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ZeroHedge: Meet The Billionaires Behind The Best Presidents Money Can Buy

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

The last time we checked on the (funding) status of America’s real presidential race – the one where America’s uber-wealthy try to outspend each other in hopes of purchasing the best president money can buy – the totals were substantially lower. With November 6 rapidly approaching, however, the scramble to lock in those record political lobbying IRRs is in its final lap.

And thanks to the unlimited nature of PAC spending, look for the spending to really go into overdrive in the next 2 weeks as the spending frenzy on the world’s greatest tragicomedy hits previously unseen heights.

ZeroHedge

RESTORE OUR FUTURE

Total raised as of Sept. 30: $110.5 million – supports Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney

  • Bob Perry – Houston builder who was a major donor to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that helped undermine 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry by attacking his Vietnam War record. Total donations: $10 million
  • Sheldon Adelson – billionaire Las Vegas casino magnate who built the Venetian hotel and casino. Donation: $5 million
  • Miriam Adelson – Sheldon’s wife. Donation: $5 million
  • Bill Koch – brother of conservative financiers David and Charles Koch. He runs Oxbow Carbon, a Florida-based firm that is also a donor and shares its address with another contributor, Huron Carbon. Total donations, including through firms: $4 million
  • Steven Lund – runs Nu Skin, a Utah skin care and cosmetics company whose former executives have been linked to two other firms that share an address in Provo, Utah, and donated to the Super PAC: F8 LLC and Eli Publishing. Lund’s wife Kalleen is also a donor. Total donations from the Lunds and firms: $3 million
  • Julian Robertson – hedge fund industry legend at Tiger Management. Total donations: $1.3 million
  • Crow Holdings – Dallas-based investment firm managing the wealth of the family of the late Dallas real estate mogul Trammell Crow, whose sons Harlan and Trammell S. Crow are also donors. Total Crow Holdings and Crow donations: $1.3 million
  • Harold Simmons – billionaire Dallas banker and CEO of Contran Corp who has contributed to PACs supporting Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. Donations: $1.3 million
  • Frank VanderSloot – Idaho businessman who runs the nutritional and cosmetics company Melaleuca. The firm and its subsidiaries have also donated. Total donations: $1.1 million
  • The Villages of Lake Sumter – a community in Florida run by billionaire Gary Morse, who is also a donor alongside his wife Renee and their several children. Along with the Morse family, thirteen companies controlled wholly or partially by Morse that share an address in The Villages have also contributed. Total donations of all: $1.7 million.
  • Kenneth Griffin – Chicago-based hedge fund manager and CEO of Citadel LLC. Total donations: $1.1 million
  • Bob Parsons – billionaire founder of web hosting giant Go Daddy. Donation: $1 million
  • Jim Davis – chairman of New Balance Athletic Shoes Inc. Donations: $1 million
  • Stanley Herzog – CEO of Missouri-based Herzon Contracting Corp. Donation: $1 million
  • Bruce Kovner – billonaire hedge fund manager at Caxton Alternative Management. Donation: $1 million
  • Rocco Ortenzio – Pennsylvania healthcare executive and founder of Select Medical Corp. Total donations: $1 million
  • John Childs – founder of private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates LP in Florida. Donation: $1 million
  • Edward Conard – a New York investor and former executive at Bain Capital, a private equity firm co-founded by Romney. Donation: $1 million
  • John Kleinheinz – Texas hedge fund manager for Kleinheinz Capital Partners Inc. Donation: $1 million
  • J.W. Marriott Jr. – chairman and CEO of Marriott International, brother of Richard. Total donations: $1 million
  • Richard Marriott – chairman of Host Marriott International. Total donations: $1 million
  • Robert McNair – owner of the Houston Texans football team. Donation: $1 million.
  • Robert Mercer – New York hedge fund manager at Renaissance Technologies. Donation: $1 million
  • John Paulson – a prominent New York hedge fund manager at Paulson and Co. Donation: $1 million
  • Rooney Holdings Inc – private investment firm formed in 1980s to acquire the Manhattan Construction Co. and has since expanded into many areas. Total donations: $1 million
  • Paul Singer – hedge fund manager who helped fund efforts to legalize gay marriage in New York. Donation: $1 million
  • Paul and Sandra Edgerly – Paul Edgerly of Brookline, Massachusetts, is an executive at Bain. The Edgerlys each have given $500,000. Total donations: $1 million
  • Steven Webster – private equity executive at Avista Capital in Houston. Total donations: $1 million
  • Robert Brockman – executive at Reynolds and Reynolds, a Dayton, Ohio-based car dealership support company that shares a P.O. Box with CRC Information Systems Inc, Fairbanks Properties LLC and Waterbury Properties LLC, which split the donation three ways. Total donations: $1 million
  • Miguel Fernandez – chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners, a private equity firm. MBF Family Investments also donated to the Super PAC. Total donations: $1 million
  • Renco Group Inc. – owned by New York billionaire Ira Rennert, another frequent contributor to Republicans this year. Donation: $1 million
  • OdysseyRe Holdings Corp – reinsurance underwriting company in Stamford, Connecticut that is a U.S. subsidiary of Toronto-based Fairfax Financial. Donation: $1 million

 

PRIORITIES USA ACTION

Total raised as of Sept. 30: $50.1 million – supports Democratic President Barack Obama

  • James Simons – billionaire hedge fund manager, founder of Renaissance Technologies Corp. Donation: $3.5 million
  • Fred Eychaner – founder of Newsweb Corp. Donation: $3.5 million
  • Jeff Katzenberg – chief executive of DreamWorks Animation. Donation: $3 million
  • Steve Mostyn – Houston attorney. Donation: $2 million
  • Irwin Mark Jacobs – former CEO of Qualcomm Inc. Donation: $2 million
  • Jon Stryker – billionaire activist and heir to the medical supply company fortune of his grandfather. Donation: $2 million
  • Anne Cox Chambers – billionaire daughter of James M. Cox, founder of Cox Enterprises. Total donations: $1.5 million
  • National Air Traffic Controllers Association – union representing more than 16,000 workers. Donation: $1.3 million
  • S. Daniel Abraham – billionaire creator of Slim-Fast brand, chairman of S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Donation: $1.2 million
  • Barbara Stiefel – retiree in Coral Gables, Florida. Donation: $1.1 million
  • United Auto Workers – Donations through various funds: $1.1 million
  • Kareem Ahmed – chief executive at Landmark Medical Management in California. Donation: $1 million
  • David Boies, Jr – New York lawyer. Donation: $1 million
  • Morgan Freeman – Hollywood actor. Donation: $1 million
  • Amy Goldman – writer and heiress to the New York real estate fortune of Sol Goldman. Donation: $1 million
  • Franklin Haney – owner and CEO of FLH Company, a Washington-based real estate company. Donation: $1 million
  • Bill Maher – stand-up comedian. Donation: $1 million
  • Mel Heifetz – real estate developer and gay activist. Donation: $1 million
  • Michael Snow – Minnesota lawyer. Donation: $1 million.
  • Steven Spielberg – film director. Donation: $1 million.
  • Ann Wyckoff – Seattle philanthropist. $1 million.
  • Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education – union representing more than 2 million workers. Donation: $1 million.
  • United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry – union representing some 340,000 workers. Total donations: $1 million

