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Context of '2000 - 2005: Many PACs Reform as ‘527 Groups’, and Later as ‘Nonprofit’ Organizations'

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1944: Labor Union Forms First PAC

The first “political action committee,” or PAC, is formed by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), a powerful labor union, on behalf of the efforts to re-elect President Franklin D. Roosevelt. PAC donations come from voluntary contributions and not labor dues, and therefore the donations are not prohibited (see June 25, 1943). [Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; National Public Radio, 2012]

Entity Tags: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Congress of Industrial Organizations

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The massive Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) is signed into law by President Nixon. (The law is commonly thought of in the context of 1971, when Congress passed it, but Nixon did not sign it into law for several months.) The law is sparked by a rising tide of anger among the public, frustrated by the Vietnam War and the variety of movements agitating for change. The campaign watchdog organization Common Cause sued both the Democratic and Republican National Committees for violating the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA—see 1925), and though it lost the suit, it exposed the flaws and limitations of the law to the public. Common Cause then led a push to improve campaign finance legislation, aided by the many newly elected and reform-minded members of Congress. FECA repeals the toothless FCPA and creates a comprehensive framework for the regulation of federal campaign financing, from primaries and runoffs to conventions and general elections. The law requires full and timely disclosure of donations and expenditures, and provides broad definitions of both. It sets limits on media advertising as well as on contributions from candidates and their family members. The law permits unions and corporations to solicit voluntary contributions from members, employees, and stockholders, and allows union and corporate treasury money to be used for operating expenses for political action committees (PACs) or for voter drives and the like. It bans patronage or the promise of patronage, and bans contracts between a candidate and any federal department or agency. It establishes strict caps on the amounts individuals can contribute to their own campaigns—$50,000 for presidential and vice-presidential candidates, $35,000 for Senate candidates, and $25,000 for House candidates. It establishes a cap on television advertising at 10 cents per voter in the last election, or $50,000, whichever is higher. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999; Center for Responsive Politics, 2002 pdf file; Federal Election Commission, 4/2008 pdf file] The difference before and after FECA is evident. Congressional campaign spending reportage from 1968 claimed only $8.5 million, while in 1972, Congressional campaign spending reports will soar to $88.9 million. [Federal Elections Commission, 1998]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Federal Corrupt Practices Act, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, Common Cause

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) hands down an “advisory opinion” that, according to the mandates of the newly passed amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see 1974), allows corporations to spend general funds on solicitation of donations from stockholders and employees. The case stems from an attempt by Sun Oil Corporation to solicit employees, both union and non-union, for contributions to the corporation’s PAC, SUN PAC. The FEC’s advisory opinion, which by law is binding, reads in part, “It is the opinion of the Commission that Sun Oil may spend general treasury funds for solicitation of contributions to SUN PAC from stockholders and employees of the corporation.” The FEC’s reasoning is that the money is to be segregated according to the Supreme Court’s Pipefitters decision (see June 22, 1972), businesses have for years solicited their employees for both political and non-political causes, and FECA says that contributions to a separate segregated fund may not be secured by “job discrimination” or “financial reprisals.” Neither Congress nor the unions are pleased with the ruling. If corporations had been restricted to soliciting only their stockholders, they could have solicited only twice as many individuals as the labor unions, but with the ruling in place, corporations effectively can now solicit virtually the entire workforce of the nation. It is this decision that in part sparks the “PAC boom” among corporate PACs, which sees the number and funding of corporate PACs increase dramatically. [Campaign Finance Timeline, 1999]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, SUN PAC, Sun Oil Corporation, Federal Election Commission

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court, in the case of Federal Election Commission v. NCPAC, rules that political action committees (PACs) can spend more than the $1,000 mandated by federal law (see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976). The Democratic Party and the FEC argued that large expenditures by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) in 1975 violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which caps spending by independent political action committees in support of a publicly funded presidential candidate at $1,000. The Court rules 7-2 in favor of NCPAC, finding that the relevant section of FECA encroaches on the organization’s right to free speech (see January 30, 1976). Justice William Rehnquist writes the majority opinion, joined by fellow conservatives Chief Justice Warren Burger, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Lewis Powell, and liberals Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, and William Brennan. Justices Byron White and Thurgood Marshall dissent from the majority. [Oyez (.org), 2012; Moneyocracy, 2/2012]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, William Brennan, William Rehnquist, Byron White, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, US Supreme Court, Warren Burger, Sandra Day O’Connor, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, Thurgood Marshall, National Conservative Political Action Committee, Democratic Party, Lewis Powell

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A number of political action committees, or PACs (see 1944, February 7, 1972, 1975, and November 28, 1984), created by “independent” organizations inform the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that they will not disclose the names of donors or amounts of funds raised, because they are not expressly advocating for or against any individual candidate. These PACs become known as “527 groups,” based on Section 527 of the federal tax code. Congress soon passes a disclosure mandate forcing PACs to reveal their donors and information about their fundraising and expenditures (see June 30, 2000). By 2005, many PACs begin registering themselves as 501(c)4 “advocacy nonprofit” organizations. Under the law, such groups can only conduct certain “political advocacy” activities, but in return do not have to disclose their contributors or information about their financing. [National Public Radio, 2012]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Federal Election Commission

