Unfounded Fears: the 501(c)(4)/SuperPAC Connection

It would appear that there’s a new worry on the block for campaign finance reformers. A piece inProPublica gives voice to what is undoubtedly the next big scare as SuperPACs continue to dominate headlines in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election: will 501(c)(4) organizations be created and used as a way to funnel unlimited amounts of money to candidate-related SuperPACs as an end-run around disclosure legislation? Reporter Marian Wang propses the following scenario:

[Texas Governor Rick] Perry’s allies also just launched a new nonprofit, Citizens for a Greater America, which will also be able to take in unlimited funds while keeping donors secret. iWatch News posted a fact sheet on the new group that it traced to a Perry fundraiser who had received it from Mike Toomey, Perry’s close ally and former chief of staff.

The efforts could be the start of a new trend in campaign finance — nonprofits started by allies of a specific candidate that can be used as conduits for undisclosed donations. Together with those so-called candidate-specific super PACs, the two groups make a powerful pair, allowing supporters to donate to support specific candidates with few restrictions and, if so desired, with no disclosure.  

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, Super PACs

There are No Shadow Groups to Fear

The New York Times has a piece in today’s paper parroting the hysteria surrounding outside groups and their ability to fund ads to affect campaigns through the use of SuperPACs. While the paper gets the basic facts straight, they seem intent on pushing the meme that outside groups creating ads and supporting candidates will lead to a situation that will somehow weaken democracy in general.

These groups, which are not supposed to coordinate with candidates’ campaigns or the political parties, are called Super PACs, but the label doesn’t much matter. The point is that in the past several years outside groups — using various types of financing vehicles — have accounted for a growing share of the money spent in federal elections.


Filed Under: Blog, Super PACs

In the News: Daily Caller: Campaign-finance McCarthyism

Campaign-finance McCarthyism By Bradley A. Smith As the 2012 campaign heats up, it seems like everywhere we hear warnings of “shadowy groups” pumping millions into campaigns, “and nobody knows where that money is coming from.” The hyperbole from campaign finance reformers is that the public will never know who funds political advocacy, which they blame […]

Filed Under: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, Federal In the News, In the News, Published Articles

Colbert Is Funny, Our Disclosure Laws Are Not

As any fellow members of the Nation are doubtless aware, the latest way for college kids to get their name on television is to donate cash to Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Super PAC.  If you do so, your name will scroll at the bottom of the screen as one of the Super PAC’s “Heroes”.  It’s a nice way for a 19-year old GW student to get a new Facebook picture, and everybody who is giving is in the on the gag.  (D.B. Cooper also apparently gave.) All well and good.

Of course, Colbert could have done more than just scroll the names of the Super PAC’s donors.  He could have hunted the FEC database for those who gave more than $200 to candidates other than “Rick Parry” (with an A for America) and posted their names, addresses, employers and job titles on his website or scrolled the information on his show.  Not so funny anymore.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, Super PACs, DISCLOSE, Disclose Act

In the News: Washington Examiner: Citizens United, shareholder paternalism and arts funding

Citizens United, Shareholding Activists, And Political Speech: What Corporate Managers Need To Know By Bradley A. Smith Citizens United, the 2010 ruling that famously led President Obama to wag a disapproving finger at the Supreme Court during his State of the Union address, held that businesses have a right to engage in political campaigning. Although […]

Filed Under: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Corporate Governance Press Release/In the News/Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, In the News, Published Articles

‘Reformers’ begin to recognize who benefits from contribution limits

There was a fascinating article in Thursday’s Washington Post concerning the scandal that has erupted in the United Kingdom over the practice of hacking into private voicemails by the now-shuttered News of the World.

Fury at Murdoch reflects pent-up anger of intimidated politicians

The phone-hacking scandal that has driven Rupert Murdoch and his empire into retreat and gripped audiences on both sides of the Atlantic is playing out against the backdrop of a combustible political-media culture vastly different from that in the United States…

In Britain, money plays a smaller role in politics than it does in the United States, and politicians have few ways to communicate effectively with the public outside the media filter. Television advertising plays no significant role in campaigns; for the most part, it is not allowed.

An American politician who feels aggrieved by the media can buy television spots to answer them. His British counterparts have no such option. Elected officials must depend on the good graces of newspapers for favorable coverage…

This is something that we have pointed out time and time again, that restricting the ability of candidates (and private citizens either individually or through organizations) to speak to the public necessarily enhances the voices of others who are not restricted, primarily the media.

Surprisingly, and in a very welcome development, writers at two left-leaning media outlets who have in the past generally lined up with the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ community have recognized the peril of limits on money in politics.

