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New York Times: When ‘Super PACs’ Become Lobbyists

Sunday, 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.

Wall Street Journal: The Super PAC Lesson

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Thoughts on campaign spending from the Wall Street Journal.  There was not enough of it for their tastes.

Apparently Mitt was “defenseless” against Obama’s ads.

Wall Street Journal

In every election there are issues that take up an inordinate amount of media attention but turn out to be sideshows. This year’s champion is Super PAC spending. Liberals first claimed that the Koch brothers and other wealthy donors were “buying” the election, but now that Democrats have won they are claiming that these GOP donors were gullible fools for giving at all. They’re wrong on both counts.

Money did matter, as it always does to some extent. But the cash that really counted was the more than $100 million that the Obama campaign used from May through July in the battleground states to portray Mitt Romney as Gordon Gekko without the social conscience. The Election Day exit polls show that Mr. Romney’s image never recovered from that ad barrage. He ran largely a biographical campaign and the Obama campaign destroyed his business biography. His net favorability was negative.

Mr. Romney’s advisers told us in early August that they would have liked to respond to the attacks but lacked the cash to do that and at the same time to portray a positive message after they had run through all of their money during the primary. They went with the positive message, albeit one that didn’t make much of an impact.

By the way, this is also the early-advertising strategy that Bill Clinton and adviser Dick Morris used to destroy Bob Dole in 1996. You’d think Republican strategists would have remembered that.

The GOP Super PACs tried to fill the gap by attacking Mr. Obama, but they were hard pressed to speak for a candidate whom by law they are prohibited from coordinating with. Perhaps their ads could have been more effective, and perhaps some of that money would have been better spent on matching Democratic voter turnout operations. Those questions deserve to be part of a GOP self-examination. But it’s hard to believe that Mr. Romney would have done any better if the Super PACs hadn’t existed.

All of which suggests that the real problem this year wasn’t too much campaign spending but too little. The GOP lacked the cash to counter the attack ads when its candidate really needed it. Mr. Romney raised enough money after the conventions, but by then it was too late to expand the field of competition other than with a late sneak attack of the kind the campaign tried in Pennsylvania.

In focusing so much on rich GOP donors, the media also underplayed the way the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision helped Democrats. That ruling overturned longstanding rules that prohibited unions from using dues money to communicate politically with non-union members. This allowed unions to run more efficient voter-targeting operations, since they didn’t have to skip non-union households, and it contributed to voter turnout in places like Nevada, Wisconsin and Ohio.

The unions were also helped by the many White House and campaign officials whom Mr. Obama dispatched to fund-raise for Democratic Super PACs—when he wasn’t busy criticizing GOP spending.

The history of campaign-finance limits is that attention to the issue recedes when Democrats win. But expect it to return in time for the 2014 campaign cycle, when the media will find some new Sheldon Adelson to portray as a threat to democracy even as unions go on spending their cash below the radar.

A far better reform would remove all donation limits to candidates, so nominees like Mr. Romney of either party aren’t left defenseless again. The Super PACs would fade in importance and the candidates would get to better control their own message. The U.S. is a huge country and it takes lots of money to educate voters.

ZeroHedge: Meet The Billionaires Behind The Best Presidents Money Can Buy

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

The last time we checked on the (funding) status of America’s real presidential race – the one where America’s uber-wealthy try to outspend each other in hopes of purchasing the best president money can buy – the totals were substantially lower. With November 6 rapidly approaching, however, the scramble to lock in those record political lobbying IRRs is in its final lap.

And thanks to the unlimited nature of PAC spending, look for the spending to really go into overdrive in the next 2 weeks as the spending frenzy on the world’s greatest tragicomedy hits previously unseen heights.

ZeroHedge

RESTORE OUR FUTURE

Total raised as of Sept. 30: $110.5 million – supports Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney

  • Bob Perry – Houston builder who was a major donor to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that helped undermine 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry by attacking his Vietnam War record. Total donations: $10 million
  • Sheldon Adelson – billionaire Las Vegas casino magnate who built the Venetian hotel and casino. Donation: $5 million
  • Miriam Adelson – Sheldon’s wife. Donation: $5 million
  • Bill Koch – brother of conservative financiers David and Charles Koch. He runs Oxbow Carbon, a Florida-based firm that is also a donor and shares its address with another contributor, Huron Carbon. Total donations, including through firms: $4 million
  • Steven Lund – runs Nu Skin, a Utah skin care and cosmetics company whose former executives have been linked to two other firms that share an address in Provo, Utah, and donated to the Super PAC: F8 LLC and Eli Publishing. Lund’s wife Kalleen is also a donor. Total donations from the Lunds and firms: $3 million
  • Julian Robertson – hedge fund industry legend at Tiger Management. Total donations: $1.3 million
  • Crow Holdings – Dallas-based investment firm managing the wealth of the family of the late Dallas real estate mogul Trammell Crow, whose sons Harlan and Trammell S. Crow are also donors. Total Crow Holdings and Crow donations: $1.3 million
  • Harold Simmons – billionaire Dallas banker and CEO of Contran Corp who has contributed to PACs supporting Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. Donations: $1.3 million
  • Frank VanderSloot – Idaho businessman who runs the nutritional and cosmetics company Melaleuca. The firm and its subsidiaries have also donated. Total donations: $1.1 million
  • The Villages of Lake Sumter – a community in Florida run by billionaire Gary Morse, who is also a donor alongside his wife Renee and their several children. Along with the Morse family, thirteen companies controlled wholly or partially by Morse that share an address in The Villages have also contributed. Total donations of all: $1.7 million.
  • Kenneth Griffin – Chicago-based hedge fund manager and CEO of Citadel LLC. Total donations: $1.1 million
  • Bob Parsons – billionaire founder of web hosting giant Go Daddy. Donation: $1 million
  • Jim Davis – chairman of New Balance Athletic Shoes Inc. Donations: $1 million
  • Stanley Herzog – CEO of Missouri-based Herzon Contracting Corp. Donation: $1 million
  • Bruce Kovner – billonaire hedge fund manager at Caxton Alternative Management. Donation: $1 million
  • Rocco Ortenzio – Pennsylvania healthcare executive and founder of Select Medical Corp. Total donations: $1 million
  • John Childs – founder of private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates LP in Florida. Donation: $1 million
  • Edward Conard – a New York investor and former executive at Bain Capital, a private equity firm co-founded by Romney. Donation: $1 million
  • John Kleinheinz – Texas hedge fund manager for Kleinheinz Capital Partners Inc. Donation: $1 million
  • J.W. Marriott Jr. – chairman and CEO of Marriott International, brother of Richard. Total donations: $1 million
  • Richard Marriott – chairman of Host Marriott International. Total donations: $1 million
  • Robert McNair – owner of the Houston Texans football team. Donation: $1 million.
  • Robert Mercer – New York hedge fund manager at Renaissance Technologies. Donation: $1 million
  • John Paulson – a prominent New York hedge fund manager at Paulson and Co. Donation: $1 million
  • Rooney Holdings Inc – private investment firm formed in 1980s to acquire the Manhattan Construction Co. and has since expanded into many areas. Total donations: $1 million
  • Paul Singer – hedge fund manager who helped fund efforts to legalize gay marriage in New York. Donation: $1 million
  • Paul and Sandra Edgerly – Paul Edgerly of Brookline, Massachusetts, is an executive at Bain. The Edgerlys each have given $500,000. Total donations: $1 million
  • Steven Webster – private equity executive at Avista Capital in Houston. Total donations: $1 million
  • Robert Brockman – executive at Reynolds and Reynolds, a Dayton, Ohio-based car dealership support company that shares a P.O. Box with CRC Information Systems Inc, Fairbanks Properties LLC and Waterbury Properties LLC, which split the donation three ways. Total donations: $1 million
  • Miguel Fernandez – chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners, a private equity firm. MBF Family Investments also donated to the Super PAC. Total donations: $1 million
  • Renco Group Inc. – owned by New York billionaire Ira Rennert, another frequent contributor to Republicans this year. Donation: $1 million
  • OdysseyRe Holdings Corp – reinsurance underwriting company in Stamford, Connecticut that is a U.S. subsidiary of Toronto-based Fairfax Financial. Donation: $1 million

 

PRIORITIES USA ACTION

Total raised as of Sept. 30: $50.1 million – supports Democratic President Barack Obama

