LA Times: $119 million and counting: Track groups’ spending on 2012 race

Written by admin on August 31st, 2012

The figures reveal just part of the picture of outside spending, however. While super PACs must report their spending to the Federal Election Commission, tax-exempt advocacy groups only have to report money they spend on certain kinds of ads

LA Times

“Super PACs” and other outside groups have reported spending more than $119 million on the presidential campaign since Mitt Romney unofficially clinched the Republican nomination in early April, a sum that underscores the profound impact independent political groups are having on the 2012 presidential race.

Two-thirds of that money has gone into television ads and other efforts opposing President Obama’s reelection and backing Romney’s bid, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by the Times Data Desk.

Readers can track the spending by outside groups with a new online tool, which provides the expenditures for each group and a sample of the television ads that have shaped each week of the race. 

The number of outside groups engaging in campaign activity increased exponentially in the last two years, the result of a series of federal court decisions that allowed corporations to make unlimited political expenditures and blessed the creation of super PACs, which can raise unlimited sums.

Ostensibly, super PACs must operate independent of the candidates and political parties. But both Obama and Romney are being backed by super PACs run by former aides. The pro-Romney Restore Our Future has spent $28.5 million against Obama so far. The pro-Obama Priorities USA Action has poured in nearly $21.5 million against Romney. (Both groups have spent additional funds on ads backing their candidates.)

The figures reveal just part of the picture of outside spending, however. While super PACs must report their spending to the Federal Election Commission, tax-exempt advocacy groups only have to report money they spend on certain kinds of ads.

And those groups, which do not disclose their donors, have been some of the most active in this campaign.

Together, American Crossroads and its nonprofit arm, Crossroads GPS, are expected to spend $300 million, and Americans for Prosperity, backed by billionaire energy executives and brothers David and Charles Koch, has a $151-million budget. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to pump at least $50 million into congressional races — which means those four groups alone could account for half a billion dollars of spending in the 2012 cycle.

Crossroads co-founder Karl Rove told donors in a private briefing Thursday that conservative outside groups spent $110 million against Obama just between May 15 and July 31, Bloomberg reported Friday.

 

Fox News: GOP super PACs widen cash advantage over Dem groups

Written by admin on July 1st, 2012

The national campaigns backing President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are drawing even in their fundraising prowess, but new financial filings released show that the “super” political committees supporting the GOP candidate and his party are widening the money gap over struggling pro-Democratic party organizations.

Fox News

The main pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, on Wednesday reported raising $8 million in May, giving it a total of $64 million so far. The group spent more than $55 million to defeat Romney’s opponents during the GOP primary, and it is now reaping high-dollar financial aid from both veteran Romney supporters and from donors who once backed his rivals. 

A political committee backing Obama, Priorities USA Action, posted its strongest one-month total by raking in $4 million in May, a sign that Democrats had begun digging deep into their wallets after months of hesitance. But the pro-Obama group was still left in the dust — not only by the Restore committee’s strong performance but also by the latest tally from American Crossroads, a Republican super PAC formed by GOP strategist Karl Rove. It raised $4.6 million in May. 

After early months that saw Obama reach impressive fundraising totals echoing his campaign’s record-breaking $750 million haul in 2008, the changing calculus raises the prospect that he could become the first incumbent president outspent by his challenger. Romney’s national campaign joined with the Republican Party in May to raise more than $76 million, outpacing Obama and the Democrats’ $60 million haul during the same period. 

Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash but are not allowed to coordinate their efforts with the candidates they support. The national presidential campaigns can devote their cash both to media and Web ads and to turn out party faithful, but the super PACs tend to spend most of their war chests on media campaigns. 

The latest financial filings for the pro-Romney Restore committee show that while he was consolidating his position as the GOP favorite, backers of some of his opponents were shifting their financial allegiance to his cause — even as some of his loyal super PAC backers dug deeper to bankroll the committee’s tough media ads now targeting Obama. 

The biggest contributions to Restore Our Future in May came from a trio of firms linked to a Houston-based businessman who previously supported a Romney rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The disclosures show that three companies based at the same post office box office in Dayton, Ohio, each gave $333,333 to the pro-Romney super PAC. Corporation records show the firms are headed by Houston businessman Robert T. Brockman, who missed giving the super PAC a rounded-off $1 million donation by a single dollar. 