AMERICAN CROSSROADS

Total raised as of Sept. 30: $68 million – supports Republican candidates for federal offices

  • Harold Simmons – Total donations together with Contran Corp: $15.5 million
  • Bob Perry – Total donations: $6.5 million
  • Robert Rowling – an Irving, Texas, businessman and a conservative and active Republican donor. His company, TRT Holdings Inc, which runs Omni Hotel and Gold’s Gym chains, is also a donor. Total donations: $4 million
  • Joe Craft – billionaire coal executive from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and CEO of Alliance Holdings, which is also a donor. Total donations: $2.1 million
  • Jerry Perenchio Living Trust – a trust of billionaire television tycoon A. Jerrold Perenchio, who is a former chairman of Spanish-language broadcaster Univision. Donation: $2 million
  • Crow Holdings – Dallas-based real estate investment firm. Total donations: $1.5 million
  • Weaver Holdings and Weaver Popcorn – Indiana-based company specializing in popcorn. Total contributions: $1.9 million
  • Stephens Inc – a Little Rock, Arkansas, broker dealer. Total donations: $1.3 million
  • Armstrong Group – telecommunications conglomerate in Pennsylvania. Donation: $1.3 million
  • JWC III Revocable Trust – Donatoin: $1.3 million
  • Robert Brockman – executive at Ohio-based Reynolds and Reynolds. Similarly to Restore Our Future, three firms sharing a P.O. Box – CRC Information Systems Inc, Fairbanks Properties LLC and Waterbury Properties LLC – split the donation three ways. Total donations: $1 million
  • Whiteco Industries – Indiana-based company involved in advertising, construction, entertainment and hotels. Donation: $1 million
  • The Mercury Trust – entity linked to California private equity firm of Saul Fox. Donation: $1 million
  • Clayton Williams Energy Inc – Midland, Texas-based drilling company. Donation: $1 million
  • Jay Bergman – of PETCO Petroleum Corporation. Donation: $1 million
  • Kenneth Griffin – Citadel Investment Group chief executive. Total donations: $1 million
  • Wayne Hughes – Founder of Public Storage. Total donations: $1 million
  • John Childs – Chairman and CEO of Boston-based JW Childs Associates. Total donations: $1 million
  • Philip Geier – New York executive. Total donations: $1 million
  • Irving Moskowitz – a Florida bingo magnate who runs a charity in California and is known for his support of Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. Donation: $1 million
  • Robert Mercer – co-CEO of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies. Donation: $1 million

 

BARACK OBAMA (Democrat)

  • Total raised, including transfers: $609.4 million
  • Raised in September, including transfers: $136.2 million
  • Total transferred from the funds jointly used by the campaign and the Democratic Party: $176.6 million
  • Transferred in September: $39.8 million
  • Total spent: $469.9 million
  • Spent in September: $111.4 million
  • Cash on hand: $99.3 million
  • Debt: $2.6 million

DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE

  • Total raised: $253.6 million
  • Raised in September: $20.3 million
  • Total transferred in: $108.4 million
  • Transferred in September: $4.0 million
  • Total spent: $261.6 million
  • Spent in September: $22.8 million
  • Cash on hand: $4.6 million
  • Debt: $20.5 million

OBAMA VICTORY FUND 2012 (The main joint Obama/DNC fund)

  • Total raised: $371.1 million
  • Raised in September: $80.0 million
  • Cash on hand: $45.2 million

 

MITT ROMNEY (Republican)

  • Total raised, including transfers: $337.2 million
  • Raised in September, including transfers: $76.2 million
  • Total transferred from the funds jointly used by the party and the Romney campaign: $236.4 million
  • Transferred in September: $34.2 million
  • Total spent: $298.2 million
  • Spent in September: $54.7 million
  • Cash on hand: $63.1 million
  • Debt: $5.0 million

REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE

  • Total raised: $331.2 million
  • Raised in September: $48.4 million
  • Total transferred in: $127.5 million
  • Transferred in September: $28.6 million
  • Total spent: $249.4 million
  • Spent in September: $42.4 million
  • Cash on hand: $82.6 million
  • Debt: $9.9 million

ROMNEY VICTORY INC (Joint Romney/RNC fund – third quarter, July through Sept.)

  • Total raised: $375.6 million
  • Raised in third quarter: $235.2 million
  • Cash on hand: $37.4 million

Appendix: SUPER PACS:

RESTORE OUR FUTURE, a Super PAC supporting Romney

  • Total raised: $110.5 million
  • Raised in September: $14.8 million
  • Total spent: $94.9 million
  • Spent in September: $4.6 million
  • Cash on hand: $16.6 million

PRIORITIES USA, a Super PAC supporting Obama

  • Total raised: $50.1 million
  • Raised in September: $15.3 million
  • Total spent: $43.6 million
  • Spent in September: $12.8 million
  • Cash on hand: $7.3 million

AMERICAN CROSSROADS, a Super PAC supporting Republicans

  • Total raised: $68.0 million
  • Raised in September: $11.4 million
  • Total spent: $53.4 million
  • Spent in September: $27.9 million
  • Cash on hand: $15.8 million

Source: Reuters

MapLight, the Political Money Tracker, Launches Politicash 2012 App for the Presidential Election

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Our friends at Maplight have a really great app for tracking the money flowing in this year’s election campaigns.

Maplight

MapLight, the Political Money Tracker, Launches Politicash 2012 App for the Presidential Election

Free Mobile App Gives Users Immediate Access to Who’s Funding Presidential Candidate and Affiliated Super PAC Campaigns

Sept. 25, 2012–MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics, announces the launch of its new mobile app, Politicash 2012. The app, freely available for iOS and Android, tracks money flowing into the presidential race, making it easier than ever to know exactly who’s funding the candidates, including the shadowy money going into the campaigns of their affiliated super PACs. An auto-tweet feature alerts candidates that users are keeping tabs on their fundraising. Politicash 2012 is updated regularly with the most recent data from the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

“With millions of dollars flowing into the presidential race, Politicash 2012 makes it easier than ever to track the biggest donors and hold our candidates accountable, all from the palm of your hand,” said Daniel G. Newman, MapLight’s co-founder and president.

The app’s features include:

  • Head to head comparison of total contributions to Obama and Romney, including a fundraising breakdown by super PAC versus campaign committee
  • Graphs tracking money raised and spent by each candidate over time
  • The top 5 contributors overall
  • Biggest contributors of the latest week of available records from the FEC
  • A “Shake” feature, showing a random sample of company, individual, and PAC contributors to each candidate

Download Politicash 2012 today for iOS and Android.

Politicash 2012 launches in partnership with the Brennan Center for Justice, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Global Exchange, the Participatory Politics Foundation, Public Campaign, Rock the Vote, and Rootstrikers.