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Sam Wyly.Sam Wyly. [Source: Forbes]A group called “Republicans for Clean Air” begins running ads attacking Republican presidential candidate John McCain in New York. The ads accuse McCain of voting against alternative energy sources. At the same time, ads paid for by the campaign of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush accuse McCain of labeling breast cancer programs as wasteful. Governor George Pataki (R-NY) accuses McCain of voting “anti-New York” in the Senate, while Representative John Sweeney (R-NY) says McCain was wrong to vote for raising heating oil taxes, a major issue in cold-weather states such as New York. [Salon, 3/2/2000] The group also runs ads in primary states claiming that Bush, as Texas governor, passed laws intended to reduce air pollution in Texas by over a quarter-million tons a year. The evidence does not support the claim; what few anti-pollution laws have taken effect in Texas were written mostly by Democratic state legislators and signed into law, often reluctantly, by Bush.
RFCA Consists of Two Texas Billionaires - An investigation by the New York Times soon proves that “Republicans for Clean Air” (RFCA) is funded by Dallas billionaire Sam Wyly, a Bush supporter, who has contributed $2.5 million to the group. Wyly and his brother Charles Wyly, also a RFCA contributor, are the co-founders of Sterling Software in Dallas. They are also owners, founders, or executives in firms that own Bonanza Steakhouse, the “Michael’s” chain of arts and craft stores, the hedge fund Maverick Capital, and more. Both are heavy Bush campaign donors, having donated over $210,000 to the Bush gubernatorial campaigns. They are apparently the only two members of the RFCA. Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice says of Sam Wyly: “He’s one of the elite. He’s one of the movers and shakers. He’s very big money in the state.” McCain’s campaign accuses the Bush campaign of being responsible for the advertising, and says the Bush campaign is trying to evade campaign finance laws (see February 7, 1972 and May 11, 1992). The McCain campaign complains that the Bush campaign is using unethical and possibly illegal campaign tactics to “steal” the primary election by saturating New York, California, and Ohio with anti-McCain ads just days before the primary elections in those critical states. “There is no question in our campaign’s mind that the ads are being sponsored, coordinated, and managed by the George Bush for President campaign,” says McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis. “I think it’s incumbent on the Bush campaign to prove somehow that they are not involved in this incredible act.” Davis has no direct evidence for his claim, but cites what the Times calls “a tangle of personal, business, and political relationships between Mr. Wyly and his family and the Bush campaign to suggest that their interests were so close as to be indistinguishable.” One of those relationships cited by Davis is the fact that RFCA uses the same public relations firm, Multi Media Services Corporation, as Pataki, who chairs the Bush campaign in New York and who appears in Bush campaign ads. Bush himself denies any connection with RFCA, and says: “There is no coordination.… I had no idea the ad was going to run.” Wyly also disclaims any coordination with the Bush campaign. He says he laughed during the production of the commercials, and mused over how “surprised” the Bush campaign would be to see them on the airwaves. McCain uses the ads to draw attention to one of his favorite campaign themes, campaign finance reform. On a recent morning talk show, McCain said: “I think maybe the Bush campaign is out of money and somebody’s putting in $2 million to try to hijack the campaign here in New York. Nobody knows where it came from. [When McCain filmed the interview, Wyly’s identity had not been revealed.] We’ll probably find out, but probably too late. This is why campaign finance reform is so important.” [New York Times, 3/3/2000; New York Times, 3/4/2000; New York Times, 3/5/2000; San Jose Mercury News, 3/6/2000; Scott E. Thomas and Danny Lee McDonald, 4/2002; New York Times, 8/23/2010] The press soon learns that Charles Wyly is an official member of the Bush presidential campaign, as a “Pioneer” donor, and has contributed the maximum amount under the law. [New York Times, 3/4/2000] It also learns that RFCA’s stated address is a post office box in Virginia belonging to Lydia Meuret, a consultant who runs a political action committee headed by Representative Henry Bonilla (R-TX), a Bush ally. Meuret denies any connection between RFCA and Bonilla or Bonilla’s PAC, but admits she is a consultant to both. [New York Times, 3/3/2000]
'527' Group Operates in Campaign Finance Law 'Gray Areas' - RFCA is a “527” group (see 2000 - 2005); such groups operate in a “gray area” of campaign law, as the monies they use are not contributed directly to a candidate or a political party. However, they are banned from coordinating their efforts with candidate campaigns. Their ads must not make direct appeals to voters in support of, or opposition to, a particular candidate. If they comply with this portion of the law, the donors behind the ads, and the amounts they contribute, do not have to be identified. The law does not even require the groups to declare their existence, as was the case for a time with RFCA. The Times reports, “While some of the groups behind issue advertising are vague about their membership, Mr. Wyly’s effort was a rare instance in which commercials were aired without any hint of their origin.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a group advocating campaign finance reform, says of so-called “issue” ads such as these: “The secrecy aspects of this are taking campaign finance problems to yet another new and dangerous level. What we’re seeing here is the use of unlimited, undisclosed money to influence a federal election, and that’s totally at odds with the whole notion of campaign finance disclosure.” [New York Times, 3/3/2000; San Jose Mercury News, 3/6/2000; New York Times, 3/29/2000; New York Times, 8/23/2010] Progressive columnist Molly Ivins calls the RFCA ads examples of “sham issue” advertisements. [San Jose Mercury News, 3/6/2000]
Bush Claims RFCA Ads Not Helpful - After Bush secures the nomination over McCain, he tells a reporter, “I don’t think these [Republicans for Clean Air] ads are particularly helpful to me.” But Slate reporter Chris Suellentrop writes: “Of course they were helpful. Otherwise Bush would have called the group and told them to call off the dogs.” [Slate, 8/25/2000]
Wyly Brothers Will Fund 2004 'Swift Boat' Campaign, Later Charged with Securities Fraud, Insider Trading - A month after the ads air, Sam Wyly says he will no longer involve himself in politics. Wyly, who says he is a staunch environmentalist, says he admires Bush’s Democratic challenger, Vice President Al Gore (whom Wyly has called a regulation-happy environmentalist, and whom Wyly has considered attacking with television ads). Of his foray into the presidential campaign, Wyly says: “I learned from it. Many of you are aware of my recent foray into presidential politics. It is to be my last.” In 2004, the Wyly brothers will be two of the primary donors behind the “Swift Boat” campaign that will slander and impugn the character and military service of presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). In 2010, the Wyly brothers will be charged with securities fraud and insider trading that netted them at least $581 million in illegal gains, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. [New York Times, 4/5/2000; New York Times, 8/23/2010]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Charles Wyly, Sam Wyly, George E. Pataki, Fred Wertheimer, George W. Bush, Chris Suellentrop, Rick Davis, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., New York Times, John McCain, John Kerry, John E. Sweeney, John McCain presidential campaign 2000, Henry Bonilla, Lydia Meuret, Molly Ivins, Republicans for Clean Air