Brockman heads the Reynolds and Reynolds Co., an Ohio-based firm that provides computer and software systems for auto dealerships. Brockman’s personal website lists him only as chairman and CEO of the Reynolds and Reynolds Co., but his name is not listed with any of the Dayton donations. Calls to Brockman at his office in Houston were not immediately returned to The Associated Press. 

Although super PACs are required to divulge all their donations, loose disclosure rules allow contributors to withhold their names and mask their donations by setting up limited liability corporations or other front companies. One of Restore’s first donors, Edward Conard, made a $1 million contribution last year behind a front company, W Spann LLC, until public pressure forced him to acknowledge his name and affiliation with Romney’s former private equity firm, Bain Capital. 

Brockman’s firm, Reynolds and Reynolds, was one of more than 60 companies that wrote to three Obama administration Cabinet officials last October, urging them not to overburden employers with “unnecessary expenses” as part of the new health care law. In the Oct. 21, 2011, letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Reynolds and Reynolds and the other firms — they included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — also urged an extension of a deadline for them to provide health benefit summaries to U.S. agencies. 

Before his companies donated to the pro-Romney group, another firm linked to Brockman had previously given $50,000 to Perry. The $50,000 donation to the pro-Perry Restoring Prosperity Fund came from Dealer Computer Services Inc., another Reynolds and Reynolds subsidiary. Brockman also gave more than $280,000 to Perry during his statewide races in Texas over the past decade, according to contribution files posted by the Texas Tribune. 

Another top Restore donor was Rocco Ortenzio, who gave $750,000 to the committee. Ortenzio, who previously gave $250,000 to Romney, heads a Pennsylvania-based health care empire that includes private hospitals, rehab centers and clinics. Ortenzio has given to numerous Republican and Democratic officeholders, but donated regularly to Romney rival Rick Santorum when he served in Congress. 

The filings show a $500,000 donation to the pro-Romney group by a first-time contributor, Warren Stephens, an Arkansas investment banker. And $67,500 was donated by another new Restore donor, Richard Mellon Scaife, a longtime conservative fundraiser who publishes the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Scaife has funded conservative and libertarian causes for decades and aided conservative efforts to impeach former President Bill Clinton in 1998. 

There were also new large donations to Restore from several prominent Romney supporters who previously funded the super PAC. William Laverack, a New York investor who previously gave the committee $350,000, added another $150,000 in April. Like Conard, Laverack had masked an earlier $200,000 contribution through a Connecticut limited liability corporation called Paumanok Partners. And two Florida super PAC contributors, developer H. Gary Morse and his wife, Renee, each gave $100,000 to Restore in May. That $200,000 figure added to $500,000 donated previously to the committee by Morse’s wife and the Florida retirement community he runs, Villages of Lake Sumter. 

The pro-Romney committee’s roster of veteran GOP fundraisers was matched in May by Rove’s super PAC, whose funders included some donors who have given copiously to both groups. According to filings released by Rove’s committee late Wednesday night, Alliance Coal President Joseph Craft gave $1.25 million to American Crossroads in May after donating $500,000 to the pro-Romney super PAC. And Crow Holdings LLC, a holding company tied to Texas businessman Harlan Crow, gave American Crossroads $1 million in May after previously handing over $300,000 to the pro-Romney committee. 

The super PAC supporting Obama showed new signs of life after months of subsistence funding. The group posted three donations of $1 million — from Houston personal injury trial attorney and longtime Perry foe Steve Mostyn, from Washington, D.C., developer and veteran Democratic Party insider Franklin Haney and from south Florida philanthropist Barbara Stiefel. 

Meanwhile, Obama’s national campaign reported $109.7 million in the bank at the end of May but spent more than it took in during the same period. The campaign collected $39.1 million and spent $44.5 million during the month. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, had $29.6 million cash on hand at end of the month, raising about $20 million during the period and spending $14.6 million. 

Even as it has drawn even with Obama’s financial strength, Romney’s campaign is taking few chances at being outspent. His national finance team is hosting a retreat in Utah this weekend for contributors who raised tens of thousands of dollars for his campaign. GOP heavyweights like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are expected to attend

 

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

Written by admin on 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

Written by admin on 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

Written by admin on 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.