Los Angeles Times: After winning right to spend, political groups fight for secrecy

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Conservatives who said disclosure of donors would prevent corruption now are attacking such rules, citing fears of harassment

Los Angeles Times

During their long campaign to loosen rules on campaign money, conservatives argued that there was a simpler way to prevent corruption: transparency. Get rid of limits on contributions and spending, they said, but make sure voters know where the money is coming from.

Today, with those fundraising restrictions largely removed, many conservatives have changed their tune. They now say disclosure could be an enemy of free speech.

High-profile donors could face bullying and harassment from liberals out to “muzzle” their opponents, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a recent speech.

Corporations could be subject to boycotts and pickets, warned the Wall Street Journal editorial page this spring.

Democrats “want to intimidate people into not giving to these conservative efforts,” said Republican strategist Karl Rove on Fox News. “I think it’s shameful.”

Rove helped found American Crossroads, a “super PAC,” and Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit group that does not reveal its donors.

“Disclosure is the one area where [conservatives] haven’t won,” said Richard Briffault, an election law professor at Columbia Law School. “This is the next frontier for them.”

A handful of conservative foundations, themselves financed with millions in anonymous funding, have been fighting legal battles from Maine to Hawaii to dismantle disclosure rules and other limits on campaign spending.

One group, the Center for Individual Freedom based in Alexandria, Va., has spent millions on attack ads against Democratic congressmen and state judicial candidates. It also has sued to block laws and court rulings that would have required disclosure of the source of the money for the ads.

Jeffrey Mazzella, the center’s president, declined to comment on the lawsuits or discuss the group’s donors, saying the center lays out its positions in detail on its website and in news releases.

Bradley A. Smith, a Republican and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, is among those whose views have changed on disclosure. In 2003, he endorsed disclosing donors as a way to discourage corruption by “exposing potential or actual conflicts of interest.”

But later, he said, he concluded that disclosure requirements could be burdensome for citizen groups. And now that campaign reports are posted online, he added, people can easily identify and target their opponents.

The business community began fighting disclosure in 2000, when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, after buying ads supporting candidates for the Mississippi Supreme Court, successfully challenged the state’s requirements on revealing donors.

The anti-disclosure campaign was joined by libertarian legal advocacy centers, such as the Institute for Justice, founded in 1991 with seed money from trusts controlled by billionaire brothers Charles andDavid H. Koch. Starting in 2005, the institute began sponsoring studies that argued disclosure laws were ensnaring ordinary citizens in red tape and inviting reprisals.

Then came California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. After the initiative passed in 2008, some same-sex marriage advocates used the state’s campaign finance data to publicly identify donors who supported the ban. Proposition 8 supporters claimed they were subject to harassing phone calls and e-mails, vandalism and protests.

In arguing against disclosure rules, conservatives even reach back to the civil rights era, when authorities in Alabama tried to identify members of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1958, the Supreme Court ruled those names could remain secret.

A leader of the crusade against disclosure has been James Bopp Jr., a libertarian lawyer based in Terre Haute, Ind. The original lawyer in the Citizens United case, in which the Supreme Court eased restrictions on independent political spending, he has brought suits to attack campaign rules in at least 30 states. In one of those suits, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled in Bopp’s favor and eliminated a Montana ban on corporate contributions.

Bopp and others say there’s nothing wrong with forcing candidates and political parties to reveal their donors, at least the larger ones. But for private citizens and independent groups, “the price of disclosure is too high,” he said.

So far, the anti-disclosure arguments haven’t won much support on the Supreme Court.

Starting with a key decision in 1976, the court has stood behind the principle that such rules help prevent corruption and keep voters informed. In the 2010 Citizens United case, an 8-1 majority affirmed disclosure rules. And later that year, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia was even more forceful in backing transparency.

Washington Post: Post-Watergate campaign finance limits undercut by changes

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan ran for reelection without holding a single campaign fundraiser because he and Democratic challenger Walter Mondale each accepted $40 million in public funds.

President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney spend much of their time crisscrossing the country to collect as much cash as possible, while political groups run by their former aides solicit donations of seven — and eight — figures from sympathetic billionaires.

Washington Post

The money poured into Richard M. Nixon’s reelection campaign from all corners: Six-figure checks flown by corporate jet from Texas; bundles of payments handed over at an Illinois game preserve; a battered brown attaché case stuffed with $200,000 in cash from a New Jersey investor hoping to fend off a fraud investigation.

During four pivotal weeks in spring 1972, the president brought in as much as $20 million — about $110 million in today’s dollars — much of it in the form of illegal corporate donations and all of it raised to avoid disclosure rules that went into effect that April.

“The decision was made that it was time to put the hay in,” John Dean, Nixon’s counsel at the time, recalled in an interview last week. “A lot of us believe Watergate might never have happened without all that money sloshing around.”

Four decades later, there’s little need for furtive fundraising or secret handoffs of cash. Many of the corporate executives convicted of campaign-finance crimes during Watergate could now simply write a check to their favorite super PAC or, if they want to keep it secret, to a compliant nonprofit group. Corporations can spend as much as they want to help their favored candidates, no longer prohibited by law from spending company cash on elections.

The political world has, in many respects, come full circle since a botched burglary funded by illicit campaign cash brought down an administration. The excesses of the Nixon era ushered in a series of wide-ranging restrictions on the use of money in campaigns, including limits on individual campaign contributions that remain in force today.

But the intervening decades have also brought changes that have undercut many of the political financing rules put in place in response to the Watergate scandal, including a Supreme Court case that freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited money on elections and a public-financing regime that has collapsed into irrelevance.

‘Money corrupts’

The result is a frenzied rush to raise money, with echoes of that spring 40 years ago: President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney spend much of their time crisscrossing the country to collect as much cash as possible, while political groups run by their former aides solicit donations of seven — and eight — figures from sympathetic billionaires.

Last week, Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson contributed $10 million to Restore Our Future, a super PAC dedicated to helping Romney win in November. Adelson, one of the richest men in the world, and his relatives have spent more than $35 million to help Republicans in the 2012 elections.

“I think we’re in the middle of a scandal that hasn’t quite gelled yet,” said Roger M. Witten, who worked in the Watergate special prosecutor’s office and now handles campaign-finance cases at WilmerHale in New York. “A tremendous amount of ground has been lost. We’ll have to relearn the lessons of Watergate — that money corrupts the system.”

Many conservatives and civil-liberties advocates take a different lesson, however, saying stricter rules would have done little to stop Nixon political operatives intent on breaking the law. Bradley J. Smith, a former Federal Election Commission chairman who is one of the leading voices for deregulating the campaign finance system, said many of the limits enacted after Watergate were ineffective and intruded on First Amendment rights.

“It’s not bad or good in and of itself to spend more money in politics,” Smith said. “We’ve got to shake off the bugaboo, the ghost of Watergate, that somehow justifies never-ending regulation of people’s free-speech rights.”