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections, Civil Liberties

The Senate approves bipartisan legislation, the so-called “Stealth PAC” bill, that requires secretive tax-exempt organizations that raise and spend money on political activities to reveal their donors and expenditures. The so-called “527” organizations have flourished because until now, Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code has protected both their nonprofit status and their right to keep their donors and funding information secret (see 2000 - 2005). President Clinton will sign the bill into law. It is the first major legislative change in American campaign finance law in two decades (see January 8, 1980). Under the new law, Section 527 organizations raising over $25,000 a year must comply with federal campaign law, file tax returns, disclose the identities of anyone contributing over $200, and report expenditures in excess of $500. That information will be reported to the IRS every three months during an election year, and the information will be posted on the Internet. The bill takes effect as soon as Clinton signs it into law.
Passed Despite Republican Opposition - The House passed the bill on a 385-39 vote; only six Senate Republicans vote against the bill. Senate and House Republican leaders have blocked the bill for months. Clinton says, “Passage of this bill proves that public interest can triumph over special interests,” and urges Congress to pass a more comprehensive overhaul of campaign finance law. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says, “I’m not pretending we don’t have other loopholes to close, but those groups that have found this an easy, painless way to go on the attack are now going to have to scramble to figure out different ways.” Some ways that groups will avoid the requirements of the new law are to reorganize themselves as for-profit organizations—thus losing their tax exemptions—or trying to reorganize as other types of nonprofits. Many expect donors to rush big contributions to these 527 groups before the new law takes effect. Mike Castle (R-DE), a House Republican who supports the bill, says, “I am sure that the phones are ringing over on K Street right now about how to get money into the 527s before they are eliminated.” Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who helped Senate Republicans block the bill and who voted no on its passage, now calls it a “relatively benign bill,” downplaying his stiff opposition to the bill and to campaign finance regulation in general. McConnell advised Republicans up for re-election in November 2000 to vote yes for the bill “to insulate them against absurd charges that they are in favor of secret campaign contributions or Chinese money or Mafia money.” McConnell explains that he voted against the bill because it infringes on freedom of speech (see December 15, 1986). Governor George W. Bush (R-TX), the GOP’s presidential candidate, issues a statement supporting the bill: “As I have previously stated, I believe these third-party groups should have to disclose who is funding their ads. As the only candidate to fully disclose contributors on a daily basis, I have always been a strong believer in sunshine and full disclosure.” Bush defeated Republican challenger John McCain (R-AZ) in part because of the efforts of Republicans for Clean Air, a 527 group headed by Bush financier Sam Wyly and which spent $2.5 million attacking McCain’s environmental record (see March 2000 and After). McCain helped push the current bill through the Senate, and says: “This bill will not solve what is wrong with our campaign finance system. But it will give the public information regarding one especially pernicious weapon used in modern campaigns.”
527s Used by Both Parties - Both Democrats and Republicans have created and used 527 groups, which are free from federal oversight as long as they do not advocate for or against a specific candidate. The organizations use donations for polling, advertising, telephone banks, and direct-mail appeals, but are not subject to federal filing or reporting rules as long as they do not advocate the election or defeat of a specific candidate. Some groups, such as the Republican Majority Issues Committee, a 527 organization aligned with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), intend to continue functioning as usual even after the bill is signed into law, while they examine their legal options. The committee head, Karl Gallant, says his organization will “continue on our core mission to give conservative voters a voice in the upcoming elections.” The Republican Majority Issues Committee is considered DeLay’s personal PAC, or political action committee; it is expected to funnel as much as $25 million into closely contested races between now and Election Day. Gallant says the organization will comply with the new law, but complains, “We are deeply concerned that Congress has placed the regulation of free speech in the hands of the tax collectors.” He then says: “We’re not going anywhere. You will have RMIC to amuse and delight you throughout the election cycle.” The Sierra Club’s own 527 organization, the Environmental Voter Education Campaign, says it will also comply “eagerly” with the new law, and will spend some $8 million supporting candidates who match the Sierra Club’s pro-environmental stance. “We will eagerly comply with the new law as soon as it takes effect,” says the Sierra Club’s Dan Weiss. “But it’s important to note that while we strongly support the passage of this reform, 527 money is just the tip of the soft-money iceberg. Real reform would mean banning all soft-money contributions to political parties.” Another 527 group affected by the new law is Citizens for Better Medicare, which has already spent $30 million supporting Republican candidates who oppose a government-run prescription drug benefit. Spokesman Dan Zielinski says the group may change or abandon its 527 status in light of the new law. “The coalition is not going away,” he says. “We will comply with whatever legal requirements are necessary. We’ll do whatever the lawyers say we have to do.” A much smaller 527, the Peace Voter Fund, a remnant of the peace movement of the 1970s and 80s, says it intends to engage in voter education and issue advocacy in about a dozen Congressional races. Executive director Van Gosse says the group will follow the new law and continue as before: “Disclosure of donors is not a major issue for us. So we’ll just say to donors in the future that they will be subject to federal disclosure requirements. It’s no biggie.” [New York Times, 6/30/2000; OMB Watch, 4/1/2002; Huffington Post, 9/28/2010]

Entity Tags: Karl Gallant, John McCain, Environmental Voter Education Campaign, Dan Zielinski, Dan Weiss, Citizens for Better Medicare, Van Gosse, US Senate, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, George W. Bush, Republican Majority Issues Committee, Republicans for Clean Air, Peace Voter Fund, Mike Castle, Mitch McConnell, Tom DeLay, Sierra Club, Sam Wyly, Russell D. Feingold

