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Center for Public Integrity: Democrats seize super PAC crown

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Liberal groups outraise conservative counterparts 2-to-1 during first half of 2013

The Center for Public Integrity

Democrats have become the kings of super PACs.

With Congress fighting over gun legislation and immigration, and 2014 midterm races already simmering, many left-leaning donors are eagerly bankrolling these free-spending groups that the party faithful have often criticized for unleashing unlimited money into political races.

Liberal-aligned super PACs combined to raise more than $40 million during the first half of 2013, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of filings submitted to the Federal Election Commission.

Their conservative counterparts, meanwhile, collectively raised about $20 million.

That’s a stark contrast with 2011 and 2012, when Republicans rapidly deployed the nascent organizations following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling that led to their creation.

During the first six months of 2011, for example, conservative super PACs outraised their liberal rivals more than 4-to-1, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of FEC data.

And during the same period last year, when Republicans, unlike Democrats, engaged in a heated presidential primary battle, GOP-aligned super PACs outraised liberal ones nearly 7-to-1.

But with President Barack Obama last year offering his tacit approval of big-dollar political giving, Democrats have quickly closed the fundraising gap by embracing super PACs, which may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to promote or attack politicians.

“Despite ideological opposition to super PAC spending, I don’t see Democrats wanting to play on an uneven playing field,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in California. “This is the political reality.”

Twenty super PACs raised more than $2 million during the first half of 2013, federal records show, and 13 of them are generally aligned with Democrats. In fact, the top six are all liberal groups.

Leading the way was the Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, a group launched by former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona and her husband, Mark Kelly, to support stricter gun control laws. Her super PAC brought in more than $6.6 million between January 1 and the end of June.

Billionaire Marc Benioff, the founder and chief executive officer of Salesforce.com, ranked as Giffords’ super PAC’s top donor, giving $500,000. Ahead of the 2012 election, Benioff bundled more than $500,000 for Obama’s re-election efforts, and this spring, he visited the White House three times, records show.

Additionally, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, and the Texas-based law firm of Democratic mega-donors Steve and Amber Mostyn, each donated $250,000 to Americans for Responsible Solutions. Steve Mostyn serves as the group’s treasurer.

Unions, Texas trial lawyers spread funds to Democrats

The next six super PACs with the largest fundraising hauls so far in 2013 include a super PAC affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association, three groups focused on expanding the ranks of Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and a union-funded operation.

DGA Action, which supports Democratic gubernatorial candidates, raised $4.2 million through the end of June. The bulk of that funding — $3.6 million — came from the DGA itself. Another $150,000 came from the National Education Association.

Ranking third in receipts so far this year is the union-funded Workers’ Voice super PAC, which raised $3.8 million from January through June. That includes $1.8 million from the AFL-CIO; $1 million from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); and $500,000 from UNITE HERE, which primarily represents workers in the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, laundry and airport industries.

This year, those three unions also touted a pathway for citizenship for undocumented immigrants — a theme that the super PAC also advanced.

“American workers deserve a commonsense immigration process that includes a road map to citizenship,” Michael Podhorzer, political director at the AFL-CIO, wrote in an e-mail on behalf of the Workers’ Voice super PAC earlier this year.

“Eleven million citizens in waiting will remember who stood up for them, and who gave in to fear,” he continued. “And soon, they’ll take that memory with them to ballot boxes across the country.”

Meanwhile, Democrat-backing House Majority PAC collected roughly $3.4 million; sister organization Senate Majority PAC collected $3 million; and American Bridge 21st Century, which specializes in opposition research to aid Democrats, collected $2.9 million.

One union alone accounted for nearly one-quarter of the Senate Majority PAC’s 2013 receipts. That was the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which provided $700,000 to the super PAC that was extremely active in the June 25 special election to fill former Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s seat. (It spent $1.4 million on advertisements opposing Republican Gabriel Gomez who ultimately lost to Democrat Ed Markey by 10 percentage points.)

Senate Majority PAC also received $250,000 a piece from AFSCME, the union-aligned group Working for Working Americans, California developer George Marcus and Priorities USA Action, the super PAC started in 2012 by former White House aides to support Obama’s re-election — which itself is still sitting on $3.4 million.