At the dawn of 1972, Nixon campaign aides, fueled by their boss’s legendary paranoia and scheming, set out to ensure his reelection by taking advantage of a window of opportunity — a loophole that let them raise unlimited, secret funds for about a month between the expiration of one election law and the enactment of a new one. The frenzy began March 10 and lasted until April 7, when legislation went into effect requiring disclosure of political donors.

In the months and years that followed, prosecutors and journalists unraveled a mind-boggling array of bank accounts and revolving political committees used to launder the money. Overseen by Nixon’s finance director, Maurice Stans, the effort featured a half-dozen “pickup men” roaming the country gathering checks and cash.

The volume was so great that some donations that had been offered went uncollected, while others came in late. One New Jersey lawmaker showed up in Washington on April 10 with a briefcase filled with $200,000 in $100 bills, money eventually traced to indicted financier Robert L. Vesco; the contributions were treated as if they had been received prior to the deadline.

Overall, Nixon’s 1972 reelection effort raised an estimated $60 million — “the largest amount of money ever spent in a political campaign,” as Stans later bragged.

By 1975, prosecutors reported that 32 individuals and 19 corporations were convicted or had pleaded guilty to violations of campaign-contribution laws, including household names such as Goodyear, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, Northrop, American Airlines, Gulf Oil and Phillips Petroleum, records show.

Former Watergate prosecutor Frank Tuerkheimer, who now teaches law at the University of Wisconsin, said he and his colleagues viewed the cases as the beginning of a crackdown on campaign-finance violations.

‘We were wrong’

“Unfortunately, that didn’t happen,” Tuerkheimer said. “We thought it would result in serious enforcement. We were wrong.”

Congress responded to Watergate by amending the Federal Election Campaign Act in 1974, which implemented contribution and spending limits, created the FEC and provided a system of public financing for presidential contests. The Supreme Court soon struck down the spending limits and other restrictions on free-speech grounds in Buckley v. Valeo.

But donation limits and public financing remained, and, for a time, money seemed to play a smaller role in national politics. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan ran for reelection without holding a single campaign fundraiser because he and Democratic challenger Walter Mondale each accepted $40 million in public funds.

The next crack in the wall constructed by reformers came in the 1990s, after a series of FEC rulings led to the rise of unlimited “soft money” donations to parties, an atmosphere that spurred several major financing scandals during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Reformers pushed back again in 2002 with a major campaign finance law sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), which banned unlimited donations to parties, imposed new restrictions on ads and attempted to limit the impact of self-funding millionaire candidates.

Many of the McCain-Feingold provisions, however, were struck down in a series of decisions culminating in the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission , which jettisoned a long-standing ban on corporate and union spending on elections. The court ruled 5 to 4 that corporations had the same rights as people when it comes to political speech, upending restrictions on election spending by businesses that stretched back a century.

‘Brought back to life’

The rulings have led to a proliferation of super PACs and other groups and have made it easier for wealthy individuals to spend unlimited money on politics.

“The pieces that created the Watergate scandal — secret money, unlimited donations — have been brought back to life by the Citizens United decision,” argues longtime activist Fred Wertheimer, who helped draft many of the reforms put in place in the 1970s. “The Supreme Court’s idea that you can let all this money into the system without leading to corruption is absurd.”

The long-running debate has been complicated by shifting politics and allegiances. Those in favor of more restrictions on campaign spending now tend to be Democrats, who have been pushing unsuccessfully to enact new disclosure laws for secretive nonprofits and other reforms. Leading Republicans, meanwhile, have adopted a no-regulation posture: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said last week that Obama’s push for broader disclosures amounted to a “Nixonian” attempt to intimidate conservatives.

But 40 years ago, the lines were scrambled, and many proponents of fewer restrictions came from the left. Joel M. Gora, now a professor at Brooklyn Law School, worked with the American Civil Liberties Union to help advocacy groups resist donor disclosure requirements and was on the legal team that rolled back many restrictions in Buckley.

Gora views Citizens United and other anti-regulation decisions as victories for free speech and says that many regulations are part of an “incumbent protection racket” aimed at quashing dissent. One of the plaintiffs in Buckley was Eugene McCarthy, whose insurgent Democratic presidential bid in 1968 was heavily funded by six-figure donations from antiwar donors.

“These laws are restricting outsiders, whether liberal or left-wing outsiders or conservative and right-wing outsiders,” Gora said. “The difference between the Adelsons of today and the people who wanted to support Gene McCarthy is really just a matter of the amount.”

 

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

© The Washington Post Company

Los Angeles Times: Justices may take up Montana campaign finance case addressing two-track system

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012
Citizens United and an appeals court ruling created a two-track campaign funding system favoring the wealthy. Now the Supreme Court is being asked to hear a Montana case to address some of the issues.

Los Angeles Times

When the Supreme Court ruled that corporations had the right to political free speech, it set loose a tidal wave of campaign money that helped elect a new Congress in 2010 and is now reshaping the presidential race.

But the impact of the Citizens United decision has been as surprising and controversial as the ruling itself. Although the high court’s 5-4 decision is best known for saying that corporations may spend freely on campaign ads, the gusher of money pouring into this year’s campaigns has mostly not involved corporate funds. And some of the practices that critics of the decision decry actually stem from a separate case decided by a U.S. Court of Appeals after the Citizens United ruling.

The rise of “super PACs,” which may raise and spend unlimited amounts so long as they do so independently of a candidate, has allowed close aides to candidates to set up supposedly independent committees that have raised huge amounts, primarily from wealthy individuals. The PACs have spent most of their money on negative ads attacking the opposition. That unlimited fundraising was set in motion by Citizens United, but came to full flower after the subsequent Court of Appeals decision.

By design or happenstance, a two-track campaign funding system has been created: One features small donors and strict regulation; the other exists for the very wealthy, who are largely freed from regulation.

Exasperated defenders of the campaign funding laws see the Citizens United decision as a historic blunder that has all but destroyed not just the 1940s limits on campaign spending by corporations and unions, but the post-Watergate reforms as well. This week, which marks the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, they are asking the justices to reconsider the Citizens United ruling by taking up a case from Montana that raises some of the same issues.

Fred Wertheimer, a champion of the campaign funding laws, says the Citizens United decision has “fundamentally undermined our democracy and is taking the nation back to the system of ‘legalized bribery’ that existed in the robber baron and Watergate eras.”

The Supreme Court meets behind closed doors Thursday to discuss the Montana case. But the five justices who supported Citizens United, led by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, are not likely to agree with the critics. They believe the 1st Amendment fully protects independent spending on campaigns and that more public speech and debate on politics is a plus, not a minus.

But they may be concerned over how political spending has shifted away from candidates and political parties and toward new outside groups.

Before 2010, political action committees were common. They allowed like-minded people — including a company’s employees — to contribute as much as $5,000 each to spend on candidates or campaigns. But in March of 2010, two months after the Citizens United ruling, the contribution lid was lifted.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, citing the 5-4 opinion, reasoned that since the 1st Amendment guaranteed the right to unrestricted “independent” spending on politics, PACs should have the right to collect unlimited sums, so long as they too were independent.

