Los Angeles Times: Financial arms race underway in Washington

Written by admin on December 12th, 2010

The unlimited undisclosed donor financial arms race for the 2012 Presidential election cycle is dominating Washington.

Los Angeles Times

Lawmakers say they fear the unrestricted independent spending is creating a Congress even more indebted to special interests, prone to gridlock and unlikely to find compromise. In a sign of the new order, a newly elected Republican senator, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, paid a personal visit last week to U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue to thank him for the chamber’s unsolicited support of his candidacy.

At the National Republican Congressional Committee, Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas is laying plans to ramp up fundraising for 2012 by setting benchmarks for all members of the GOP majority. Plans include giving every member a minimum fundraising threshold, with new, higher amounts set for incoming party chairmen.

The Supreme Court widened opportunities for this spending in January, ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that corporations and unions could directly fund independent election ads. Other court and regulatory decisions made it easier for tax-exempt groups to air ads closer to election day paid for with unlimited and often anonymous donations.

Of the $4 billion spent overall, about $300 million came from nonparty independent groups, whose participation soared this year. Republicans benefited from the new legal environment more than Democrats, with conservative outside groups outspending liberal groups 2 to 1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Among the major outside spenders were the Crossroads Groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Now the talk among Democratic lawmakers and their campaign advisors is how to create “our own Crossroads,” a reference to two tax-exempt groups established in part by GOP strategist Karl Rove.

“I can sympathize with them, but I have no sympathy for them,” said Carl Forti, political director for American Crossroads, a “super PAC” that discloses its donors, and Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit social welfare organization that accepts anonymous contributions.

Crossroads raised more than $70 million in 2010, but campaign finance lawyer Michael E. Toner, who advised several Republican presidential campaigns, anticipates that the two groups will spend more than $200 million in the next campaign cycle.

That means for those facing reelection in 2012, raising campaign money is dominating the conversation and the calendar like never before.

Last week, lobbyists held multiple fundraisers every day and were swamped with invitations to elaborate and expensive gatherings in coming weeks.

“Not even Thanksgiving or Christmas after an election is off-limits anymore,” lamented David DiMartino, a Washington political consultant. “For the small world of people who write checks to political campaigns, there no longer is an off-season. There is no lull. This is constant.”


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