  • James Simons – billionaire hedge fund manager, founder of Renaissance Technologies Corp. Donation: $3.5 million
  • Fred Eychaner – founder of Newsweb Corp. Donation: $3.5 million
  • Jeff Katzenberg – chief executive of DreamWorks Animation. Donation: $3 million
  • Steve Mostyn – Houston attorney. Donation: $2 million
  • Irwin Mark Jacobs – former CEO of Qualcomm Inc. Donation: $2 million
  • Jon Stryker – billionaire activist and heir to the medical supply company fortune of his grandfather. Donation: $2 million
  • Anne Cox Chambers – billionaire daughter of James M. Cox, founder of Cox Enterprises. Total donations: $1.5 million
  • National Air Traffic Controllers Association – union representing more than 16,000 workers. Donation: $1.3 million
  • S. Daniel Abraham – billionaire creator of Slim-Fast brand, chairman of S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Donation: $1.2 million
  • Barbara Stiefel – retiree in Coral Gables, Florida. Donation: $1.1 million
  • United Auto Workers – Donations through various funds: $1.1 million
  • Kareem Ahmed – chief executive at Landmark Medical Management in California. Donation: $1 million
  • David Boies, Jr – New York lawyer. Donation: $1 million
  • Morgan Freeman – Hollywood actor. Donation: $1 million
  • Amy Goldman – writer and heiress to the New York real estate fortune of Sol Goldman. Donation: $1 million
  • Franklin Haney – owner and CEO of FLH Company, a Washington-based real estate company. Donation: $1 million
  • Bill Maher – stand-up comedian. Donation: $1 million
  • Mel Heifetz – real estate developer and gay activist. Donation: $1 million
  • Michael Snow – Minnesota lawyer. Donation: $1 million.
  • Steven Spielberg – film director. Donation: $1 million.
  • Ann Wyckoff – Seattle philanthropist. $1 million.
  • Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education – union representing more than 2 million workers. Donation: $1 million.
  • United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry – union representing some 340,000 workers. Total donations: $1 million

AMERICAN CROSSROADS

Total raised as of Sept. 30: $68 million – supports Republican candidates for federal offices

  • Harold Simmons – Total donations together with Contran Corp: $15.5 million
  • Bob Perry – Total donations: $6.5 million
  • Robert Rowling – an Irving, Texas, businessman and a conservative and active Republican donor. His company, TRT Holdings Inc, which runs Omni Hotel and Gold’s Gym chains, is also a donor. Total donations: $4 million
  • Joe Craft – billionaire coal executive from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and CEO of Alliance Holdings, which is also a donor. Total donations: $2.1 million
  • Jerry Perenchio Living Trust – a trust of billionaire television tycoon A. Jerrold Perenchio, who is a former chairman of Spanish-language broadcaster Univision. Donation: $2 million
  • Crow Holdings – Dallas-based real estate investment firm. Total donations: $1.5 million
  • Weaver Holdings and Weaver Popcorn – Indiana-based company specializing in popcorn. Total contributions: $1.9 million
  • Stephens Inc – a Little Rock, Arkansas, broker dealer. Total donations: $1.3 million
  • Armstrong Group – telecommunications conglomerate in Pennsylvania. Donation: $1.3 million
  • JWC III Revocable Trust – Donatoin: $1.3 million
  • Robert Brockman – executive at Ohio-based Reynolds and Reynolds. Similarly to Restore Our Future, three firms sharing a P.O. Box – CRC Information Systems Inc, Fairbanks Properties LLC and Waterbury Properties LLC – split the donation three ways. Total donations: $1 million
  • Whiteco Industries – Indiana-based company involved in advertising, construction, entertainment and hotels. Donation: $1 million
  • The Mercury Trust – entity linked to California private equity firm of Saul Fox. Donation: $1 million
  • Clayton Williams Energy Inc – Midland, Texas-based drilling company. Donation: $1 million
  • Jay Bergman – of PETCO Petroleum Corporation. Donation: $1 million
  • Kenneth Griffin – Citadel Investment Group chief executive. Total donations: $1 million
  • Wayne Hughes – Founder of Public Storage. Total donations: $1 million
  • John Childs – Chairman and CEO of Boston-based JW Childs Associates. Total donations: $1 million
  • Philip Geier – New York executive. Total donations: $1 million
  • Irving Moskowitz – a Florida bingo magnate who runs a charity in California and is known for his support of Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. Donation: $1 million
  • Robert Mercer – co-CEO of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies. Donation: $1 million

 

BARACK OBAMA (Democrat)

  • Total raised, including transfers: $609.4 million
  • Raised in September, including transfers: $136.2 million
  • Total transferred from the funds jointly used by the campaign and the Democratic Party: $176.6 million
  • Transferred in September: $39.8 million
  • Total spent: $469.9 million
  • Spent in September: $111.4 million
  • Cash on hand: $99.3 million
  • Debt: $2.6 million

DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE

  • Total raised: $253.6 million
  • Raised in September: $20.3 million
  • Total transferred in: $108.4 million
  • Transferred in September: $4.0 million
  • Total spent: $261.6 million
  • Spent in September: $22.8 million
  • Cash on hand: $4.6 million
  • Debt: $20.5 million