Thus, the parallel system was born.

Congress had set limits on individual contributions after the Watergate scandal, and they remain in effect today. A person who wants to contribute to the campaigns of President Obama or Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, may give no more than $5,000 this election cycle. But those who have a million dollars to spend can send their money to a super PAC supporting Obama or Romney. Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Romney, has at least 16 donors who have given more than $1 million.

“The real impact of Citizens United,” said Columbia University law professor Richard Briffault, has been to legalize “the unlimited use of private wealth in elections…. You haven’t seen nearly as much business or corporate money as people expected. Most corporations are not eager to be involved in an obvious ways.”

Super PACs must disclose their donors, but those who wish to maintain their anonymity can do so through the not-for-profit groups and trade associations that do not disclose their donors. “More than $120 million in anonymous funds was spent to influence the 2010 elections,” the Campaign Legal Center reported. That number is expected to be far higher in 2012, the group said.

Most companies that have given directly from their corporate treasuries to super PACs are privately held.

The Citizens United issue returned to the high court because of an unusual rebellion in the West.

The Montana Supreme Court refused to strike down its state ban on election spending by corporations. Its judges cited Montana’s history of “copper kings” who bribed legislators.

Indiana attorney James Bopp, who started the Citizens United case, appealed and urged the justices to straighten out the recalcitrant state judges. Defenders of campaign funding laws, including Sen. John McCain, launched their own attack on what they say are errors and “faulty assumptions” in the Citizens United opinion.

Although the high court turns down 99% of appeals, no one expects the Montana appeal to be denied.

The justices could write a summary opinion this month explaining why Citizens United was right — or hear the case in the fall and reconsider whether indeed a mistake was made.

 

Maplight: The Bulk of Super PAC Money Flows from a Few Individual Donors

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Our friends at Maplight have put together an interactive chart which displays the distribution of donations to Super PACs.

MapLight

Following the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United, and a subsequent ruling in a lower court, Speech Now v FEC, any entity (be it an individual, union, or company) is now able to make unlimited contributions to Super PACs to specifically advocate for or against federal candidates as long as they do not explicitly coordinate with those candidates’ campaigns. MapLight has conducted an analysis of the geographicial origins of the nearly $78 million in campaign contributions to Independent Expenditure-Only Committees (Super PACs) from Jan. 1, 2011- Feb. 29, 2012. Data source: Federal Election Commission (http://fec.gov/portal/super_pacs.shtml). Super PAC candidate positions provided by the New York Times.

A link to a spreadsheet of itemized data (names of contributors and contribution origin) from the Origins of Super PAC Money report can be found here. Click on the summary tab for totals. If you use our data we would appreciate if you would cite us accordingly (i.e. A MapLight analysis of FEC data shows…). MapLight is a 501(c)3 nonpartisan research organization that tracks money in politics.

DATA HIGLIGHTS:

  • Restore Our Future Super PAC (Romney) has raised $8.6M in New York from 42 contributors
  • Winning Our Future Super PAC (Gingrich) has raised $16.5M in Nevada from 8 contributors
  • Priorities USA Action Super PAC (Obama) has raised $3.9M in California from 56 contributors
  • Red White and Blue Fund Super PAC (Santorum) has raised $1.6M in Wyoming from 1 contributor
  • Endorse Liberty Super PAC (Paul) has raised $2.7M in California from 10 contributors

DATA VISUALIZATION:

Clicking on a state will reveal the contributions to Super PACs from individual cities from that state. A drop-down menu also allows for candidate comparisons as well as a geographic distribution of individual contributions to candidate-supporting Super PACs. Actual names of contributors can be found here.

A link to this Tableau data visualization can be found here. An embed code, which will allow you to host the visualization on your website or blog, is available by clicking on the link symbol at the bottom of the visual. Please call if you need technical assistance, 510-868-0894.

MapLight provides timely analysis to assist journalists with their news stories. Interviews with our researchers can be conducted in our Berkeley office or at UC Berkeley’s J-School

New York Times: Loose Border of ‘Super PAC’ and Campaign

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

The fantasy that candidates and their campaigns are not effectively coordinating with SuperPACs should be very clear from this NY Times report.

Both parties are spending record amounts of money, from disclosed and undisclosed donors as they hide behind an impotent Federal Elections Commission.

New York Times

When Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign needs advice on direct mail strategies for reaching voters, it looks to TargetPoint Consulting. And when the independent “super PAC” supporting him needs voter research, it, too, goes to TargetPoint.

Sharing a consultant would seem to be an embodiment of coordination between a candidate and an independent group, something prohibited under federal law. But TargetPoint is just one of a handful of interconnected firms in the same office suite in Alexandria, Va., working for either the Romney campaign or the super PAC Restore Our Future.

Elsewhere in the same suite is WWP Strategies, whose co-founder is married to TargetPoint’s chief executive and works for the Romney campaign. Across the conference room is the Black Rock Group, whose co-founder — a top Romney campaign official in 2008 — now helps run both Restore Our Future and American Crossroads, another independent group that spoke up in defense of Mr. Romney’s candidacy in January. Finally, there is Crossroads Media, a media placement firm that works for American Crossroads and other Republican groups.

The overlapping roles and relationships of the consultants in Suite 555 at 66 Canal Center Plaza offer a case study in the fluidity and ineffectual enforcement of rules intended to prevent candidates from coordinating their activities with outside groups. And there has been a rising debate over the ascendancy of super PACs, which operate free of the contribution limits imposed on the candidates but are supposed to remain independent of them.

In practice, super PACs have become a way for candidates to bypass the limits by steering rich donors to these ostensibly independent groups, which function almost as adjuncts of the campaigns.

While insisting that the tangle of connections does not violate any laws, Alexander Gage, TargetPoint’s founder, said he understood how it could look “ridiculous.” His own firm had taken steps, he said, to prevent improprieties, including erecting “a fire wall” separating employees who work for the Romney campaign and the super PAC.

“We go to great lengths to make sure that we meet all legal requirements,” he said. “I have removed myself personally from working on either Restore Our Future or Romney stuff because of this sort of potential conflict of interest.”

The prohibition against candidates working in concert with independent political committees has its roots in Watergate-era reforms intended to prevent large donors from gaining improper influence over elected officials. But it has taken on added significance in the wake of recent court decisions that opened the spigot for unlimited contributions to the independent groups.

Super PACs have collected more than $100 million so far, much of it from a relatively small collection of well-heeled individuals or companies who are free to give millions to these outside groups but no more than a few thousand dollars to a candidate’s own committees. Those unlimited contributions are fueling a barrage of negative advertising in the Republican primaries.

But while the Federal Election Commission has established elaborate, though narrow, guidelines for determining whether the creation of a specific campaign advertisement violates the coordination ban, it has not focused on other kinds of activities between all PACs and candidates. Rules the commission adopted in 2003, still on the books, allow for regulation of this gray area, but they have been largely ignored.

