With the Republican primary season winding down, it’s time to celebrate two heroes of participatory democracy, two champions of the ordinary voter, two men who did everything in their power to make the ballot box matter as much as the fundraising circuit. I speak, of course, of Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess. Adelson is the casino billionaire whose super PAC donations enabled Newt Gingrich to upset Mitt Romney in South Carolina and give him a scare in Florida. Friess is the investment manager whose super PAC donations enabled Rick Santorum to prolong the race through February and March. Both men are controversial; both have been cited as prime examples of the corrupting influence of great wealth on our politics. But both did more than anyone else to prevent the Republican primary from turning into a straightforward “money talks” affair.
When the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, striking down campaign finance rules limiting political spending by corporations and unions, critics predicted that corporate interests would funnel enormous amounts of money to individual candidates and campaigns. So far, though, that hasn’t happened, presumably because major corporations are enormously skittish about being perceived as partisan or ideological. Instead, the post-Citizens landscape has been dominated by individual donors, who have taken advantage of a lesser-known lower-court ruling – Speechnow.org v. F.E.C. – that removed the limits on contributions to groups (the super PACs) that are technically independent of particular campaigns.
Faced with this trend, supporters of campaign finance regulation have adapted their argument, casting figures like Friess and Adelson (rather than ExxonMobil or General Mills) as the real danger to the common good. Writing in The New Republic, Timothy Noah argues that the democratic process is being subverted by “super-rich crankocrats,” who are using super PACs to advance their far-right views and strange pet causes without having to answer (as corporate donors would) to shareholders or consumers.
Full Article: The Virtues of the Super PAC – NYTimes.com.