 

 

Bloomberg Businessweek: Battle begins between Obama, Republican super PACs

Written by admin on May 7th, 2012

Independent groups favoring Mitt Romney already are launching TV advertisements in competitive states for the November general election, providing political cover against President Barack Obama’s well-financed campaign while the Republican candidate works to rebound from a bruising and expensive nomination fight

Bloomberg Businessweek

Some conservative organizations also are planning big get-out-the-vote efforts, and Romney backers are courting wealthy patrons of his former GOP rivals.

Taken together, the developments underscore how dramatically the political landscape has changed since a trio of federal court cases — most notably the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling — paved the way for a flood of campaign cash from corporations and tycoons looking to help their favored candidates.

“Citizens United has made an already aggressive anti-Obama movement even more empowered,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. “There’s now a regular Republican line of attack on Obama, even when the Romney campaign is taking a breather, raising money and preparing for the general election.”

The general election spending — and advertising — has only just begun. Voters in roughly a dozen hard-fought states will be inundated with TV ads, direct mail, automated phone calls and other forms of outreach by campaign staff members and volunteers pleading for their votes. While Obama and Romney both will spend huge amounts of money in the coming months, an untold additional amount will come from outside organizations called super PACs that can collect unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals.

Already, Obama’s campaign has spent $3.6 million on commercials in key battlegrounds in the weeks since Romney became the presumptive Republican nominee.

Its latest ad depicts Romney, a wealthy former private equity executive, as a corporate raider who once maintained a Swiss bank account. The president had $104 million on hand at the end of March, giving his campaign a 10-1 advantage over Romney who had just $10 million his campaign bank at the same time.

But Obama is unlikely to receive anywhere near the kind of financial backup Romney is already getting from outside groups. The pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action has raised just $10 million since its inception, and few other Democratic-leaning groups have signaled they plan to compete with the pro-Romney efforts.

The latest of these comes from Restore Our Future, a super PAC run by former Romney advisers.

The group announced Wednesday it will go up with $4.3 million in ads this week in nine states that will be key to winning the White House. The ad, “Saved,” describes Romney’s efforts that helped lead to the rescue of the teenage daughter of a colleague after she disappeared in New York for three days.

ROF was by far the biggest advertiser during the Republican nominating contest, spending $36 million on ads attacking Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. The group has raised more than $51 million since its inception.

Its initial general election push follows a $1.7 million, three-state ad buy from Crossroads GPS. That group’s spot attacks Obama’s energy policies. And it is an arm of American Crossroads, a super PAC with ties to President George W. Bush’s longtime political director Karl Rove and one of the most prolific spenders in the 2010 cycle that put the House in Republican hands. The two Crossroads groups have already raised $100 million collectively for 2012 and plan to spend as much as $300 million to defeat Obama and other Democrats.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative-leaning independent group backed by the billionaire energy tycoons Charles and David Koch, dropped $6.1 million on ads in eight general election swing states last week hitting Obama for allowing millions in federal stimulus money to be directed to green energy companies overseas. The group spent $6.5 million earlier this year on ads criticizing Obama over Solyndra, a California-based solar energy company that went bankrupt despite a $535 million federal loan guarantee.

AFP president Tim Phillips said the group planned to raise $100 million and that slightly less than half would go to advertising. Much of the remaining amount, he said, would be used for field operations like rallies, bus tours, canvassing, phone banks and micro-targeting.

AFP boasts chapters in 34 states and its field operations have included annual conservative conferences.

Phillips cited Florida, where the group now has a staff of 20 and has promoted bus tours assailing Obama and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.

“We use our rallies to let people know how their president and their senators and congressmen are voting on key issues,” Phillips said. “A rally focusing on government over-spending can be as effective as a media buy.”

The Romney campaign, by contrast, has not run its own TV ads since former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum dropped out of the GOP nomination fight in April.

Senior Romney aides said they are closely tracking the super PAC ad buys from allies but insist there is no coordination between the campaign and the outside groups.

At the same time, Romney’s team also is working to improve relations with Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess, billionaires who almost single-handedly financed super PACs supporting Romney’s opponents during the nomination fight.

Representatives of ROF and other Romney backers have reached out to Adelson, a casino mogul who contributed about $20 million to a super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich. But Adelson has not yet given money to the pro-Romney efforts, and a person close to him said he doesn’t want to be a campaign distraction and may give money only to groups like Crossroads GPS and other nonprofit advocacy organizations not required to disclose their donors.