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance.Peter Lewis of Progressive Insurance. [Source: Forbes]Billionaire George Soros, a frequent contributor to Democratic and liberal causes, gives $23.7 million to a number of “527s,” politically active groups that operate independently of particular campaigns or candidates (see 2000 - 2005, March 2000 and After, and June 30, 2000). Peter Lewis, the CEO of Progressive Insurance, gives almost that much, with donations totaling $23.247 million. Their donations include:
bullet $16 million (Lewis) and $12,050,000 (Soros) to the Joint Victory Campaign 2004, an “umbrella” fundraising entity that distributes funds to two other major groups, America Coming Together (ACT) and The Media Fund.
bullet $7,500,000 (Soros) and $2,995,000 (Lewis) to America Coming Together.
bullet $2,500,000 (Soros) and $2,500,000 (Lewis) to MoveOn.org.
bullet $650,000 (Lewis) and $325,000 (Soros) to the Young Democrats of America.
bullet $485,000 (Lewis) to the Marijuana Policy Project.
bullet $325,000 (Soros) to Democrats 2000.
bullet $300,000 (Soros) to the Real Economy Group.
bullet $300,000 (Soros) to the Campaign for America’s Future.
bullet $250,000 (Soros) and $250,000 (Lewis) to Democracy for America.
bullet $250,000 (Soros) to Safer Together 04.
bullet $117,220 (Lewis) to Stonewall Democrats United.
bullet $100,000 (Lewis) to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
bullet $100,000 (Lewis) to the Sierra Club.
bullet $50,000 (Lewis) to PunkVoter.Inc. [Center for Responsive Politics, 2012; Discover the Secrets, 2012; Center for Responsive Politics, 6/11/2012; Center for Responsive Politics, 6/11/2012]

Entity Tags: George Soros, America Coming Together, Young Democrats of America, Democrats 2000, Democracy for America, Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Campaign for America’s Future, Stonewall Democrats United, The Media Fund, MoveOn (.org), Marijuana Policy Project, Sierra Club, Peter Lewis, Safer Together 04, PunkVoter.Inc., Joint Victory Campaign, Real Economy Group

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, an organization devoted to stricter campaign finance reform, writes an impassioned op-ed about the deleterious effects of unchecked corporate money pouring into elections as a result of the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). Wertheimer is also angry about the success of recent Republican efforts to block passage of the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required some accountability for corporate and union donors (see July 26-27, 2010). Wertheimer begins by tracing how drastically the landscape of campaign finance has changed: In 2000, when Congress passed legislation restricting the ability of so-called “527” groups to affect federal elections, the laws passed with heavy bipartisan support (see 2000 - 2005 and June 30, 2000). Only six Republican senators, including current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), voted against the legislation. Last week, when the Senate voted down the latest iteration of the DISCLOSE Act, McConnell led the Republican efforts against the bill, and all 38 GOP senators voted against it. (The latest version of the DISCLOSE Act failed to reach the Senate floor, as Democrats were unable to break a Republican filibuster against the bill.) Wertheimer writes, “Senate Republicans went from 89 percent support for campaign finance disclosure in 2000 to 100 percent opposition to campaign finance disclosure in 2010.” Wertheimer goes on to write: “Ten years after Congress passed campaign finance disclosure for 527 groups by overwhelming bipartisan votes, the campaign finance disclosure issue hasn’t changed nor has the national consensus in the country in favor of disclosure; the votes of Senate Republicans, however, have changed. In 2000, Senator McConnell was a lonely Senate Republican voice against campaign finance disclosure. In 2010, Senator McConnell had 38 Republican Senators voting in lockstep with him to block campaign finance disclosure and to deny citizens information they have a basic right to know.” [Huffington Post, 9/28/2010]

Entity Tags: Fred Wertheimer, Mitch McConnell, DISCLOSE Act of 2010

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

American Future Fund logo.American Future Fund logo. [Source: American Future Fund / Talking Points Memo]Three citizen watchdog and pro-campaign finance groups, the Center for Media and Democracy, Protect Our Elections, and Public Citizen, allege that the tax-exempt nonprofit group American Future Fund (AFF) is violating tax law by operating primarily as a political advocacy group. AFF was founded and is operated by Nick Ryan, a former campaign advisor for former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and former Representative Jim Nussle (R-IA), and the head of a political consulting firm, the Concordia Group. Ryan also founded a pro-Santorum “super PAC” called the Red, White and Blue Fund. State Senator Sandra Greiner (R-IA) and prominent Iowa Republican Allison Dorr Kleis serve as the organization’s directors. The group states that it advocates for “conservative and free market ideals.” The New York Times will later confirm that Bruce Rastetter, co-founder and CEO of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, a large ethanol company, provided the seed money for AFF in 2008. Investigations by the Center for Public Integrity will also show that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) contributed $300,000 to the organization in 2010. The group also received $2.44 million from another 501(c)4 group, the American Justice Partnership, which advocates for “tort reform,” and over $11 million from the Center to Protect Patients’ Rights, another 501(c)(4) organization. The Times will find that AFF-supported candidates win 76 percent of the time, making the group “one of the most effective outside spending groups of the 2010 election cycle.” The law allows 501(c)4 groups (see 2000 - 2005) such as AFF to operate without taxation or legal scrutiny as long as they spend the bulk of their resources on “further[ing] the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” and not political advocacy. Moreover, federal election law provides that if a group’s major purpose is electioneering and it spends at least $1,000 to influence elections, it must register as a political action committee (PAC). A New York Times analysis recently showed that AFF spent 56 percent of its television budget on political advertising, and so far has spent $8.8 million on television ad buys. Its ads attack Democratic candidates in Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, and West Virginia, and expressly tell voters to cast their ballots against these candidates. And the organization’s Web site says it exists to “target… liberal politicians.” The group says it plans to spend as much as $25 million on the 2010 elections. In a press release, Public Citizen says that AFF, “a conservative nonprofit group pouring money into the 2010 midterm elections, appears to be violating campaign finance law.” The three groups file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking it to decide whether AFF has violated the tax code. If so, AFF would be forced to re-register as a PAC and be subjected to more disclosure requirements, particular who donates to the organization and how much they donate. Craig Holman of Public Citizen says: “American Future Fund is pulling out the stops to ensure that Republicans are elected this November. That imposes on the group the legal duty to register with the FEC and disclose exactly who is funding all those expenditures.” Protect Our Elections spokesperson Kevin Zeese says: “In this first post-Citizens United (see January 21, 2010) election, corporations and their executives are testing the limits of the law and crossing over into illegality. They cross the line when they use nonprofit groups to urge people to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’ a specific candidate. Political committees violate the law when they accept anonymous contributions for their work. These violations of federal election and tax laws need to be challenged now; otherwise we will see even more anonymous corporate donations trying to illegally manipulate voters into voting against their own interests in future elections.” And Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy says: “Groups spending millions to attack Americans running for office should not be able to use their tax-free status to hide the truth about which fat cats are behind their ads. Voters have a right to know which corporations or millionaires are laundering their profits through nonprofits like the American Future Fund, whose main business seems to be electioneering. We have joined this complaint to demand that the law be enforced and the truth be told.” [Center for Media and Democracy, Protect Our Elections, and Public Citizen, 10/12/2010 pdf file; Public Citizen, 10/20/2010; Mother Jones, 1/28/2011; iWatch News, 6/21/2012] AFF will continue to operate as a 501(c)4 group in spite of the FEC complaint, and will continue to spend heavily on anti-Democratic ads, many of which will be proven to be false by organizations such as FactCheck (.org). More complaints will be filed against the organization, including a February 2011 IRS complaint by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). [iWatch News, 6/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Center to Protect Patients’ Rights, Red, White and Blue Fund, Center for Public Integrity, Bruce Rastetter, American Justice Partnership, American Future Fund, Allison Dorr Kleis, Public Citizen, Protect Our Elections, Sandra Greiner, Nick Ryan, Federal Election Commission, Kevin Zeese, Craig Holman, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Concordia Group, Center for Media and Democracy, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, New York Times, Lisa Graves

