Politico: What super PAC filings left out

Written by admin on February 4th, 2012

About the only thing more notable than the donor information super PACs this week revealed is the information they didn’t.

Super PACs filed reports with the Federal Election Commission that outlined what they raised — and from whom — in the last six months of 2011.

Politico

Absent from their heady reports are potentially similar hauls in January, when super PACs played critical roles in determining the outcomes of the four early presidential primary and caucus contests — particularly those in Iowa and South Carolina, when voters culled more than half the candidate field.

The pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future, for example, on Tuesday reported $1.17 million cash on hand after raising a shade more than $2 million through Dec. 31.

But nowhere to be found is a $10 million donation that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife have made since — money that largely fueled a several million dollars in advertising highly critical of Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney ahead of Gingrich’s decisive Jan. 21 victory in the South Carolina primary.

The Red White and Blue Fund, which supports Rick Santorum, only disclosed receiving $331,000 from businessman Foster Friess, although he reportedly made more, large contributions in January.

Super PACs supporting GOP candidates Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, meanwhile, didn’t formally disclose a dime of the millions they together raised prior to their candidates ending their candidacies.

Voters in New Hampshire learned this week, three weeks after their presidential primary where Huntsman made his last stand, that Huntsman’s billionaire father had contributed $1.9 million to Our Destiny PAC, the super PAC backing him. The figure is likely higher, but won’t be known until late February when super PACs, which may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to overtly advocate for or against political candidates, are required by law to release their January donation records.

And long after Perry headed back to the Lone Star state for good, the Make Us Great Again super PAC backing him disclosed that a handful of corporations, lobbyists and wealthy Texas businessmen accounted for most of the $5.5 million it raised through the year’s end.

For now, blame — or thank — a loophole in federal election law for an even greater super PAC disclosure delay than expected.

In December, super PACs supporting presidential candidates began systematically changing their campaign finance filing status from quarterly (and semi-annually during non-election years) to monthly, a chance that would seemingly hasten them revealing their monied backers.

Instead, the super PACs did it to avoid filing mandatory 12-day, pre-primary reports that quarterly filers must submit but monthly filers don’t.

The practical effect: super PACs received a Federal Election Commission-approved no-disclosure pass until the end of January, meaning voters had little idea who was funding the seemingly endless attack ads lambasting various candidates.

For those super PACs that existed before June 30, it was the first disclosure report they filed in seven months, and for those formed after, it was their first such report ever.

This slow-motion unveiling of contributors stands in stark contrast to laws mandating that political committees file reports, which detail independent expenditures made to support or oppose candidates, almost immediately after making them.

In other words, while the public will quickly know numerous details about a highly critical, $1 million television campaign against, say, Romney or Gingrich, the source of the money remains a mystery for weeks or months.

The situation is prompting a sharp debate at the Federal Election Commission and among campaign finance activists over whether today’s political committee disclosure laws, largely established in the 1970s, are simply obsolete.

“Nobody ever thought that PACs would end up spending more than candidates in a race,” said Ellen Weintraub (D), the FEC’s vice chairman. “Now they’re functioning pretty much as the alter-ego of candidate committees, so they probably ought to be on the same reporting schedule.”

But such a change would likely require a statutory change or lengthy rule making process, and that will take significant time that could probably be better spent, FEC Chairman Caroline Hunter (R) said.

“We can look at this, sure, although I think we have a pretty good system set up now,” Hunter said.

Former FEC Chairman Brad Smith agrees, arguing that the current disclosure set-up “allows you to know the kind of people that are supporting the PACs and the kind of money they’re spending,” which is the point of campaign disclosure in the first place.

While some tweaks in deadlines may be in order, “people blow this issue out of proportion,” said Smith, who now serves as chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, which advocates for campaign finance deregulation.

Not so, says Bill Allison, editorial director of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which is calling for greater super PAC transparency.

“If super PACs can file their expenditures every 24 or 48 hours, why can’t they file more frequently on the income side? There isn’t a good reason,” Allison said.

Where these campaign finance officials and watchers generally agree: The system in place now for the 2012 election cycle almost assuredly won’t change before the election with neither the FEC nor Congress showing interest in rejiggering the system.

 

Leave a Comment