“Most of the focus so far has been on the ads, but there may be a lot of other activity that is being coordinated between the campaigns and the super PACs that could be seen as resulting in a benefit to the campaign,” said Lawrence M. Noble, a campaign-finance lawyer at Skadden, Arps and a former general counsel for the election commission.

The regulations on coordination include a general prohibition on expenditures “made in cooperation, consultation or concert with, or at the request or suggestion” of candidates and their representatives. The commission’s records show that when devising this rule, it turned aside pleas from political groups to limit enforcement only to ads, saying such a narrow focus was not what Congress intended.

Nine years later, however, there is little evidence that the commission has followed through on this intent.

The commission, made up of three Republicans and three Democrats, has long been divided along partisan lines on how far to go in enforcing rules on coordinated expenditures, often resulting in paralysis.

Last fall, the commission was asked by American Crossroads if it could broadcast certain ads, “fully coordinated” with a candidate, who would be consulted about the script and appear in the advertisement. The group argued that it would not be improper as long as the ad ran outside of a time window established by the commission for “electioneering communications.”

The commission deadlocked and could reach no conclusion.

“The campaigns know the F.E.C. isn’t going to enforce the law, and so they’ve decided to do whatever they want,” said Fred Wertheimer, whose watchdog group, Democracy 21, has complained to the Justice Department about the lack of enforcement. “What is going on is just absurd.”

The commission declined to comment for this article.

From the start, there has been no doubt that the super PACs are closely entwined with the candidates they support.

Priorities USA Action, which supports President Obama, was formed by two former White House aides, and Obama administration officials are helping it raise money. A former top aide to Newt Gingrich helps run a pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future. And Foster S. Friess, a major donor to Rick Santorum’s super PAC, often travels with the candidate.Mr. Romney has often blurred the distinction between his campaign and Restore Our Future. Last summer, discussing a large donation to the super PAC by one of his former business partners, Mr. Romney characterized it as a donation to himself. He appeared at a fund-raiser for Restore Our Future and has publicly encouraged people to donate to it.

Campaign spending reports filed by both the super PAC and the Romney campaign shed additional light on just how closely interconnected the two entities are.

Restore Our Future, for example, has paid TargetPoint Consulting nearly $350,000 for survey research. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign has paid TargetPoint nearly $200,000 for direct mail consulting. In one instance, the campaign and the super PAC paid TargetPoint on the same day.

Mr. Gage, a senior strategist in Mr. Romney’s 2008 campaign, is married to Katie Packer Gage, a deputy campaign manager of the current Romney campaign. The campaign has paid her firm, WWP Strategies, nearly $250,000 for strategy consulting.

Both of their companies share an office suite with the Black Rock Group, a political consulting firm co-founded by Carl Forti, who worked as political director for Mr. Romney’s 2008 campaign and helps direct Restore Our Future. The super PAC has paid Black Rock about $21,000 for communications consulting.

Mr. Forti declined to comment. Mr. Gage said that his firm had a separate work space from Black Rock, divided by a conference room. “It’s not like we’re a commingled office,” he said.

His wife’s office for WWP Strategies is in the same area as TargetPoint’s, he said, but she has been working out of the Romney headquarters in Boston for the most part. Mr. Gage said they do not discuss the campaign.

Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, said the campaign followed both the letter and the spirit of the law on coordination.

“We know the law,” she said, “and we abide by it scrupulously.”

The spending reports suggest that the Romney campaign and the super PAC, if not coordinating, have been closely following each other’s fund-raising events, though Ms. Gitcho emphasized that no joint fund-raisers had been held.

Last summer, the super PAC and the Romney campaign employed Creative Edge Parties, a New York catering company, and each sent it a payment on the same day: the super PAC gave a check for $1,676 for a “fund-raising event,” while the Romney campaign sent $1,584 for “facility rental/catering services.”

On another occasion, Restore Our Future paid $1,500 as a fund-raising expense to the Waldorf Astoria in New York, where the Romney campaign held a fund-raiser in December. Around the same time, the Romney campaign paid the Waldorf $19,000 for “facility rental/catering services” and lodging.

And in mid-July, Restore Our Future wrote two checks to Sandie Tillotson, a cosmetics executive and a friend of Mr. Romney, reimbursing her for “event costs,” which appear to be associated with a fund-raiser held in her apartment on the top floor of the north tower of the Time Warner Center in Manhattan. Several weeks later, the Romney campaign also sent a check to the residential board of Ms. Tillotson’s building, which is home as well to the Mandarin Oriental hotel, for “facility rental/catering services.” (The campaign had a fund-raiser at the hotel on July 19.)

The overlapping connections of American Crossroads, the independent group tied to Karl Rove, with the Alexandria office suite are likely to draw more scrutiny in the general election, should Mr. Romney win the nomination. Mr. Forti is the group’s political director, and Crossroads is expected to be a big player in November.

While American Crossroads has not officially endorsed a candidate, it has been seen by some as tacitly supporting Mr. Romney. It issued a memorandum last month defending his electability in the face of attacks by the Obama campaign. That was soon followed by another, saying its earlier note “probably should have been clearer” that the group remained neutral in the Republican primaries.

Kansas City Star: Five Democratic ‘super’ PACs may seek joint operation

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Five Democratic “super” political action committees are reaching out to party mega-donors seeking $1 million to $10 million contributions, now that President Barack Obama has blessed the outside spending group working to get him re-elected.

Kansas City Star

Discussions among the five super PACs are under way about setting up a joint fundraising committee, said Bill Burton, a former deputy White House press secretary and co-founder of Priorities USA Action, which was launched last spring to help Obama win a second term.

“We’re in serious talks,” Burton told iWatch News of the Center for Public Integrity, but he added that a final decision hasn’t been made about establishing a joint fundraising mechanism. Either way, “there are a lot of people in the progressive donor community who have not yet gotten involved who are likely to be involved.”

Other top Democratic fundraisers say that a joint fundraising entity is likely and stress that the White House’s abrupt shift on super PACs – which came Monday in a conference call to leading donors and fundraisers with campaign manager Jim Messina – could help prod large donors to write seven-figure checks.

Democratic fundraisers are hoping that several major donors such as Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and Chicago media executive Fred Eychaner, both of whom already have written large checks to Priorities USA Action, will pony up considerably more to a joint committee.

Katzenberg has donated $2 million to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC that Burton and ex-White House aide Sean Sweeney created, and Eychaner, an old friend of Obama’s, has chipped in $500,000.

“There are donors who have expressed interest in a unified effort,” said Harold Ickes, president of Priorities USA Action, who is also a veteran Democratic fundraiser and a lobbyist with strong union ties. “A unified effort makes an enormous amount of sense and is likely to result in more money being raised.”

Democratic super PACs, which were created early last year and have struggled to catch up to better-funded Republican groups such as American Crossroads, are aimed at helping Obama win re-election, preserve the Democratic majority in the Senate and win back the House of Representatives.