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A group of Democratic donors, shaken from the defeat the party suffered in the November midterm elections, meets in a Washington hotel to discuss how to counter the huge influx of corporate spending that helped defeat dozens of Democrats and give control of the US House of Representatives back to Republicans. Outside conservative groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Action Network (see Mid-October 2010), and American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS outspent Democratic groups by more than a two to one ratio. The donors are split on whether to try to emulate their opponents by raising as much money as possible from wealthy corporations and donors, or continuing down their traditional path of funding their campaign efforts via labor unions and organizations such as the Sierra Club. If they decide to pursue corporate cash, some argue, they will be viewed as hypocrites in light of Democrats’ almost-uniform opposition to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which “opened the floodgates” for unlimited corporate and labor donations (see January 21, 2010). One of the fundamental problems, Democrats note, is that while unions are allowed to contribute unlimited funds just as corporations do, unions, which traditionally support Democrats, are far less wealthy than their corporate counterparts. And despite record-breaking fundraising by the Obama presidential campaign in 2008, most corporations donate to Republicans. The donors are not expected to come up with simple answers as they begin to strategize for 2012, where Republicans are expected to raise and spend an unprecedented half-billion dollars trying to defeat President Obama. Moreover, the White House has sent decidedly mixed messages on the subject. During the 2008 race, the Obama campaign instructed an independent progressive “527” PAC, the Fund for America, to shut down its operations after it began releasing attack ads against Obama’s opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). The Obama campaign did not want independent organizations conducting their own operations, but wanted full control of the campaign message. And campaign leaders said they wanted to win with small individual contributions from ordinary citizens, not with massive corporate donations. The White House’s opposition to such outside funding continued through 2010, and as a result, corporate donations to Democratic-supporting groups were far outstripped by Republican donations. Since then, Obama’s top political advisor David Axelrod has indicated the White House would support liberal donors’ independent efforts to counter Republican political donations, but many Democratic donors still believe the Obama administration is not fully behind those efforts. A Democratic strategist who refuses to be identified says: “By and large, the political people in the Obama firmament really have disdain for outside groups. They think they whine and snivel and make all these demands and don’t produce very much.” Some liberal donors and organizations are ignoring the resistance from the White House and making their own plans, such as David Brock, the founder of Media Matters for America (MMFA), who is considering forming his own 527 (see 2000 - 2005) for 2012. Another Democratic activist, Joan Fitz-Gerald of the umbrella group America Votes, says Democrats cannot depend on the courts or Congress to rein in corporate spending, noting that Congressional Democrats failed to get the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance reform measure, to the floor of the Senate for a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). Fitz-Gerald says Democrats must adapt to the new political landscape or risk another trouncing in 2012. However, she recommends working through existing progressive organizations more than using hastily formed PACs and 527s funded by one or two wealthy sources. Unions and environmental groups have large, citizen-based funding sources, whereas Republican organizations are often funded by a small group of wealthy donors who bankroll numerous such organizations. Those organizations, she says, lack credibility with voters. The traditional grassroots-based organizations, she says, “are trusted messengers, whether they’re a union that someone belongs to or a group that people have been a member of for many years. At some point the American people, as they see these ads pushing this right-wing agenda, they’re going to ask: ‘Who are these people? What’s the goal of American Crossroads?’” But the funding garnered by the right made the difference in the 2010 elections, Democratic donors agree. Mike Palamuso of the League of Conservation Voters recalls, “For every $500,000 we spent, it felt like American Crossroads spent another $5 million.” Many agree with Democratic political strategist Harold Ickes, who says: “Is small money better? You bet. But we’re in a f_cking fight. And if you’re in a fistfight, then you’re in a fistfight, and you use all legal means available.” [Mother Jones, 11/15/2010]