Friess, who helped bankroll a super PAC supporting Santorum, has said he would back Romney and has spoken to Romney supporters.

Romney’s campaign concedes that the super PAC activity alleviates financial stress as he works to add staff and raise campaign cash.

His aides are also noting Priorities USA Action’s slow start compared to the pro-Romney groups. The disparity is fueling a quiet confidence among Romney advisers who believe that his super PAC support will significantly narrow Obama’s current 10-to-1 cash advantage

 

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

Written by admin on 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

 

Emory Wheel: Media and Super PACs Dominate Our Political Discourse

Written by admin on March 28th, 2012

In our time, the best advice to give someone looking to make a difference in the nation’s political discourse would be to not seek elected office and stay out of politics. With the advent of Super PACs and a 24-hour news cycle, pundits and political agencies have more influence than Congress itself.

Emory Wheel

In the words of comedian Robin Williams: “Politicians should wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers so we can identify their corporate sponsors.”

Gallup.com has consistently rated congressional approval around 12 percent for the past several months and for good reason — it doesn’t get anything done. Last summer’s debt ceiling debate, stalling the American Jobs Act and preventing members of Congress from participating in insider trading are only a few examples of the impotence of the legislative branch.

Even in the 111th Congress, which passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), required 60 votes in the Senate to even debate the passage of a bill.
This is certainly not a recent development, but what has become increasingly relevant are the rise of political organizations that lack transparency, as they are fueled by anonymous donors, as a result of the disastrous Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Although Super PACs are prohibited by law from aligning with a particular candidate, it is no secret that there is a definite connection between candidates and the innocuous-sounding money machines that put our nation’s interests in the hands of the wealthy few.

Winning Our Future supports the imminent bust of Newt Gingrich’s candidacy, Restore Our Future is the Super PAC funding Mitt Romney’s future “restoration” of his ever-changing political opinions, the Red White and Blue Fund pulls in the green for Santorum and Revolution PAC appears to back Ron Paul’s ash heap candidacy.

The irony of Super PACs in the Republican primaries is that with as much money and power they control, they prop up a band of misfits who are clearly unable, with the potential exception of Romney, to make the White House their next place of residence. If the Republican National Convention is split in Tampa this August, it will likely be because of the many nameless individuals controlling Super PACs.

Following the theme of centralized power and individuals pulling the political strings from behind the curtain are people like Grover Norquist who is unfamiliar to most Americans despite being called, by many, the most powerful man in Washington. His often-overlooked role is his so-called Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which binds 238 Representatives and 41 Senators, and in effect, the rest of Congress from ever raising taxes despite support from the majority of Americans to do so. The punishment for breaking the pledge is conservative uproar, but the consequence for following through with it is fiscal irresponsibility and denying the reality that taxes occasionally need to be raised.

The problem exists not only for conservative causes, but also with people like George Soros funding liberal organizations and several democratic congressmen across the nation. Organizations like the Human Rights Campaign that fights for gay rights, though a noble cause, have gained considerable influence in recent years.

And if controlling the money in elections isn’t enough, the media is also drastically more powerful than Congress. Although they use completely different tactics, Fox News and people like Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert do more to shape public opinion than just about anyone in the country, and their viewers have more trust in them than their elected officials.

Fox News, in particular, has done a fantastic job to blur the line between quasi-pundits and quasi-politicians with Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Karl Rove as contributors. This is particularly troubling considering that the rule of thumb for these talking heads is to make the most outlandish statements in order to have better ratings.

If the argument that individuals who do not hold public office have more power than those on Capitol Hill is not clear enough, consider the last time any lawmaker received more attention for legislating than did Rush Limbaugh’s recent comments about Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke or the last time a lawmaker received more attention for legislative efforts than for controversy.

In the current political system, money and the media have managed to tilt power in favor of the few and the result is a Washington that works for special interests, rather than special interests working for Washington, let alone Washington working for its constituents.

 

Wall Street Journal: Texas Billionaire Doles Out Election’s Biggest Checks

Written by admin on March 22nd, 2012

Few people want to defeat President Barack Obama more than billionaire Harold Clark Simmons, who is willing to spend many millions of dollars in the quest. As it happens, campaign rules now give him the opportunity.

Wall Street Journal

Watching a TV news report that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was rising in polls last month, Mr. Simmons wondered about the prospects of the former Pennsylvania senator. He called his personal political muse, Republican strategist Karl Rove.