Besides Priorities USA Action, the other Democratic groups involved in the joint committee talks include Majority PAC, which is focused on the Senate, and House Majority PAC, which is House-focused. The other two super PACs are American Bridge 21st Century, an opposition research entity that helps the other PACs, and America Votes, a get-out-the-vote operation for Democrats.

Last year, the five super PACs and two affiliated nonprofits raised a combined $19.6 million. In contrast, American Crossroads and its nonprofit affiliate, Crossroads GPS, pulled in $51 million.

Priorities USA Action and its nonprofit affiliate have said they want to raise $100 million. They pulled in $6.7 million in 2011. American Crossroads and its nonprofit arm, launched in early 2010 by GOP consultants Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, are trying to raise $300 million, according to fundraisers close to the group.

The fundraising gold rush by super PACs on both sides has been spurred by court rulings in early 2010 that overturned decades of campaign finance law and opened the floodgates to corporations, individuals and unions writing unlimited checks to pay for ads by outside groups that directly support or oppose candidates.

The new joint effort, fundraisers stress, is expected to be contingent on pulling together a group of super donors who collectively would pony up between $40 million and $100 million. Fundraisers note that it’s important to potential big individual donors that if they write checks in the $5 million range, their contributions would be matched by several others.

The new drive comes after months of growing anxiety among Democrats about their weak super PAC fundraising compared to their GOP counterparts.

Democratic fundraisers say that potential donors have been confused by multiple requests for help from different super PACs working to boost Obama’s campaign as well as the two congressional campaign committees. Last fall, several of the super PACs tried to allay some of these concerns by holding joint meetings with donors, including one in Boston.

The weak super PAC fundraising last year is partly attributable to the much more robust efforts of the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee, which together pulled in more than $233 million. By comparison, leading GOP contender Mitt Romney’s campaign and the Republican National Committee pulled in only $144 million.

In recent weeks, Democratic fundraisers have grown especially concerned about the powerful impact of the negative ads that two GOP super PACs backing Romney and Newt Gingrich have run in key primaries. In Florida, the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, which last year raised $30 million, spent close to $10 million on mostly negative ads against Gingrich to help the former Massachusetts governor win a resounding victory.

In South Carolina, Gingrich’s super PAC Winning Our Future, which has received $11 million from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his family, ran about $3 million of blistering ads against Romney to help Gingrich score his only win.

Besides Katzenberg and Eychaner, other big donors whose names come up as potential candidates for $5 million or larger donations include Penny Pritzker, an heir to a hotel fortune, who was finance chief for Obama’s 2008 campaign; Haim Saban, a media mogul whose company created the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers; and banking executive Robert Wolf, who chairs UBS Group Americas.

Democratic fundraisers, however, are not counting on billionaire George Soros, who gave more than $20 million in 2004 to two outside groups spearheaded by Ickes. Soros contributed $100,000 to Majority PAC in December and $75,000 to House Majority PAC last May, according to Federal Election Commission records.

A top aide to Soros has said that the billionaire has not yet made up his mind about giving more for the presidential effort this year.

Notwithstanding their more bullish fundraising prospects, the new endorsement of Priorities USA Action by the president has sparked heavy criticism from different quarters, including campaign reform advocates and Republicans who have accused the president of betraying his principles and of hypocrisy. The president last year had called super PACs a “threat to democracy” and even Monday morning voiced worries about their negative impacts.

Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads, in a statement called the new policy a “brazenly cynical move by Barack Obama and his political handlers who just a year ago had the chutzpah to call outside groups a threat to democracy.”

Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, which favors strict regulation of campaign donations, is writing to the Justice Department to ask for an investigation of the super PACs backing Obama and Mitt Romney.

“We believe that these super PACs are merely arms of the presidential campaigns being run by close associates of the candidates and not legally entitled to be independent groups,” Wertheimer told iWatch News.

Leaders of the two super PACs have said their operations are legal and independent of the campaigns.

Even some longtime Democratic fundraisers voiced concerns about the new push for unlimited funds.

Retired Philadelphia educator Peter Buttenwieser, who raised more than $500,000 for the first Obama campaign and still backs the president, said in an interview: “I understand that the president had virtually no other choice and so I’m supportive of it. But I’m not happy about the new direction. I think it puts us in a somewhat compromised position.”

Los Angeles Times: ‘Super PACs’ largely funded by a wealthy few

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

A few super-rich individuals are using their personal and corporate wealth to influence American politics in an unprecedented manner

LA Times

When it comes to big money in politics, Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons’ influence has long been apparent in Texas, where he has plowed more than $1 million into Rick Perry‘s gubernatorial campaigns.

Now Simmons has found a new outlet for his outsize political giving — the explosion this election cycle of “super PACs,” independent political organizations that can accept massive contributions to influence the presidential race and other federal elections.

Simmons and his privately held holding company, Contran Corp., dumped $8.6 million into a series of GOP-allied super PACs last year, according to campaign finance records released late Tuesday night. That propels Simmons into the top tier of a newly minted millionaires’ club — super-rich individuals who are using their personal and corporate wealth to influence American politics in an unprecedented manner.

Seventeen people or companies gave at least $1 million each to super PACs last year, according to an analysis by the Los Angeles Times data desk. The infusion ushered in an era of Texas-style unlimited donations at the national level. The organizations have emerged as heavyweights in this year’s presidential contest, at times outstripping the influence of the candidates’ own campaigns.

That’s the case with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose presidential bid has been kept afloat by Winning Our Future, a super PAC that has received $11 million from Las Vegas Sands Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson and his family.

The Adelsons gave the funds with no strings attached and no specific expectations, because Gingrich “is an old friend in a time of need,” said one person close to the couple. It’s wealthy individuals like the Adelsons who are largely powering these new organizations — not major corporations, as many critics on the left had warned. But because companies are probably giving to tax-exempt organizations that do not have to reveal their donors, it is impossible to get a full picture of their influence.

Many members of the millionaires’ club have, like Adelson, long been generous political donors and fundraisers. Simmons, Houston home builder Bob Perry and Dallas real estate magnate Harlan Crow are among a group of wealthy Texans that helped finance the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an outside group that during the 2004 campaign attacked Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry’s war record. They and their companies are now backing American Crossroads, the biggest Republican super PAC, which aims to spend $240 million this cycle.

In 2010, Robert Mercer, manager of the New York hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, gave $640,000 to a super PAC that tried unsuccessfully to defeat Democratic Rep. Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, a vocal Wall Street critic. Last year, Mercer was among 10 individuals or companies writing $1-million checks to Restore Our Future, a pro-Mitt Romney super PAC.

Seven-figure contributions were rarer on the Democratic side, whose super PACs have not yet matched the fundraising of their GOP counterparts. One of the few contributions that large came from DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave $2 million in May to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting President Obama.

The left relies in this cycle — as it has in the past — on the muscular role of organized labor in funding ads and turning out its members. In this election, the unions are also filling the coffers of new super PACs. The Service Employees International Union, which represents 2 million workers, gave nearly $1.6 million to Democratic-leaning super PACs in 2011. All told, SEIU is expected to spend about $85 million on political activity, equal to the record amount the union dedicated to the 2008 presidential election.