Entity Tags: David Brock, American Action Network, America Votes, American Crossroads, David Axelrod, US House of Representatives, Sierra Club, Harold Ickes, Joan Fitz-Gerald, US Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads GPS, Mike Palamuso, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The progressive magazine Mother Jones reports on Congressional Democrats’ plans to curb the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, which allows unlimited contributions to campaign organizations by corporate and union donors (see January 21, 2010). Last year, Senate Republicans refused to allow a campaign finance reform bill, the DISCLOSE Act, to come to the floor for a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). Now Democratic leaders say they are considering filing challenges to the nonprofit tax statuses of many of the groups that were so influential in the 2010 elections. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) tells a Mother Jones reporter about the plan. According to Van Hollen, two of the groups they plan to target are Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network (AAN—see Mid-October 2010), headed by former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN). Together, the two groups spent over $43 million supporting conservative candidates and targeting Democrats, accounting for some 23 percent of all outside conservative spending between them. According to Van Hollen, “People are looking at different legal strategies through the courts because there’s emerging evidence that these groups have abused the rules.” Representative David Price (D-NC) agrees. “I think there are ample goals for challenging the way those groups have acted,” he says. Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio says in return, “Van Hollen is irresponsibly making claims on zero evidence whatsoever and this is extremely irresponsible for an elected official holding high office.” No one from AAN is willing to respond to the Mother Jones reporting. Both Crossroads GPS and AAN, like many other such groups, are organized under the IRS’s 501(c)4 tax status—tax-exempt, not-for-profit groups whose purpose under the IRS code is “primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” (see 2000 - 2005). The law allows such groups to engage in political advocacy, such as running ads for or against candidates, but such “electioneering” activities must not be those groups’ “primary activity.” As far as is known, Crossroads GPS and AAN have no other purpose except electioneering. 501(c) groups do not have to register as political action committees (PACs) and are allowed to conduct their business with very little outside scrutiny. However, if the Federal Election Commission or the IRS determine a group has violated the rules, that group would be forced to register as a PAC and disclose the sources of its funding. If the Democrats challenge the status of these groups, they would be following in the footsteps of private organizations. A coalition of public advocacy groups has filed complaints against Crossroads GPS and another 501(c)4 group, American Future Fund (AFF—see October 12, 2010), claiming that their primary functions are, according to the Crossroads GPS complaint, to “influence the 2010 federal elections and to elect Republicans to office.” The complaints are still pending. In September 2010, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) asked the IRS to examine several 501(c) groups to “ensure that political campaign activity” wasn’t their primary activity (see September 28, 2010). [Mother Jones, 1/28/2011]

Entity Tags: David E. Price, American Crossroads GPS, American Action Network, American Future Fund, DISCLOSE Act of 2010, Max Baucus, Norm Coleman, Jonathan Collegio, Karl C. Rove, Chris Van Hollen, Mother Jones, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog organization, finds that independent organizations supporting Republicans and Democrats are spending unprecedented amounts of money on supporting, or more often attacking, candidates for office. The huge rise in spending comes as a direct result of the Citizens United decision that allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign donations (see January 21, 2010). While organizations are spending huge amounts of money on both sides of the political divide, spending for conservative candidates outweighs spending on liberal candidates by an 8-1 margin. CRP’s analysis finds that the increased spending helped Republicans retake the US House of Representatives in 2010, and is having a long-term effect on the nation’s campaign and election systems. [Center for Responsive Politics, 5/5/2011; Think Progress, 5/6/2011]
Most Democratic Spending Comes from Unions - Labor unions gave over $17.3 million in independent expenditures opposing Republican candidates. The union contributing the most: the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), with over $7 million. The National Education Association (NEA) formed a “super PAC” (see March 26, 2010) that spent $3.3 million on election activities. Super PACs must disclose their donors and the amounts donated (see 2000 - 2005), but an array of groups under the 501(c) tax laws do not have to disclose that information (see September 28, 2010).
Corporations Spend Lavishly for Republicans - While corporations donated some money to Democratic causes, most of their money went to Republicans. Corporations gave over $15 million to super PACs such as American Crossroads, which supports an array of conservative candidates. CRP notes that conservative groups that do not have to disclose their donors spent $121 million, and corporations and wealthy individuals were the likely sources of almost all of that money.
Secret Donations on the Rise - In the 2006 elections, the percentage of spending from groups that do not disclose their donors was 1 percent. In 2010, it was 47 percent. “Nonprofit” organizations that can legally hide their donors and donations increased their spending from zero percent in 2006 to 42 percent in 2010. For the first time in over 20 years, outside interest groups outspent party committees, by $105 million. The amount of independent expenditure and electioneering communication spending by outside groups has gone up 400 percent since 2006. And 72 percent of political advertising spending by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006. [Center for Responsive Politics, 5/5/2011]

Entity Tags: American Crossroads, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, US House of Representatives, National Education Association, Center for Responsive Politics

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A mysterious company that donated $1 million to a political action committee (PAC) favoring presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) dissolves just months after its formation, leading some to speculate that its only purpose was to make political donations. The company, W Spann LLC, was formed on March 15, 2011 by Boston lawyer Cameron Casey, who specializes in estate tax planning—“wealth transfer strategies”—for “high net worth individuals,” according to corporate records and the lawyer’s biography on her firm’s Web site. Casey filed a “certificate of formation” with the Delaware Secretary of State’s office, but provided no information about the firm. The only address listed was that of a Wilmington, Delaware, registered agent service, Corporation Service Company, which provides such services for many companies. That firm refuses to discuss its clients. Spann’s address was listed as 590 Madison Avenue, New York City, a midtown Manhattan office building, but the building’s management firm, Minskoff Equities, shows no records of any such tenant. On April 28, W Spann LLC donated $1 million to Restore Our Future, a “super PAC” (see 2000 - 2005 and June 30, 2000) aligned with the Romney campaign (see June 23, 2011). Casey dissolves the company today, two weeks before Restore Our Future makes its first campaign filing of the year reporting the donation, by filing a “certificate of cancellation.” Lawrence Noble, the former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), says, “I don’t see how you can do this,” when asked about the donation. If the only purpose of Spann’s formation was to contribute to the pro-Romney group, “There is a real issue of it being just a subterfuge” and that could raise a “serious” legal issue, Noble says. At least, “[w]hat you have here is a roadmap for how people can hide their identities” when making political contributions. Casey will refuse to discuss the matter with the press, and her employer, the law firm Ropes & Gray, will say through a spokesman that it cannot comment. (Ropes & Gray has as a longtime client Bain Capital, the firm formerly headed by Romney. The law firm has its offices at 590 Madison.) Restore Our Future campaign treasurer Charles Spies, a former Romney campaign official, will also refuse to answer questions about Spann. He will say, “Restore Our Future has fully complied with, and will continue to comply with, all FEC disclosure requirements.” A Romney campaign official will later add, “Mitt Romney follows both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law in all circumstances.” Bain Capital spokesperson Alex Stanton says of W Spann: “Bain Capital has many employees who actively participate in civic affairs, and they individually support candidates from both parties. The firm takes no position on any candidate, and the entity in question is not affiliated with Bain Capital or any of our employees.” Critics say the Spann story shows how easily disclosure requirements are being avoided in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). “This is sham disclosure. It’s a barrier to disclosure,” says Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute. It is another example of how American political campaigns have gone “back to the future” and to the “pre-Watergate days” (of 1972) when Richard Nixon was raising unlimited amounts of money without disclosure, Malbin says. [MSNBC, 8/4/2011]

