-figure contributions to outside groups supporting presidential candidates — officially reported for the first time Friday — illustrates in stark terms how the unprecedented political buying power of wealthy donors has fundamentally shifted U.S. presidential campaigns. The 67 biggest donors, each of whom gave $1 million or more, donated more than three times as much as the 508,000 smallest donors combined, according to a POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service. The 67 mega-donors accounted for $128 million in cash to super PACs supporting specific 2016 presidential candidates. In all, POLITICO’s analysis found that 29 super PACS and other big-money non-profits dedicated to the candidates combined to raise $271 million from 9,500 donors, for an average donation of $29,000.

National: New ‘super PACs’ help 2016 mega-donors customize their political clout | Los Angeles Times

For discerning, super-wealthy donors looking for a distinctive way to advertise clout, the 2016 presidential election offers a new perk — their own specially tailored “super PAC.” Political professionals working on behalf of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, both Republicans, have set up multiple super PACs with nearly identical names, all in the interest of catering to the wishes of the well-heeled, particularly the moguls willing to write seven-figure checks. The idea is to convince these donors they will have a measure of control over how their money is spent. “Whether they have $5,000 or $5 million, they want to be able to participate in the process and give their thoughts and ideas,” said Austin Barbour, main strategist for the three super PACs backing Perry — all bearing the name Opportunity and Freedom.

National: The television election | Politico

This was supposed to be the presidential campaign that ends the dominance of TV ads — the Snapchat election, the live streaming election. “If 2004 was about Meetup [and] 2008 was about Facebook, 2016 is going to be about Meerkat (or something just like it),” vowed President Barack Obama’s ex-communications guru Dan Pfeiffer. Not yet. It’s increasingly clear, as two dozen campaigns and their super PACs plot their strategies, that 2016, will be, once again, about television. Between campaigns and independent groups, television ad spending during the 2016 elections is projected to top $4.4 billion. That’s over a half-billion more than in 2012. And it’s at least four times what campaigns and groups are preparing to spend on their online strategies.

National: What Campaign Filings Won’t Show: Super PACs’ Growing Sway | The New York Times

Presidential contenders provided a glimpse inside their campaign war chests on Wednesday, releasing financial statements that offered the first detailed accounting of how the candidates were raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars in pursuit of elected office. The reports showed, for instance, that Jeb Bush has relied largely on wealthy donors giving the maximum contribution — attracting far less financial support from more modest donors — and that Rick Perry, Ben Carson and Rick Santorum are burning through the money they have raised much more quickly than most of their opponents. Hillary Rodham Clinton raised the most money for the primary of any candidate, $46.7 million, while Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, running against Mrs. Clinton for the Democratic nomination, brought in $15 million, the vast majority of it from donors giving $200 or less.

National: Groups backed by secret donors take the lead in shaping 2016 elections | The Washington Post

The latest television ad touting GOP presidential contender Marco Rubio proclaims that he is “leading the fight” to stop President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. “Lessons of history are that evil is either confronted and defeated, or it grows,” Rubio says sternly, standing in front of a giant American flag. But the new spot, which hits the airwaves Wednesday, is not the work of his official campaign or even his allied super PAC. It was paid for by the Conservative Solutions Project, part of a crop of politically active nonprofit groups that are taking on new prominence in the 2016 elections.

National: Bush Outstrips Rivals in Fund-Raising as ‘Super PACs’ Swell Candidates’ Coffers | The New York Times

Jeb Bush and his allies announced on Thursday that they had amassed more than $114 million in campaign cash over the last six months, dwarfing the combined fund-raising of his Republican rivals for the party’s presidential nomination. The announcements, made as many of his donors were gathering at his family’s compound here to celebrate their success, established Mr. Bush as his party’s financial powerhouse. They also underscored how the Supreme Court’s five-year-old Citizens United decision continues to remake the way presidential campaigns are waged. Almost all of the money was raised before Mr. Bush formally declared his candidacy last month, collected by a “super PAC” that Mr. Bush’s aides helped set up.