Notably, Marcus also donated $250,000 to House Majority PAC, ranking him among the top donors to that group, and the Mostyns’ law firm gave it $100,000.

But hedge fund manager Donald Sussman — founder and chairman of Paloma Partners and the husband of Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine — earned the distinction of being that super PAC’s No. 1 donor, giving $350,000 during the first half of the year.

Anne Getty Earhart, granddaughter of industrialist J. Paul Getty, ranked as American Bridge’s top super PAC, giving $400,000.

Another top donor to the group was former Hillary Clinton bundler Susie Tompkins Buell, co-founder of the Esprit clothing company, who gave $150,000.

Buell is also a founding member of the Ready for Hillary’s national finance council, along with trial lawyers Steve and Amber Mostyn. The super PAC promoting a potential Clinton 2016 presidential bid has raised nearly $1.3 million so far this year.

Currently, Democrats hold a narrow edge over Republicans in the U.S. Senate, but defending that advantage will bring many tough campaigns in 2014 — from Alaska to North Carolina.

GOP groups expect enthusiastic donors

With several major conservative bankrollers still showing an appetite for giving big money to super PACs, many GOP leaders remain hopeful about their fortunes in the 2014 midterm elections.

So far this year, Republican donors filled the coffers of groups that have supported both establishment favorites and candidates who regularly push the party further to the right on many issues.

For instance, both the super PAC of the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Action — which has ties to former GOP Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who now heads the Heritage Foundation — raised sizable sums during the first half of 2013.

Senate Conservatives Action raised $1.3 million, while Club for Growth Action raised $950,000. And the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund collected nearly $2.1 million — with more than 80 percent of that sum coming from individual donors giving $200 or less.

Launched in January, the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund is “dedicated to supporting those candidates who will sincerely work to rein in out-of-control government,” according to its website. An online straw poll currently touts GOP politicians including Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as potential 2016 presidential prospects.

All the while, the late GOP mega-donor Bob Perry — the Houston homebuilder who died in April — continued to fuel conservative super PACs at the dawn of 2013.

Records indicate that Perry contributed $3.1 million split among three groups: Texans for a Conservative Majority ($2 million); Senate Conservatives Action ($1 million) and Kentuckians for Strong Leadership ($100,000), which amended its FEC filing late Wednesday to clarify that Perry did not give from beyond the grave.

For its part, Texans for a Conservative Majority — which raised $2.2 million overall — was registered earlier this year by Texas lobbyist Randy Cubriel, who did not respond to a message seeking comment about his group’s 2014 plans. And Kentuckians for Strong Leadership — which raised $1.2 million — is supporting the re-election of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Likewise, American Crossroads, the behemoth co-founded in 2010 by GOP strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, raised $1.9 million during the first half of 2013, with large corporate contributions coming from Texas billionaire Harold Simmons’ Contran Corp. (at $1 million) and Oklahoma-based Rooney Holdings ($150,000).

Jonathan Collegio, the spokesman of American Crossroads, predicted that “enthusiasm about the opportunity to win control of the Senate as well as the paramount need to defend our House majority” would fuel additional donations during the 2014 election cycle.

“We have yet to make any hard fundraising requests this year,” he added. “We expect our activity in 2014 will be similar to past cycles.”

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.

Washington Post: Vendors finesse law barring ‘coordination’ by campaigns, independent groups

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and American Crossroads, an allied interest group, are barred by federal law from working together on political advertising.

But it’s perfectly legal for them to hire the same company to run Internet ads. That company uses some of the same employees to represent the two clients, and the same databases to store information on people it will target with ads.

Washington Post

By all accounts, Romney’s campaign and the group spending millions of dollars on his behalf are not violating the law that prohibits campaigns and independent organizations from coordinating their efforts.

The law was meant to separate campaigns from outside groups with wealthy donors — the theory being that large political contributions could have a corrupting influence on candidates.

But it is a fuzzy line that separates the campaigns from groups such as Crossroads and the super PACs that have sprung up in the wake of a 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed unrestricted corporate spending on campaigns. And the 2012 campaign, with its surge in spending from independent groups, offers many examples of how little the law actually prohibits when it comes to “coordination.”

