New York Times: When ‘Super PACs’ Become Lobbyists

Written by admin on December 2nd, 2012

The “super PACs” and secret-money groups that polluted this year’s election with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of largely ineffective attack ads are not slinking away in shame. Many are regrouping and raising more money for a task that is no less pernicious: lobbying Congress and the White House on behalf of their special-interest donors, using the new, anything-goes rules of super PACs to make their advocacy more powerful.

New York Times

Americans for Prosperity, the so-called social welfare group founded with the support of David and Charles Koch, spent at least $36 million this cycle in a largely fruitless attempt to defeat Democrats and elect Republicans. Now it is joining with other conservative groups to lobby Congress not to raise taxes in the current negotiations over the “fiscal cliff.” The group is also demanding there be no reduction or delay in the budget sequester, the widely loathed measure that, in January, will begin cutting $1 trillion in spending over a decade.

It will be joined in that effort by the Club for Growth, which spent $19 million to elect Republicans; by Americans for Tax Reform, led by Grover Norquist, which spent almost $16 million; and by the American Crossroads groups, founded by Karl Rove, which spent $175 million. None of the candidates Crossroads supported won their races, but, nonetheless, the groups are planning a new lobbying and advertising effort on the fiscal cliff, as well as energy and health care issues, according to Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper.

It’s bad enough that these groups and their wealthy donors, many of them secret, missed the message of the election, in which voters rejected their stridency and supported policies like higher taxes on the rich. But by combining lobbying with lavish campaign donations, they are enhancing the danger of the unlimited-spending era.

Super PACs can use the threat of raising unlimited money for the purpose of electing or defeating a candidate far more effectively than old-fashioned trade associations. Corporations, unions and other interests now have two ways to pressure public officials. They can unleash an expensive advertising and lobbying campaign on an issue like taxes or military spending, and then they can threaten to pummel lawmakers in primary or general election campaigns if they don’t get their way. Business leagues like the United States Chamber of Commerce have been doing this for years, but the ease of opening super PACs makes it possible for a much larger group of moneyed players, from conservative to liberal, to join the game.

That’s why the National Association of Realtors formed a super PAC to praise lawmakers for supporting tax deductions for second homes. The American Dental Association has one, as does Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York (promoting centrism) and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

Many of the social welfare groups need to spend money on lobbying to show the Internal Revenue Service that their primary purpose isn’t electing candidates, though those goals are so intertwined that the I.R.S. still needs to force those groups to disclose their donors. Short of a constitutional amendment prohibiting unlimited spending, Congress can counter these combined political and lobbying assaults by passing the Empowering Citizens Act, which gives individuals a chance to be heard.

 

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