Entity Tags: Lawrence M. Noble, Bain Capital, Alex Stanton, Cameron Casey, Corporation Service Company, Restore Our Future, W Spann LLC, Michael Malbin, Minskoff Equities, Charles R. Spies, Ropes & Gray, Willard Mitt Romney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

The logo of InfoCision, the telemarketing firm that received much of the ASWF monies.The logo of InfoCision, the telemarketing firm that received much of the ASWF monies. [Source: InfoCision]Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) has apparently exploited a loophole in campaign finance law that has allowed him to build what McClatchy News calls “a political money machine that raised $54 million over five years,” according to McClatchy reports. Gingrich has used “a supposedly independent political committee that collected unlimited donations” to “finance… a coast-to-coast shadow campaign that raised his profile and provided a launch pad for his presidential run.” Critics call the ASWF issue another aftereffect of the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010).
$54 Million over 5 Years - The Gingrich-supporting PAC, “American Solutions for Winning the Future” (ASWF) was closed down in July 2011. Organized as a so-called “527 group” (see 2000 - 2005 and June 30, 2000), the tax-exempt, “nonprofit” organization raised $28.2 million in the two-year period ending December 31, 2010, the last period for which McClatchy has data. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that ASWF raised almost double the amount garnered by the next closest 527. The organization raised some $54 million throughout its existence, from 2006 to July 2011. McClatchy has learned some of the details behind ASWF and is now revealing them to the public. The organization provided at least $8 million to pay for the chartered luxury jets that Gingrich used to fly back and forth around the nation for public appearances and campaigning for president. The jet charters occurred during the 2008 and 2012 presidential primaries.
Largely Financed by Billionaire, Corporate Donations - ASWF has accepted enormous cash donations from billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino owner, who has emerged as Gingrich’s primary benefactor. Adelson has given $7.65 million to ASWF, including a million-dollar startup contribution in 2006. According to an Adelson spokesperson, “he and Speaker Gingrich go back a number of years.” Adelson is a prominent supporter and financier of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and like Gingrich holds far-right, aggressively territorial views about Israel. Gingrich has made provocative statements about Israel and the Palestinian people over the years, denying that the Palestinians are a separate people and declaring his support for Israel’s forced-settlement plans that have displaced many Palestinians. A Gingrich spokesman says Adelson and others merely gave to the organization because they agree with Gingrich’s views. Charlotte, North Carolina, real estate developer Fred Godley gave ASWF $1.1 million in 2007 and another $100,000 in 2009. Energy firms donated heavily to ASWF: Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal producer, and its chief lobbyist Fred Palmer gave ASWF $825,000. Arch Coal, the US’s second-largest coal company, gave $100,000. Oil and gas firm Devon Energy gave $400,000, as did American Electric Power Company and its CEO Michael Morris. Plains Exploration Company gave $200,000. The late Cincinnati billionaire Carl Lindner gave $690,000. Dallas real estate firm Crow Holdings gave $600,000. Minnesota broadcasting mogul Stanley Hubbard gave $385,000. Wisconsin businessman Terry Kohler gave $328,082. California businessman Fred Sacher gave $275,000. NASCAR president James France gave $264,000. Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus gave $250,000. Another Las Vegas casino owner, the late Frank Fertitta Jr., gave $250,000, along with his sons; together the three of them co-owned a casino and the Ultimate Fighting Championship sports league. Former CarMax and Circuit City chief Richard Sharp gave $150,000. Stock brokerage titan Charles Schwab gave $150,000. Cincinnati Reds owner Robert Castellini gave $146,000. Political science professor Larry Sabato says that in light of such enormous contributions, “there’s no way that any politician is going to deny you much of anything that you want.”
New Super PACs Supplanting ASWF - In place of ASWF, two new pro-Gingrich super PACs have formed to support Gingrich’s attempt to close the gap between himself and frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) in the Republican primary.
'Diabolical Scheme' to 'Circumvent' Campaign Finance Law - Campaign expert Lawrence Jacobs calls Gingrich’s use of ASWF “clever,” and adds, “Looking back, and now seeing Gingrich as the frontrunner… it’s an ingenious, diabolical scheme to circumvent what’s left of the campaign finance regime.” Jacobs says of the organization: “The money wasn’t used literally to finance a campaign for a particular office. It was used for a general, over-time campaign to keep Gingrich alive politically—an enormously luxurious campaign operation to sustain his political viability for the right time to jump into the presidential race. It’s no accident that he’s popped in in 2012.” Jacobs says ASWF operated “right on the line” of legality. Sabato says ASWF played a key role in resuscitating Gingrich’s flagging political career. His term as speaker of the House ended in scandal and resignation, and his high-profile divorces and profligate personal and campaign spending had led many to assume that Gingrich’s political career was over. But Sabato says Gingrich used ASWF to create what he calls a new kind of informal candidacy, one that shows the inherent weakness of campaign finance laws that are supposed to ensure “nobody could give so much money that they would become too influential, too powerful.” ASWF was always nominally independent, as required by law, but in 2009 Gingrich ousted its board of directors and took the title of general chairman. Gingrich never formed a formal exploratory committee before declaring his candidacy for president. McClatchy observes, “None of his Republican presidential rivals, nor any other federal candidate for that matter, is known to have operated such a committee before formally declaring his or her candidacy.” Gingrich spokesperson R.C. Hammon says Gingrich did not begin considering a presidential campaign until April 2011, and all of his committee activities were “legitimate.” Hammond says: “The purpose of American Solutions was to advance an agenda of free enterprise and tri-partisan solutions. Those were the activities he was undertaking.” ASWF is just one of a network of political entities that Gingrich has created over the last 10 years. He has managed to enrich himself by charging lucrative fees for speeches, consulting for undisclosed health care industry firms, and selling historical documentaries and books. After the group was formed in the fall of 2006, Gingrich sent a letter to potential backers calling it a unique organization “designed to rise above traditional gridlocked partisanship” and to develop “breakthrough solutions to the most important issues facing this country.” Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman who served on ASWF’s board for two years, says the group “certainly helped build his path back into political prominence.” He adds, “They basically sent Newt around the country promoting American Solutions.” Weber is now supporting Romney for the presidency. He says that ASWF had “not gotten really up to speed in terms of programming” when he received a call, apparently in 2008, advising him that the board was being abolished. Gingrich then took over as the group’s general chairman.
Relatively Little Spent on Campaign Initiatives, Most Spent on Raising More Money - ASWF proposed a number of campaign and advertising initiatives that would appeal to conservative donors, including:
bullet a “Drill Now!” movement aimed at increasing US oil exploration;
bullet attempts to rally opposition to President Obama’s health care reform efforts;
bullet a campaign to fight climate change legislation that would call for reduced carbon emissions by industrial concerns.
But of $37.9 million raised from 2006 through 2009, the committee spent just $7.2 million on programs, according to its filings with the Internal Revenue Service. Most of the ASWF money was spent on telemarketers and direct-mail appeals to develop a loyal pool of wealthy contributors. InfoCision, an Ohio telemarketing firm that specializes in building lists of “small” donors, was paid some $30 million over the course of the organization’s existence, exhausting much of the money contributed. $17 million of that money was used to finance Gingrich’s travel. [McClatchy News, 12/19/2011; Think Progress, 12/19/2011]

