Opportunity and Freedom PAC, and its two siblings, Opportunity and Freedom PAC numbers 1 and 2, were meant to be heavyweight sluggers for Republican Rick Perry, providing big-budget support for his second presidential bid. But Perry himself turned out to be a welterweight at best. The former Texas governor entered the race late, raised a skimpy $1.1 million by June 30 and “suspended” his campaign barely two months later. “We had a plan,” political consultant Austin Barbour, senior advisor to the superPACs, told NPR. “To me it also represents the peak of spending absolutely foolish money. It’s not rational, but I love it.”
Prospective Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is moving to get his share via a new political committee. The way he did it could blaze a new trail for candidates seeking out million-dollar donors. Bush’s action comes just before the fifth anniversary, next Wednesday, of Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that restructured the campaign finance landscape. In the five years since, there’s been an explosion of political money. The organization around Bush, a former Florida governor, has created a superPAC, a species of political committee that wasn’t possible before Citizens United. It can take contributions of any amount. Confusingly, the Bush organization also set up another political action committee at the same time, an old-fashioned PAC operating with contribution limits. The PACs have the same name, Right To Rise, similar logos and the same lawyer.
The Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to debate a proposed constitutional amendment that would let Congress and the states put caps on political spending. But that’s probably the high-water mark for the amendment. When Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) called the vote tally, it looked like a big win for advocates of the constitutional amendment: 79 ayes, 18 nays. That’s a dozen votes more than the 67-vote majority needed to actually move the amendment out of the Senate and over to the House. But it was a strategic move as 25 of the Senate’s 45 Republicans voted aye. It allows the GOP to prolong the debate and spend less time on other measures that Democrats want to vote on before the midterm elections – measures such as equal pay for women and college affordability. Democrats pretty much ignored the stalling tactic and insisted this is an important vote. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said, “There are times when action is required to defend our great democracy against those who would see it converted into one more rigged game where the rich and the powerful always win. This is the time to amend the Constitution.” But setting the political gamesmanship aside, one question lingers. When pollsters ask Americans about the political money system, overwhelming percentages basically say they hate it. So why doesn’t Congress do something?
Editorials: When Did Conservatives Change Their Mind About Campaign Finance Disclosure? | Mark Schmitt/The New Republic
A decade ago, when Congress was debating the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as McCain-Feingold, the conservative alternative to its modest tightening of regulations on political spending bore the wonderful name DeLay-Doolittle. The name represented not just the two primary sponsors—then-Reps. Tom DeLay and John Doolittle—but also what the bill would do, or not. As an alternative to restrictions on soft money and corporate spending, DeLay and Doolittle proposed to lift all existing regulations on political contributions, and replace them with a regime of immediate and complete disclosure on the Internet. DeLay and Doolittle faced two problems, however. First, its supporters soon disappeared from Congress under murky circumstances. DeLay was indicted on campaign-finance related charges in 2006 and resigned. Doolittle, deeply implicated in the Jack Abramoff scandal, left Congress in 2007. The third major supporter of the bill, Rep. Bob Ney, served 17 months in prison connected to the Jack Abramoff scandal. The second problem with DeLay and Doolittle was that its supporters didn’t mean a word of it. They didn’t want to disclose their donors and outside backers any more than they wanted to limit them—after all, they went to great lengths to hide information such as their dealings with Abramoff. It was only a slick way of changing the subject.
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.
Voting Blogs: SuperPac Disclosure Data and “Citizens United as the Root of All Evil” Watch: Part II | Rick Hasen/Election Law Blog
Several months ago I wrote to argue against the constantly-repeated storyline that cast Citizens United as responsible for the explosion of SuperPacs in this election cycle. Though I have written critically about the Court’s decision, I was also skeptical of the tendency to blame the Court’s decision for all the forms of newly emerging election financing in this cycle that critics disliked. Citizens United did liberate corporate and union general-treasury funds to engage in independent election spending, but it did not otherwise change the constitutional architecture originally constructed in Buckley v. Valeo, back in 1976.
A new analysis shows that in the deluge of TV ads in the early voting states for the Republican presidential primaries, nearly half of the ads are coming not from the candidates but from superPACs — the new breed of political committees that raise unregulated money. Political scientists at Wesleyan University in Connecticut found that so far, there have been about the same number of GOP primary ads as there were four years ago. An analysis by the Wesleyan Media Group shows that while the overall number of ads in the 2012 Republican presidential primary is similar to four years ago, the source of the ads has changed. What’s different — and different in a big way — is the role of outside money groups, mostly superPACs, says Erika Franklin Fowler, a director of the Wesleyan Media Project. “They went from about 3 percent of total ad airings in the 2008 race to almost half, about 44 percent, in 2012,” she says.
Jan. 21 marked the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in CitizensUnitedv. FederalElectionCommission. Already controversial at the time it was issued, the ruling has taken center stage in the debate over superPACs’ role in the race for the White House. Contrary to some suggestions that superPACs are acting under the radar and outside of any regulation, they are, in fact, subject to the same long-standing disclosure requirements and objective rules applicable to everyone else. To place superPACs in context, it is important to understand their origin. In CitizensUnited, the government was put in the unenviable position of defending a statute dictating who could speak, when they could speak and how they could speak. Specifically, the law prohibited corporations and labor unions from sponsoring broadcast advertisements that expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates for federal office. Not only that, the law purported to impose a blackout period on certain ads that even mentioned candidates.