“Is he worth investing into his super PAC?” Mr. Simmons asked. He rose from his leather recliner in the den and stood at a bay window overlooking swans gliding on a lake encircled by 17,000 tulips. “Does he have a chance?”

“Yes, I wouldn’t count him out,” Mr. Rove said. Mr. Simmons’s wife, Annette, who was keen on Mr. Santorum, promptly donated $1 million to his super PAC, cash badly needed for an ad blitz ahead of the Super Tuesday primaries.

The 80-year-old Texan, who heads Contran Corp., a chemicals and metals conglomerate, gave hefty donations to the super PACs supporting other GOP candidates during similar moments in the spotlight: Rick Perry’s optimistic entry into the race last summer, and after the debate-driven surge of Newt Gingrich. Mr. Simmons has so far given $800,000—including $500,000 this week—to super PACs backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who won the Illinois primary Tuesday and contends no rival can catch him in the GOP delegate race.

It isn’t particularly important which man wins the nomination, for Mr. Simmons simply wants to defeat the president and reduce the reach of government. “Any of these Republicans would make a better president than that socialist, Obama,” said Mr. Simmons during two days of rare interviews at his Dallas home and office. “Obama is the most dangerous American alive…because he would eliminate free enterprise in this country.”

The tall, lanky, soft-spoken industrialist has given more than $18 million to conservative super PACs so far, making him the 2012 election’s single largest contributor—ahead of billionaires Sheldon Adelson, Mr. Gingrich’s financial patron, and Foster Friess, Mr. Santorum’s biggest donor.

Sipping lemonade iced tea made with lemons grown on his California estate east of Santa Barbara—next door to Oprah Winfrey’s place in Montecito—Mr. Simmons said he planned to spend $36 million before the November election.

Unlike some big donors—including Mr. Adelson—Mr. Simmons isn’t driven by an attraction to a specific candidate or policy. His motivation is broader: to elect Republicans up and down the line in the hopes they will change the overall U.S. tax and regulatory approach.

That helps explain why the biggest chunk of his political contributions in this election cycle have gone not to individual candidates but to Mr. Rove-advised super PAC American Crossroads—its stated mission to defeat Mr. Obama and elect “majorities in both the House and the Senate that are 100% dedicated to rescuing our economy from the Obama agenda.”

Mr. Simmons has some businesses that are heavily regulated, which helps explains his interest in deregulation. He also pushes for tort reform. One of his companies, NL Industries Inc., has fought lawsuits from school districts and businesses over lead paint that it made before Mr. Simmons acquired it.

More broadly, he said, he and other individuals need to contribute to match the “unlimited amounts from labor unions” that benefit liberal candidates.

“I’ve got the money, so I’m spending it for the good of the country,” said Mr. Simmons, whose net worth is estimated at $10 billion, up from an estimated $4.1 billion in prerecession 2006, according to Forbes. He wears $3,000 Brioni sport coats in a nod to his wealth and Wal-Mart underwear in a sign of a frugal upbringing; his early years were spent without indoor plumbing or electricity.

Republicans consider super PAC contributions essential to offset an expected advantage by Mr. Obama’s campaign, which had $85 million in reserves at the end of February—more than all four GOP presidential candidates combined, and well more than the $7.3 million on hand for Mr. Romne

Democrats also have financial advantages when it comes to official party organizations. The Democratic National Committee has outraised its Republican counterpart $157.7 million to $116.3 million so far, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The two party organizations have roughly the same amount of cash on hand, but the Republican National Committee, still digging out of a deep financial hole from the 2010 election, has about twice as much debt.

Democratic committees to support House and Senate candidates also have slightly outraised their Republican counterparts so far this cycle.

In contrast, the Republican advantage lies with the super PACs. The largest Democratic-leaning super PAC, the one set up to benefit Mr. Obama, has raised just $6.3 million compared with $26.9 million by American Crossroads. (The American Crossroads figure doesn’t include money contributed to a sister organization that doesn’t have to make public its donors.)

This year’s election seems tailor-made for Mr. Simmons. New rules effectively eliminate limits for those willing to take advantage of a string of federal court decisions and regulatory changes that together allow super PACs to take unlimited donations and advocate for a candidate or party, as long as they don’t coordinate their spending with the presidential campaigns.