Super PACs sprang up as a result of a series of court decisions in 2010, including the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on political activity. That decision has been heatedly decried by campaign finance reform advocates and many Democrats, including Obama, who has warned it will lead to a flood of unregulated corporate cash in politics.

It is difficult to determine exactly how much corporate money is in the system, since many of the outside groups are organized as nonprofits, allowing them to keep their donors secret. While American Crossroads, co-founded by GOP political strategist Karl Rove, reported the donors that gave it $18.4 million last year, its nonprofit affiliate, Crossroads GPS, raised an additional $32.6 million from undisclosed contributors.

The latest campaign finance records reveal that dozens of private companies, hedge funds and business partnerships contributed to super PACs last year. But in an initial review of the filings, Chesapeake Energy, a natural gas producer based in Oklahoma City, appears to be the only publicly traded company that gave money, making a $250,000 donation to a super PAC backing Rick Perry’s since-suspended presidential bid.

Chesapeake did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The paucity of well-known corporate names among the disclosures doesn’t mean that leading businesses won’t be involved in electoral politics this presidential cycle, according to top corporate lobbyists in Washington.

Major companies are expected to fuel record political activity at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which plans to spend at least $50 million on congressional races this year. The chamber, which does not disclose its donors, disputed the amount.

Although many of the nation’s leading CEOs are eager to participate in this year’s election, they largely plan to steer clear of super PACs because of the disclosure requirements.

“I think the Target experience makes them gun-shy,” said Scott Talbott, chief lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, referring to a national boycott against the retail chain in 2010 after it donated to a political group backing a conservative Republican gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota who had made negative statements about gay and lesbian rights.

Simmons, a buyout investor who controls a stable of companies that produce metals and chemicals, has never been hesitant about using his fortune to promote his brand of conservative politics. He gave $3 million to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004 and helped finance a nonprofit group in 2008 that spent $2.9 million on ads attacking Obama’s ties to William Ayers, a former member of the 1960s-era Weather Underground.

Simmons has poured $1.1 million into Perry’s campaigns, making him the second-largest individual donor to the Texas governor. Under Perry’s administration, one of Simmons’ companies, Waste Control Specialists, received permission to build the first new low-level radioactive waste disposal site in the country in three decades in an isolated patch of West Texas, despite objections from some state environmental agency staffers.

Simmons now has even more wealth at his disposal: In the last year, his net worth ballooned to roughly $9.6 billion, largely because the stock of Valhi, a chemicals conglomerate he controls, rose 170%, Forbes reported in December.

In the last year, he gave $1.1 million to two super PACs backing Perry’s presidential bid, along with $500,000 to Winning Our Future, the pro-Gingrich super PAC. In the fall, he donated $5 million to American Crossroads, while Contran gave $2 million.

“Mr. Simmons is a passionate conservative, and he has been for quite some time,” said his spokesman, Chuck McDonald, who described Simmons as “pro-business” and a supporter of tort reform.

But Simmons is not pursuing a specific policy agenda with his donations, McDonald said.

“I know people want to think he is,” he said. “He is a man who has a lot of personal wealth and believes in conservative ideology, and that’s where he puts his money.”

NPR: Gingrich Fights Against The Lobbyist Label

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

In the race for the Republican presidential nomination, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich continues to fend off accusations that he should wear the scarlet “L” — for “lobbyist.” This week, he released two of his consulting contracts and said they didn’t call for any lobbying

NPR

Like many other former lawmakers, Gingrich was advocating for paying clients, while not officially registering as a lobbyist.

The two contracts disclosed this week came from Gingrich’s work for Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant. Between 1999 and 2007, Freddie Mac paid his firm $1.6 million.

The contracts say he was advising and discussing, not lobbying — at least not in the legal sense of the word.

“There is no place in the contract that provides for lobbying. I have never done any lobbying,” Gingrich said at a debate Monday night.

Gingrich deliberately avoided registering as a lobbyist, which would make public his clients and their payments to him.

There is no place in the contract that provides for lobbying. I have never done any lobbying.

– Newt Gingrich

“In fact, we brought in an expert on lobbying law and trained all of our staff. And that expert is prepared to testify that he was brought in to say, ‘Here is the bright line,’ ” Gingrich said.

That expert is Thomas Susman, now the head lobbyist for the American Bar Association. He says his work for Gingrich is no secret.

“He said that I could go public with my representation back when I first worked for him,” Susman says.

But Susman’s version doesn’t quite match Gingrich’s. He’s sure he gave Gingrich some advice about the federal lobbying law, but not enough that he remembers doing so.

“I’m sure I would have, because that was what my expertise and involvement had been,” he says.

Besides, that really wasn’t Gingrich’s focus.

“He was involved with a number of clients of his group at the state level, with state legislators and state officials. And that was where he was most concerned,” Susman says.

Promoting Part D

Gingrich is also defending his advocacy of the Medicare drug benefit known as Part D.

On Thursday, rival Mitt Romney’s campaign brought out former New Hampshire Republican Rep. Jeb Bradley, who told reporters about a meeting with Gingrich before the congressional vote on Part D in 2003.

“I’ll tell you, that day that I met with Newt, he was lobbying,” Bradley said.

Gingrich says he promoted Part D as a citizen, not a paid lobbyist. He cited the need for better diabetes treatment as an example at Monday night’s debate.

“I publicly favored Medicare Part D for a practical reason. And that reason is simple: The U.S. government was not prepared to give people anything — insulin, for example — but they would pay for kidney dialysis,” he said.

But while Gingrich long supported the drug benefit, it’s also true that Novo Nordisk, a company that specializes in diabetes treatment, was a $200,000-a-year member of his Center for Health Transformation.

Lobbyist Loathing

This stance of “do no lobbying” has defined Gingrich’s post-Congress career.

If he wants to be the first president who’s a registered lobbyist, we’d love it.

– Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists

The assertion shows up on the website of the Center for Health Transformation and in one of the Freddie Mac contracts.

But lobbyists rarely use the L word in their contracts. Susman remembers the so-called engagement letters used by his old law firm.

“We’d use such terms as advocacy, including advice and counsel, including organizing. But probably not use the word lobbying in it,” he says.

Susman is active in a push to make the lobbying industry more transparent.

So is political scientist James Thurber, who heads up an institute on lobbying at American University. Thurber says there should be disclosure by so-called senior advisers — the former lawmakers, like Gingrich, who don’t formally register as lobbyists.

“They don’t have to be called lobbyists, but let’s find out who they are,” Thurber says.

And even some lobbyists want more transparency for their industry. An association called the American League of Lobbyists is working on a reform proposal.

The league’s president, Howard Marlowe, says he wishes Gingrich wouldn’t run away from the profession.

“If he wants to be the first president who’s a registered lobbyist, we’d love it,” Marlowe says.

But for now, Gingrich and other politicians seem pretty sure that a registered lobbyist is about the last candidate voters would want.