Entity Tags: Bernie Marcus, Benjamin Netanyahu, Richard Sharp, R.C. Hammon, Plains Exploration Company, Sheldon Adelson, Stanley Hubbard, Terry Kohler, Vin Weber, American Electric Power Company, Barack Obama, American Solutions for Winning the Future, Willard Mitt Romney, Arch Coal, Newt Gingrich, Robert Castellini, McClatchy News, Michael Morris, Crow Holdings, Charles Schwab, Center for Responsive Politics, Carl Lindner, Devon Energy, Frank Fertitta Jr., Peabody Energy, Fred Palmer, Internal Revenue Service, InfoCision, James France, Fred Sacher, Larry J. Sabato, Fred Godley, Lawrence Jacobs

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Author and political science professor Richard Hasen provides data showing that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) is directly responsible for a huge rise in corporate “outside” spending on behalf of political campaigns. Recent arguments in defense of the decision have said that “super PACs,” the “independent” political entities that take corporate, labor union, and individual donations for the purpose of making television ads in support of, or opposition to, a particular candidate or party (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, November 23, 2011, January 4, 2012, January 4, 2012, and February 20, 2012) were not created by the Court’s decision, and therefore Citizens United cannot be held responsible for the enormous surge in spending since the decision was rendered. The arguments equate older “527” organizations (see 2000 - 2005, March 2000 and After, and June 30, 2000) and the enormous donations made on their behalf (see January - November 2004) with the activities of super PACs after the Citizens United decision. “The purpose of the drumbeat appears to be to insulate the Supreme Court from further criticism of the Frankenstein’s monster they’ve created,” Hasen writes. He shows that the two types of organizations—527s and super PACs—are quite different. “It is true that before Citizens United people could spend unlimited sums on independent advertising directly supporting or opposing candidates,” Hasen explains. “But that money had to be spent by the individual directly. It could not be given to a political action committee, which had an individual contribution cap of $5,000 and could not take corporate or union funding. In many cases, wealthy individuals did not want to spend their own money on advertising, which would say, ‘Paid for by Sheldon Adelson’ or ‘Paid for by George Soros,’ so fewer of these ads were made. The only way to avoid having your name plastered across every ad was to give to the 527s, which claimed they could take unlimited money from individuals (including, sometimes, corporate and labor union money) on grounds that they were not PACs under the FEC’s definition of PACs. These organizations were somewhat successful, but a legal cloud always hung over them.” After Citizens United, courts and the Federal Election Commission ruled that super PACs could collect unlimited sums from corporations, unions, and individuals for unlimited independent spending. Hasen writes: “The theory was that, per Citizens United, if independent spending cannot corrupt, then contributions to fund independent spending cannot corrupt either. (I am quite critical of this theory about corruption, but that’s besides the point here.) So what was once of questionable legality before the court’s decision was fully blessed after Citizens United.” Using data from the Center for Responsive Politics and its OpenSecrets (.org) Web site, Hasen compares spending during presidential election years.
bullet 1992: Wealthy individuals, organizations, and corporations are allowed to spend unlimited sums (see January 30, 1976). Outside spending in that campaign, up through early March 1992, was about $1.5 million.
bullet 2000: The law remains essentially unchanged. By March 2000, outside spending was around $2.6 million.
bullet 2004: With the advent of “527” groups, by March 2004, outside spending rose to $14 million.
bullet 2008: Under similar conditions as 2004, by March 2008, outside spending rose to $37.5 million.
bullet 2012: In the first presidential campaign year after the Citizens United decision, spending as of early March 2012 is over $88 million.
2012 outside spending is at 234 percent of 2008 spending, and 628 percent of 2004 outside spending. Hasen writes, “If this was not caused by Citizens United, we have a mighty big coincidence on our hands.” Hasen expects outside spending to rise dramatically once the Republican primary is concluded and the presumptive Republican nominee begins campaigning against President Obama. “Wait until the super PACs and other organizations start raising their unlimited sums for the general election,” Hasen warns. “Further, lots of groups are now using 501(c) organizations rather than super PACs for their campaign spending, in an effort to hide their donors.” Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that during the 2010 midterm elections, spending from groups that used the law to hide their donors rose from 1 percent in 2006 to 47 percent. Moreover, “501(c) non-profit spending increased from 0 percent of total spending by outside groups in 2006 to 42 percent in 2010.” And 72 percent “of political advertising spending by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006.” The record-breaking spending in the 2008 presidential election—$301 million—was eclipsed in the first post-Citizens United election, the 2010 midterms, when corporate and other outside spending topped out at $304.6 million. Hasen writes: “It was an incredible number for a midterm election season. Why did that happen? Citizens United was decided early in 2010.” [Slate, 3/9/2012]

Entity Tags: Sheldon Adelson, Federal Election Commission, Center for Responsive Politics, Barack Obama, George Soros, US Supreme Court, Richard L. Hasen

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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