The major super PACs helping President Obama and Romney, for example, were formed by men who previously worked as aides to the candidates.

And at least 30 political consulting companies have been hired by both a campaign or party and an independent group, according to campaign disclosure reports. The consultants provide a range of services, from polling to legal advice to media consulting.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shares 10 vendors with the major super PAC helping Democrats win House races, the House Majority PAC. The super PAC, for example, paid $31,000 to Ralston Lapp Media to produce television ads, while the DCCC paid $173,000 for the same purpose. Nine Democratic congressional candidates also hired the company.

Contributions to candidates are capped at $2,500 for each election, but for many types of interest groups, there are no restrictions on donations. In order to prevent the groups from becoming de facto extensions of the campaigns, they are prohibited from spending money at the request of candidates or using inside knowledge of their strategies or wishes. But hiring a firm that works for both sides is legal as long as information is not shared.

Advocates for tighter restrictions on political money say the weakness of the law has allowed interest groups to essentially become another arm of the campaigns.

“The real scandal in 2012 is what’s legal,” said Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, which supports tightening campaign finance laws. “Certainly the law does not prevent coordination in the way that word is generally understood by the public.”

Over the past decade, more than 30 complaints of alleged coordination in federal races have been brought to the Federal Election Commission. But the complaints rarely prompt investigations because of the difficulty of collecting private communications that might prove coordination.

The high-tech realm of online ad targeting offers a new example of how tightly integrated campaigns and interest groups can become.

Romney’s campaign has bought $21 million in online advertising through an Alexandria-based ad agency called Targeted Victory, the same firm hired by American Crossroads to run $1 million in ads. The company spends most of that money buying space on the Web through ad networks.

The company also works for the Republican Party, prominent Republican House and Senate candidates, and interest groups active in congressional races, including the American Action Network, Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS, which is affiliated with American Crossroads.

Targeted Victory uses Internet video ads to persuade people to oppose Obama and vote for Romney. It also uses a stockpile of data it has collected on Web users to reach them with ads for both Romney and Crossroads.

Separately, Targeted Victory keeps a record of those who have visited the Romney campaign Web site or the Crossroads site, and stores that information in the same location.

Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said the campaign’s vendors “understand the law and follow it.”

Targeted Victory’s chief executive, Michael Beach, said in an e-mailed statement that the company has separate teams of strategists for the two clients, crafting ad messages and finding potential voters online. Those teams work on opposite sides of a “firewall” described in FEC regulations, he said.

“Targeted Victory takes its compliance responsibilities seriously and continually reviews its operations to ensure compliance with the FEC rules,” Beach wrote.

He said the rules allow some employees to work for both Romney and Crossroads, including “personnel who merely forward the Internet ad buys to placement firms.”

FEC regulations specifically point to those working on “the selection or purchasing of advertising slots” as employees with the potential to share inside information that could be used for coordination.

A look at the same custom-built software running on the Romney and Crossroads Web sites shows the tight links between the organizations. When people visit the Romney or Crossroads site, their browsers download software written by Targeted Victory.

The code creates a trigger so that when users press a “donate” button, for example, their browsers report that information, which is kept in a database that commingles Romney and Crossroads users.

When users move on to a site with ads, that starts another chain reaction of code, transmitting the Romney and Crossroads information to ad networks, which may then display Romney or Crossroads ads.

Storing data together and using the same employees to represent Romney and Crossroads is not coordination under the law. To break the rule, an interest group would have to use inside information on the candidate’s needs or wishes to shape its own ad campaign.

Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who works for prominent liberal super PACs, said he uses a password-protected computer system to keep sensitive materials from his colleagues who might work directly for candidates or the official party committees. He praised the value of the rules as one of the only defenses keeping the work of candidates and well-funded interest groups separate.

“It seems we have a Swiss-cheese system here,” Garin said. “No offense to Swiss cheese.”

Dan Eggen contributed to this report.

© The Washington Post Company

Salon: Super PAC spending is about to explode

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Outside groups have already poured half a billion dollars into the 2012 elections, and they’re just getting started

Salon

Things have taken a turn for the worse for Democrats in recent days — and just as the campaign enters what could be described as the super PAC death zone. Even though we’ve already seen at least $517 million spent by outside groups, almost all of it on attack ads, during this election cycle so far — more than every other cycle since 1990 at similar points combined  — the wave of outside money about to crash down on the race between now and election day could add up to double what’s already been spent.