People who disagree with the changes say super PACs now have more influence than political parties and are less accountable. “Harold Simmons is unleashed to give as much as he wants—whether motivated to help Republicans or his business empire,” said Bill Allison, editorial director of Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan government watchdog group.

Ben LaBolt, of the Obama campaign, said: “Mr. Simmons is a self-proclaimed corporate raider who, like many others representing special interests, will spend whatever it takes to maintain the ability to write rules that benefit his own interests at the expense of middle-class Americans and to the detriment of what’s best for the nation.”

Mr. Simmons said, “You never talk about what you want when giving money.” Besides, he added, “I don’t pay attention to what other people think…There shouldn’t be restrictions of any kind on political contributions.”

He is a longtime political donor; he was fined by the Federal Election Commission for surpassing contribution limits in 1988 and 1989, which he said was inadvertent. When politicians call his office now, his secretary runs an Internet search to ensure they are “pro-business, antigovernment,” he said. He isn’t interested in such conservative social issues as abortion. “I’d probably be pro-choice,” he said. “Let people make decisions on their own bodies.”

Longtime friend and oil man T. Boone Pickens described Mr. Simmons as a man who backs up his beliefs with his bucks. “Harold isn’t doing this for attention,” the fellow Republican said. To the contrary, while mega-donors Mr. Adelson and Mr. Friess have gone on TV to tout big gifts to their candidates, Mr. Simmons rarely speaks publicly. He agreed nonetheless to talk with The Wall Street Journal on a range of subjects, including money, politics and his appetite for sweet potatoes.

The son of school teachers from tiny Golden, in east Texas, Mr. Simmons earned economics degrees—a bachelor’s degree in 1951 and a master’s degree a year later—from the University of Texas, where he also played guard on the 1951 basketball team that won the Southwest Conference. He worked as a bank examiner for the federal government and a bank loan officer.

“All the guys getting loans had high-school educations and were making more money,” Mr. Simmons said. “I had grandiose financing ideas but no one listened to me. I had no credibility as a businessman.”

To remedy that, Mr. Simmons bought his first business in 1960, a drugstore across the street from Southern Methodist University, using $5,000 in savings and a $95,000 loan. He kept buying another and another, eventually getting a pilot’s license to visit them all. In 1973, he sold his 100-store chain for $50 million. Mr. Simmons used the proceeds to buy stock of underperforming public companies, turning into a corporate raider in the 1970s and 1980s with the nickname “Ice Man.”

Mr. Simmons said his political activism was sparked in 1983, when the Labor Department accused him of mishandling pension fund assets. A federal judge found he invested an excessive portion of the pension in a takeover target, Amalgamated Sugar Co. The judge awarded no cash damages because the fund earned 50% on its investment. Mr. Simmons agreed not to use pension funds in takeover bids for 10 years, according to a consent decree that settled the case.

“That’s when I started contributing to politicians with free-market and antiregulation agendas,” he said. “If the Labor Department hadn’t sued, that pension would be as rich as me.”

His corporate empire, under the Contran holding company, includes large stakes in multinational conglomerates NL Industries, Titanium Metals Corp., Valhi Inc., Kronos Worldwide Inc. and Keystone Consolidated Industries Inc. These diverse interests include the heavily regulated waste-control and nuclear-waste disposal businesses, as well as some of the world’s biggest manufacturers of chemicals, components and titanium for military and commercial aircraft.

Many of these companies bear the weight of government regulatory decisions, making Mr. Simmons’s political interest more than simple patriotism. “We live with a smothering of government,” said Steven Watson, Contran’s No. 2 executive. He listed oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency, banking regulators, the Labor Department and Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as “frivolous lawsuits” brought by state attorneys general.

From a spotless desk, Mr. Simmons pores over financial statements of his far-flung empire, which has 10,000 employees world-wide. “No one understands my financials better than I do,” he said. “It’s so much fun to run my companies.”

His business success allows a lavish life. On a recent weekend, Mr. Simmons flew his jet, with two co-pilots aboard, to his Santa Barbara County estate. He also frequently flies to his Arkansas ranch—filled with 35 bears and 100 elk, as well as 250 deer and 300 wild turkeys for hunting.

This month, Mr. Simmons played golf at Augusta National and frequently plays with his stepson Andy Fleck, who works for Contran. Mr. Simmons works out at home with a Pilates instructor. He drinks Opus One wine and typically eats fish. On Sunday nights, he grills steak for dinners with his wife.

