Politico: A new way to buy real influence

Written by admin on October 26th, 2011

Good news for rich people, corporate power players and labor bosses who want to buy some real influence with members of Congress: It just got a lot easier


Up until recently, individuals could give a couple thousand bucks to candidates or $5,000 to political action committees each election, while companies and labor unions could give $5,000 — but only through their PACs. For members raising millions of dollars each election cycle, it’s usually not enough to buy influence.

Now, meet the super PAC, which allows for super giving: unlimited amounts, some that can be delivered in secret. Operatives from both parties have aligned these new groups with nonprofits that allow big checks to be taken in and then spent on any campaign in secret.

So now, if you want to get the attention of a member of Congress, you can kick in major dollars to one of these super PACs — and people who follow money in politics worry that’s when bad things can happen. A single, secret $1 million check — which could become common in the world of super PACs — can really get someone’s attention, especially if they’re a member of Congress on the fundraising treadmill.

“People who don’t want to disclose have an agenda and that is probably not a good agenda,” former DCCC Chairman Tony Coehlo (Calif.) said. “If they did have an agenda that was good, why not disclose it and that’s what I think gets us in trouble.”

Former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis agreed.

“The fact [is] that people are going to move from things that were borderline illegal that are now just disclosable,” said Davis, a prolific fundraiser for party leaders when he was in Congress. “What you have now is a wide open door for political money to be pumped into the process. The nature of the money is money that cares about one narrow set of issues.”

And there’s reason to believe super PACs are about to become the norm. Leaders are usually out in front on fundraising innovation. Leadership PACs started at the top and now even freshmen have them.

In the past few weeks, Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have endorsed new super PACs, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have been aggressively fundraising for their favored super PACs — likely the start of a practice about to explode.

Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), who helped set up the House Republican super PAC, Congressional Leadership Fund, said in an interview with POLITICO that he sat down with Democratic operative John Podesta, founder of Center for American Progress, before forming the Congressional Leadership Fund.

“The path was already laid out for us,” Coleman said. “We saw what Pelosi did with hers and then we began to move forward.”

There are limits to how much lawmakers can coordinate with these super PACs. But, as Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) explained, the distance between outside groups and candidates is mostly on paper.

“When your old consultants and your best buddies are setting them up, you can pretty much suspect there’s been a lot of discussion beforehand,” Cole said of the involvement senior leaders will have with the committees.

The former National Republican Congressional Campaign Chairman is no stranger to fundraising — and doesn’t see super PACs as a good thing.


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