For 10 of the past 11 election cycles, about half of the total outside money spent during the entire campaign came during the month preceding the election, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2010, the first election following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, 56 percent of the total spent that cycle came in last 30 days alone. The only exception was 2008, when a still considerable 40 percent of the total was spent in October and early November. If that past is precedent, the next month could see another $400-570 million spent, easily pushing outside spending over the $1 billion threshold.

“In a cycle where we’ve already blown away the totals for how much is being spent outside of the campaigns themselves and the parties before that time, then it’s reasonable to expect that — who knows how much? — more will come this cycle,” Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics told Salon. Because of insufficient disclosure requirements, Biersack said it’s very hard to predict how much that might be. “It’s a lot harder to look forward and anticipate with these kind of activities than it is with campaigns.”

In 2010, outside groups made huge last-minute ad buys, the largest of which came from the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads groups, which together pumped $50 million into competitive House races. That announcement didn’t come until October 13. And with Romney’s campaign suddenly ascendant after a strong debate performance last week, it’s possible donors who had been on the sidelines will suddenly decide to pony up. Democrats in the House fear their surprisingly strong positions in over 30 races could be overrun practically overnight by big, late super PAC buys.

Another new phenomenon this year is a sharp uptick in spending from groups that don’t have to disclose their donors , like 501(c)4 social welfare organizations and 501(c)6 trade organizations, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So far this year, even before the final onslaught, these groups have spent more than all outside groups in 2010 combined, according to the CRP data. A court ruling in a case brought by Rep. Chris Van Hollen would have required disclosure for these groups running ads in a window immediately preceding the election, but an appellate court overturned that decision last month, allowing these groups to keep their donors secret. And not surprisingly, the vast majority of this secret money has come from conservative groups.

Of course, there’s a possibility that all this spending so late will have little impact after the deluge of political ads voters in key states have already withstood. Most consultants, political scientists, and psychologists agree that negative political ads are effective, but there may be a limit, which this election cycle could test unlike ever before. In some key media markets, which see as many as three times the number of ads as other markets, negative spots are “popping up on soap operas, game shows and even cable reality programs like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” NPR reported of Colorado Springs, Colorado. When voters can’t watch Honey Boo Boo dressing up Glitz Pig without being told why Barack Obama is dangerous for America, maybe they’ll ignore the message, but that remains to be seen. For now, donors are willing bet millions of dollars that the ads will do something more than annoy views.

MapLight, the Political Money Tracker, Launches Politicash 2012 App for the Presidential Election

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Our friends at Maplight have a really great app for tracking the money flowing in this year’s election campaigns.

Maplight

MapLight, the Political Money Tracker, Launches Politicash 2012 App for the Presidential Election

Free Mobile App Gives Users Immediate Access to Who’s Funding Presidential Candidate and Affiliated Super PAC Campaigns

Sept. 25, 2012–MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization that reveals money’s influence on politics, announces the launch of its new mobile app, Politicash 2012. The app, freely available for iOS and Android, tracks money flowing into the presidential race, making it easier than ever to know exactly who’s funding the candidates, including the shadowy money going into the campaigns of their affiliated super PACs. An auto-tweet feature alerts candidates that users are keeping tabs on their fundraising. Politicash 2012 is updated regularly with the most recent data from the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

“With millions of dollars flowing into the presidential race, Politicash 2012 makes it easier than ever to track the biggest donors and hold our candidates accountable, all from the palm of your hand,” said Daniel G. Newman, MapLight’s co-founder and president.

The app’s features include:

  • Head to head comparison of total contributions to Obama and Romney, including a fundraising breakdown by super PAC versus campaign committee
  • Graphs tracking money raised and spent by each candidate over time
  • The top 5 contributors overall
  • Biggest contributors of the latest week of available records from the FEC
  • A “Shake” feature, showing a random sample of company, individual, and PAC contributors to each candidate

Download Politicash 2012 today for iOS and Android.