He and Annette Simmons, 76, his wife of 31 years, are major philanthropists, with their names on buildings throughout the state. “Harold doesn’t say a word. He’s so quiet, he hardly talks,” said Dallas grande dame Ruth Atshuler. “He just makes tons of money and gives it away.” At social events, caterers give Mr. Simmons a doggie bag to take home in his chauffeur-driven Bentley.

He has given $500 million to mostly Texas charities, including a new organ-transplant hospital wing after his successful kidney transplant a few years ago. His stepdaughter Amy donated a kidney to Mr. Simmons, who later adopted her. He also gave $5 million to a South African school started by his California neighbor, Ms. Winfrey. The TV host had Mrs. Simmons on her show twice—about the annual sweet-potato festival in Mr. Simmons’s hometown and Mrs. Simmons’s famous tea parties. At her 50th birthday party, Ms. Winfrey danced first with Mr. Simmons—until John Travolta cut in.

The billionaire takes day trips every week to visit obscure libraries, churches and museums around Texas. He arrives unannounced and typically turns over a big check or several hundred dollar bills. He gives $50 and $100 bills to panhandlers to and from work. If they use the money to buy liquor or drugs, he said, it’s “not my business.”

The Simmonses hobnob with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Mr. Pickens and their wives. “Harold was my first supporter and friend when there was no honeymoon in this town,” said Mr. Jones, who was reviled when he bought the team 23 years ago and fired coach Tom Landry. He and Mr. Simmons have neighboring boxes at the new Cowboy stadium.

On a recent afternoon, Mr. Simmons, donning a Dallas Cowboy Windbreaker, walked his Springer Spaniel Duke and counted the ducks in his lake, 42 on this morning. Three times he climbed the 60 stairs of the brick tower he built in his backyard to watch the Dallas sunset

Later that day, Mr. Simmons, who goes to Luby’s Cafeteria for a $5.95 lunch or brings leftovers, met with the two of his four daughters who run his charitable foundation. Serena Simmons Connelly strongly disagrees with her father’s politics. But she recently removed her Obama bumper sticker as a concession. “Dad and I have parking spots next to each other,” she said.

Mr. Simmons was a key donor for the Swift Boat veterans’ attack ads against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, as well as the 2008 campaign ads touting ties between Mr. Obama and Bill Ayers, co-founder of the radical Weather Underground. “If we had run more ads,” he said, “we could have killed Obama

Mr. Simmons relishes his chance to give freely in this year’s election, particularly in conjunction with Mr. Rove, the top political adviser to former President George W. Bush. “Karl is the best political mind out there,” he said.

In early 2010, Mr. Rove gathered a handful of big Texas donors for lunch at a private club in Dallas, including Mr. Pickens, real-estate magnate Harlan Crow and Mr. Simmons. Mr. Rove explained how the fledgling group American Crossroads would work to defeat Mr. Obama and get GOP control of Congress. “All of us are responsible for the kind of country we have,” Mr. Rove recalled saying.

After Mr. Rove paused, Mr. Simmons spoke first. “I’m in,” he said. Mr. Rove said Mr. Simmons’s early nod helped give the group instant credibility.

Mr. Simmons said he relies on Mr. Rove’s advice on the prospects and positions of candidates. Aside from his contributions to presidential contenders, Mr. Simmons and his private holding company have, since 2010, donated almost $20 million to American Crossroads, which plans with its sister organization to spend as much as $300 million to defeat Democrats in the November election

The very private Mr. Simmons and the well-known Mr. Rove have become unlikely partners, chatting by phone every couple of days. “Karl won’t waste my money,” Mr. Simmons said, noting that American Crossroads doesn’t sink money into hopeless or easily winnable contests.

“Getting control of Congress is almost as important as beating the president,” he said. “If Republicans can get control of the Senate, we can block that crap,” which he described as over-regulation of business.

Last week, Mr. Simmons considered whether to give more money to the GOP contenders, as the race narrowed to Messrs. Romney and Santorum. The billionaire with a knack for numbers sees merit in Mr. Romney’s mathematical argument that only he will win enough delegates to clinch the nomination, and he put a half million dollars behind his calculation this week.

“I have lots of money, and can give it legally now,” he said, “just never to Democrats.”

 

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

Written by admin on 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.