OBAMA VICTORY FUND 2012 (The main joint Obama/DNC fund)

  • Total raised: $371.1 million
  • Raised in September: $80.0 million
  • Cash on hand: $45.2 million

 

MITT ROMNEY (Republican)

  • Total raised, including transfers: $337.2 million
  • Raised in September, including transfers: $76.2 million
  • Total transferred from the funds jointly used by the party and the Romney campaign: $236.4 million
  • Transferred in September: $34.2 million
  • Total spent: $298.2 million
  • Spent in September: $54.7 million
  • Cash on hand: $63.1 million
  • Debt: $5.0 million

REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE

  • Total raised: $331.2 million
  • Raised in September: $48.4 million
  • Total transferred in: $127.5 million
  • Transferred in September: $28.6 million
  • Total spent: $249.4 million
  • Spent in September: $42.4 million
  • Cash on hand: $82.6 million
  • Debt: $9.9 million

ROMNEY VICTORY INC (Joint Romney/RNC fund – third quarter, July through Sept.)

  • Total raised: $375.6 million
  • Raised in third quarter: $235.2 million
  • Cash on hand: $37.4 million

Appendix: SUPER PACS:

RESTORE OUR FUTURE, a Super PAC supporting Romney

  • Total raised: $110.5 million
  • Raised in September: $14.8 million
  • Total spent: $94.9 million
  • Spent in September: $4.6 million
  • Cash on hand: $16.6 million

PRIORITIES USA, a Super PAC supporting Obama

  • Total raised: $50.1 million
  • Raised in September: $15.3 million
  • Total spent: $43.6 million
  • Spent in September: $12.8 million
  • Cash on hand: $7.3 million

AMERICAN CROSSROADS, a Super PAC supporting Republicans

  • Total raised: $68.0 million
  • Raised in September: $11.4 million
  • Total spent: $53.4 million
  • Spent in September: $27.9 million
  • Cash on hand: $15.8 million

Source: Reuters

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

Friday, 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.

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

Wednesday, 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.

Emory Wheel: Media and Super PACs Dominate Our Political Discourse

Wednesday, 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

Thursday, 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

Saturday, 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.

Politico: Super PACs: 2012’s campaign Godzillas

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Republican super PACs are routinely raising or spending more money than the presidential candidates they are supporting, new filings show — a situation that just four years ago would have been equally bizarre and improbable.

Newt Gingrich’s campaign raised $5.6 million last month, according to new federal disclosures — a respectable amount until compared with the $11 million raised by the Winning Our Future super PAC that’s backing the former House speaker. Almost all of that $11 million came from two people.

Politico

The Restore Our Future super PAC supporting Mitt Romney likewise raised more money than Romney’s own campaign and finished January with more than twice the available cash: $16.3 million to $7.7 million.

And like Winning Our Future with Gingrich, the pro-Rick Santorum super PAC Red White and Blue Fund spent more in January than Santorum’s campaign did. The campaign committees of Santorum and Gingrich also have notable debt while their super PAC supporters report effectively none.

It’s enough to make Republican candidates a little green with super PAC envy, as recent federal court decisions have freed super PACs to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in overt support or opposition to candidates as long as they don’t directly coordinate with campaign committees.

Wealthy individuals and some corporate entities have responded in some cases by pouring hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars into the super PACs.

All the while, the candidates must continue to adhere to strict fundraising limits, prompting Romney to gripe in December that “we really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs.”

But without the Restore Our Future super PAC, which is run by former Romney staffers, Romney would have missed out on more than $20.5 million worth of independent political expenditures that to date have almost exclusively skewered Gingrich, and lately, Santorum.

Compared with his Republican rivals, however, President Barack Obama is dogged by an entirely different super PAC concern.

The main super PAC supporting his reelection, Priorities USA Action, which is run by former Obama aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney — raised less than $59,000 in January.

Consider, now, that the GOP-supporting, Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads super PAC generated about $5 million last month — a crisp $100 for every $1.16 Priorities USA Action raised.

American Crossroads also boasts a cash reserve 20 times larger than that of Priorities USA Action.

Perhaps it’s no wonder, then, why Obama earlier this month personally blessed the work of the moribund super PAC, freeing campaign staff and Cabinet officials to aid it.

Obama’s decision also reflects a truth, for better or worse, about the nation’s new campaign finance rules: Even the free world’s leader couldn’t resist playing by them, no matter how politically unpalatable he finds them to be.