Politicash 2012 launches in partnership with the Brennan Center for Justice, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Global Exchange, the Participatory Politics Foundation, Public Campaign, Rock the Vote, and Rootstrikers.

Business Insider: Andrew Ross Sorkin Rips Into Tim Pawlenty For Taking New Wall Street Lobbying Gig

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

To boil it down to one sentence, Sorkin says that this appointment “is the clearest sign yet of the flexible ethic that makes the revolving door in Washington spin faster.”

Business Insider

In Dealbook this morning, Andrew Ross Sorkin assessed former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s new job as president of the Financial Services Roundtable, Wall Street’s K-Street lobby group.

Actually, “assessed” doesn’t really capture what Sorkin does in the piece. He goes over a laundry list of examples of when Pawlenty was passionately and unabashedly at odds with Wall Street. The issues range from last summer’s debate over raising the debt ceiling to the bank bailouts.

To boil it down to one sentence, Sorkin says that this appointment “is the clearest sign yet of the flexible ethic that makes the revolving door in Washington spin faster.”

But not so fast. Pawlenty has always championed one of Wall Street’s favorite causes — limiting financial regulation. That translated into significant donations to his presidential bid from individuals at Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo, according to Open Secrets.

And when Sorkin asked Steve Bartlett, the current president of the Financial Services Roundtable, about the Pawlenty pick, things got really frank.

From the NYT:

When I asked how he felt about Mr. Pawlenty’s comments about the bailouts, which seem at odds with his organization, he said: “Our views are totally consistent. I don’t find those views to be at odds….”

And what about Mr. Pawlenty’s views of defaulting on the debt ceiling?

“In Washington there is an old saying, ‘Where you stand depends on where you sit.’ “

Sadly, no truer words have ever been said about the influence of money on our nation’s capital.


Read the full column at Dealbook>

Los Angeles Times: Poll: Americans largely in favor of campaign spending limitations

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Amid the flurry of cash directed at the presidential campaigns as well as congressional races, a new poll reveals that the American people aren’t pleased with the vast amount of fundraising now involved in elections.

Los Angeles Times

An Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll found that 83% believe there should be at least some limits on the amount of money corporations, unions and other organizations are permitted to contribute to groups seeking to influence the outcome of presidential and congressional races. And 67% think that limits should also be placed on individual contributions to campaigns. That matches up with just 13% who don’t want limits on external contributions, and 28% who repudiate limits on individuals.

The poll comes during the first post-Citizens United presidential election, stemming from the 2010 Supreme Court decision which ceased limitations on campaign expenditures aimed toward independent organizations made by corporations, ruling them to be free speech protected under the Constitution.

INTERACTIVE: Spending during the 2012 election

The Los Angeles Times has detailed much of the money spent by third-party groups on either side of the presidential race, which as of Sunday has topped $152 million since April. That spending is dominated by spending against President Obama, ($88.9 million), compared with the relatively small amount spent so far against Mitt Romney ($34.9 million).

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group heavily backed by the well-known Koch brothers, top the list of groups working against Obama, spending $30.8 million on “issue ads.” Restore Our Future, a group formed by former aides of Romney’s campaign, narrowly trails AFP with $28.4 million.

Spending against Romney, on the other hand, is singularly dominated by Priorities USA Action’s $26.4 million, which accounts for over 75% of the total spending against the Republican candidate. Priorities USA Action, like Restore Our Future, was started by former White House aides.

Tellingly, opposition spending dwarfs spending made in favor of either candidate, with just $4.8 million spent in support of Obama, and $13 million spent in favor of Romney.

INTERACTIVE: Battleground states map

As for the presidential rivals themselves, Obama and the Democratic Party, for the first time since April, recently out-raised Romney and the Republican National Committee during August, $114 million to $111.6 million. Through August, Obama and the DNC lead Romney and the RNC in fundraising $747.4 million to $645.9 million.

Romney has repeatedly defended the ruling in Citizens United, while Obama has called for it to be overturned.

The AP-National Constitution Center Poll was conducted between Aug. 16-20 with landline and cellphone interviews among 1,006 individuals with a margin of error of +/- 3.9 points.

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

Sunday, 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

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.

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.