Filed Under: Blog, Money in Politics

Stephen Colbert’s SuperPAC gag getting a lot less funny for campaign finance ‘reformers’

Today promises to bring more attention to a meeting of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) than quite possibly all previous meetings combined. The cause of this is comedian Stephen Colbert’s appearance today to answer questions regarding his advisory opinion request.

Originally intended as an ongoing comedy skit to mock the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, the Colbert SuperPAC gag has spun into something of a headache for the self-styled campaign finance ‘reform’ community. Several media outlets have begun to report on this. From today’s Politico comes this story by Ken Vogel:

Stephen Colbert’s running PAC shtick creates sticky mess

Advocates of reducing the power of money in politics thought they had found a champion in the unlikely person of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert, whose ongoing shtick about forming a political action committee brought more attention to their cause than all their press releases, testimony and legal briefs combined.

As part of his effort to highlight – and parody – the impact of a 2010 Supreme Court decision opening new avenues for corporate money in elections, the satirist plans to testify Thursday in front of the Federal Election Commission about a very real legal request he filed that would allow his planned Colbert Super PAC to push the envelope on corporate political spending.

But the joke seems to be backfiring.

Filed Under: Blog, Money in Politics, Maine

Report falsely claims Obama rewarding bundlers with jobs, contracts

Yesterday the web site iWatchnews, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, released a scathing report on the number of bundlers for the 2008 Obama campaign that have subsequently been appointed to administration positions.

Titled Obama rewards big bundlers with jobs, commissions, stimulus money, government contracts, and more, the report begins:

Telecom executive Donald H. Gips raised a big bundle of cash to help finance his friend Barack Obama’s run for the presidency.

Gips, a vice president of Colorado-based Level 3 Communications LLC, delivered more than $500,000 in contributions for the Obama war chest, while two fellow senior company executives collected at least $150,000 more.

After the election, Gips was put in charge of hiring in the Obama White House, helping to place loyalists and fundraisers in many key positions. Then in mid-2009, the new president named him ambassador to South Africa. Level 3 Communications, in which Gips retained stock, meanwhile received millions of dollars of government stimulus contracts for broadband projects in six states-though Gips said he was “completely unaware” of the stimulus money.

More than two years after President Obama took office vowing to banish “special interests” from his administration, nearly 200 of his biggest donors have landed plum government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions of dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events, an investigation by iWatch News has found.

Pretty scandalous, isn’t it?

Except upon reading the full report, and applying a little common sense it becomes pretty clear that the Obama administration is being unfairly smeared by the accusation that they’re simply handing out government jobs and contracts as a reward for their top fundraisers.

Filed Under: Blog, Disclosure, Disclosure Press Release/In the News/Blog, Money in Politics

Campaign finance ‘reformers’ silent about gathering of wealthy political contributors

Several months back, wealthy libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch held a gathering of likeminded people in California to discuss politics and public policy. The event was condemned by the more hysterical wing of the so-called campaign finance ‘reform’ movement, with Common Cause organizing a protest outside and bussing in hundreds of demonstrators.

The protest was in some ways the First Amendment at its finest, where citizens voiced their opinions on pressing matters. In other ways, it was troubling – the protesters were literally demonstrating against the right of the Koch brothers to spend their own money advocating their beliefs, and it took an ugly turn when several of the demonstrators were interviewed suggesting that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas be lynched or at least “put him back in the fields.” Thirty protesters actually were arrested when they attempted to break into the meeting.

One of the basic messages of this protest was that wealthy Americans spending money to promote their political views was somehow corrupting and a subversion of democracy.

Well, it turns out that there’s another group of very wealthy Americans that are gathering at this moment to discuss and plan how to spend millions of dollars in order to influence the political debate leading up to the 2012 elections. From I Watch News (a project of the Center for Public Integrity):

Democratic donors and operatives talk money at posh Laguna Beach resort

The palatial Montage resort in sunny Laguna Beach provided a luxurious spot for wealthy liberal donors to relax and listen to pitches from Democratic activists seeking big bucks.

Filed Under: Blog, Money in Politics

Government contractor money in politics

So-called campaign finance “reformers” apparently are alarmed at the idea that government contractors might spend money voicing their opinions on candidates for public office, hence the move initially to ban government contractors from doing so under the DISCLOSE Act and now the effort by the Obama administration to impose a disclosure regime that seems designed to discourage them from doing so.

At the same time, the “reform” community claims the answer to all of the unfettered political speech unleashed on the public by Citizens United is the Fair Elections Now Act, which would give hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars to political candidates, with this money coming directly from… government contractors?

I guess corporate-funded political speech is only a problem when the business get to decide how to spend it, not when the “reformers” get to funnel it directly to politicians’ campaigns.

Filed Under: Blog, Money in Politics

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.