And Obama’s acceptance of Priorities USA Action will all but assuredly pay him cash dividends and buy parity with other super PACs, even if it cost him a self-styled perch on the campaign finance landscape’s high ground.

Fox News: Battle of the billionaires — Super PACs offer chance for high rollers to sway 2012 race

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Fox News joins the mainstream media in recognizing the flow of campaign money from a select group of wealthy individuals.

Fox News

If the American presidential system were boiled down into a Las Vegas casino game, “Super PAC” betting would be placed exclusively in the high-stakes room. 

The Super PAC system, a product of recent Supreme Court rulings, allows unlimited donations for political causes. And recent federal disclosure forms reveal the people behind them are the whales of the campaign trail — putting up donations frequently in excess of a quarter-million dollars. 

For the first time, voters are getting a glimpse at who’s funding the previously opaque organizations boosting the presidential candidates’ campaigns with outside spending. 

Mitt Romney, not surprisingly, has a slew of investment titans — including former colleagues at Bain Capital — pumping money into the Super PAC supporting his campaign. Newt Gingrich enjoys high-powered support out of Vegas. Ron Paul is being indirectly funded by the co-founder of PayPal. Rick Santorum’s Super PAC is backed mostly by two people. And President Obama’s Super PAC is kept well-heeled by Hollywood and union support

The nature of the donations is a world apart from the traditional campaign finance of presidential campaigns themselves — for which individual donations are capped at $2,500. 

In the world of Super PACs, $2,500 makes for a modest starting point. Donors routinely put up $100,000 and up in support of the campaign committee of their choice. And a relatively small number of high-dollar contributors are involved. 

No Super PAC better exemplifies the unbound financial potential of the new system than Romney’s group Restore Our Future

According to end-of-year filings with Federal Election Commission, the pro-Romney committee has raised more than $30 million, from just 282 donors. The average donation tops $100,000, and the fund is backed by plenty of high-rollers. 

At the top are donors like Robert Mercer, an executive at hedge fund firm Renaissance Technologies; John Paulson, president of hedge fund Paulson and Co.; Julian Robertson, founder of hedge fund Tiger Management; Paul Singer, founder of Elliott Management Corp.; and Edward Conard, a former Bain colleague. All put up $1 million apiece. 

J.W. Marriott Jr., chairman of Marriott International, also contributed $500,000, as did Richard Marriott, chief of Marriott offshoot Host Hotels & Resorts. 

By law, these campaign committees cannot coordinate with the presidential campaigns themselves or directly fund them. This catch explains why, when Romney and other candidates are challenged on Super PAC-funded ads, they note that their campaigns had nothing to do with the production. 

But they are surely aware, and the Super PACs serve a blunt purpose. 

According to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics, Restore Our Future has spent $17 million in opposition to Gingrich – in large part through advertising. 

The other Super PACs don’t have nearly as much money, but nevertheless serve as a potent tool for the candidates. 

Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich group, has been backed by Texas businessman Harold Simmons. The group reported raising over $2 million at the end of the year, from just 18 people

More recently, and subsequent to the 2011 filing period, Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson drew headlines for putting up $5 million for the Gingrich Super PAC. His wife reportedly followed suit with another $5 million. 

In Paul’s corner is the Endorse Liberty group, which reported about $1 million raised for 2011. The group is supported almost exclusively by Peter Thiel, a hedge fund manager who co-founded PayPal. 

Santorum’s Red White and Blue Fund has raised slightly less than Paul’s Super PAC. That, too, is backed by a handful of supporters, including wealthy investor Foster Friess and John Templeton Jr., son of philanthropist John Templeton. 

And the pro-Obama Priorities USA Super PAC has raised a total of $4.4 million as of the end of 2011. About half of that came in the form of a $2 million donation from DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. Steven Spielberg also threw in $100,000

Those five groups are just a slice of the national Super PAC pie, though they account for much of the money raised. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 318 groups have raised nearly $99 million as of early February. They’ve spent nearly $47 million in the 2012 cycle. 

The campaign finance free-for-all has raised pressing questions all along about whether the new system is a boon for free speech — speech, that is, in the form of monetary donations and ads — or a barrier for candidates who might not have the behind-the-scenes support of such wealth

Gingrich, despite the support of his Las Vegas benefactors, has complained that the glut of negative advertising by Romney’s supporters has damaged his candidacy. 

In Congress, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and others are pushing for a new bill that would, among other provisions, require TV ads to name top donors. 

Yet Obama’s campaign this past week seemed to embrace the new Super PAC reality. The campaign said Obama officials would speak at Priorities USA events. 

Romney reportedly has sanctioned the same kind of interaction.