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Profile: Priorities USA Action
Priorities USA Action was a participant or observer in the following events:
A new “super PAC” aligned with presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) is being formed by a group of Romney backers and former Romney campaign aides, according to a report by the Washington Post. Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization.
Restore Our Future - The Romney super PAC, “Restore Our Future” (ROF), is one of a number of such organizations created in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010). Restore Our Future is apparently the first super PAC to form specifically in support of one of the 2012 presidential contenders, with the sole exception of Priorities USA Action, a super PAC in support of President Obama. ROF treasurer Charles R. Spies, who served as Romney’s general counsel in his 2008 presidential effort, refuses to disclose how much the organization has raised, or who is donating. Spies merely says: “This is an independent effort focused on getting Romney elected president. We will do that by focusing on jobs and his ability to fix the economy.” A Romney campaign aide says that a Federal Election Commission (FEC) filing coming up in July will show the organization having raised some $20 million. A major Romney donor who refuses to allow his identity to be revealed says, “We just want to show that we’ve got more dough than anyone.” The Romney campaign’s communication director, Gail Gitcho, says the campaign welcomes any outside support, and points to the Obama campaign as the largest fundraiser in the race, saying, “We are pleased that independent groups will be active in fighting this entrenched power [the Obama campaign] so the country can get back to work.”
Leaders of ROF - Members of the ROF board of directors include Spies; Carl Forti, political director for Romney’s 2008 campaign; and Larry McCarthy, a member of the Romney media team in 2008. Forti is the co-founder of the Black Rock Group consulting firm and the political director of American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC expected to raise over $120 million for candidates in 2012. Neither Forti nor American Crossroads will discuss the role played by Forti in both organizations. ROF actually registered itself with the FEC in October 2010, but has remained unaffiliated and essentially dormant until recent weeks. Now ROF officials are briefing top donors about the organization’s plans and fundraising goals. Former Obama spokesman Bill Burton, the head of Priorities USA Action, says: “I’m not surprised that there’s even more money coming into this race to help Mitt Romney. He’s a pretty deeply flawed candidate; he’s going to need all the help he can get.” Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics says of the super PACs: “The outside groups are akin to the biggest booster club you can imagine for a college football team. The club can’t give cars or gifts to the players, but they can do everything else possible to support them.… It’s a brand-new way to play politics.” [Washington Post, 6/23/2011] The Post fails to note many of the details about ROF’s senior officials. According to the Public Campaign Action Fund, Spies is not only a lawyer and a consultant, but a registered lobbyist for Clark Hill PLC, representing a chain of luxury casinos. ROF’s address as listed on its FEC filings is the same as Clark Hill’s Washington, DC, office. The Action Fund observes, referring to the Republican primary and the number of wealthy donors lined up behind each major candidate, “While [ROF] officially can’t coordinate with the Romney campaign, having lobbyists on your side is definitely a good way to boost one’s standing in the so-called ‘wealth primary.’” [Public Campaign Action Fund, 6/23/2011] The liberal news Web site Think Progress will soon note that McCarthy is a veteran advertising creator for Republican candidates, and was one of the strongest creative forces behind the infamous 1988 “Willie Horton” ad, which many considered to be extraordinarily racist (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). In 2010, McCarthy served as a media strategist for the American Future Fund, which launched attack ads attempting to link Democrats to the Park 51 community center in Manhattan, deemed by conservatives as the “Ground Zero Victory Mosque” and mischaracterized as a monument celebrating the 9/11 attacks. Those ads were decried by many as being bigoted against Muslims. McCarthy has brushed off criticism of his ads, and said the fact-checking organizations that found his ads to be flawed suffered from a pro-Democratic bias. Think Progress reporter Lee Fang will write that when he tried to find the American Future Fund office in Iowa, the address listed for the group turned out to be a UPS mailbox in a strip mall near an airport. Fang will write, “With a record of such secrecy and racist, anything-goes campaign tactics, one can expect Romney’s new outside group to be just as ugly in the presidential race.” [Politico, 10/29/2010; Think Progress, 6/27/2011]
Entity Tags: Charles R. Spies, Washington Post, Willard Mitt Romney, Carl Forti, American Future Fund, American Crossroads, 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, US Supreme Court, Bill Burton, Think Progress (.org), Public Campaign Action Fund, Larry McCarthy, Gail Gitcho, Federal Election Commission, Dave Levinthal, Lee Fang, Restore Our Future, Priorities USA Action, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012)
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
A dozen wealthy donors have contributed over half of the money collected by so-called “super PACs” in the first half of 2011, according to an analysis by USA Today. Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization.
Majority of Donors Republican Contributors - The majority of those donors are contributing to Republican/conservative organizations, and overall, Republican organizations are outraising Democratic organizations by a 2-1 margin. American Crossroads, the organization formed by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove, has collected $2 million from billionaire Jerry Perenchio, another million from billionaire Robert B. Rowling, and $500,000 from Texas real estate billionaire Bob Perry. The super PAC supporting the Obama reelection campaign, Priorities USA Action, founded by former Obama spokesperson Bill Burton, has collected $2 million from Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, and $500,000 each from media owner Fred Eychaner and from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA), Restore Our Future (see June 23, 2011), has received million-dollar donations from hedge fund manager John Paulson, Utah firms Eli Publishing and F8 LLC, and the shadowy W Spann LLC (see July 12, 2011). It has also received half a million each from Perry, financiers Louis Moore Bacon and Paul Edgerly, Edgerly’s wife Sandra Edgerly, New Balance Athletic Shoes executive James S. Davis, J.W. Marriott of the hotel chain Marriott International, and Richard Marriott of Host Hotels and Resorts. Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center says: “The super PACs are for the wealthy, by the wealthy, and of the wealthy. You’re setting up a dynamic where the candidates could become bit players in their own campaigns,” particularly in less-expensive races for the House of Representatives. Katzenberg says his donation to the Obama-supporting super PAC was because of the increasing dominance of “Republican extremists” in national elections: “The stakes are too high for us to simply allow the extremism of a small but well-funded right wing minority to go unchallenged.” Charles Spies, the treasurer of Restore Our Future and Romney’s former general counsel, refuses to discuss donors, but says, “Donors recognize Mitt Romney is the most experienced and qualified candidate to challenge President Obama’s record of out-of-control, big government spending.” One donation drawing scrutiny is a $193,000 donation to the presidential campaign of Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) from a group called Americans for Rick Perry. The primary funder of that group is Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who gave $100,000 to the group 10 days after Perry signed legislation allowing Simmons’s company to accept low-level radioactive waste from other states at its West Texas facility. A Perry spokesman denies any coordination between Simmons and his campaign, and says Perry has not even decided whether to run for president. Simmons helped fund the 2004 group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which launched a powerful campaign that smeared then-presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) and his Vietnam War record. American Crossroads has reported raising $3.9 million during the first six months of 2011. Its affiliate, Crossroads GPS, has spent $19 million on anti-Democrat advertising so far. That group does not have to report its donors or the amounts it receives. [USA Today, 8/4/2011]
'Recipe for Corruption - Legal expert Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress comments: “It’s tough to imagine a surer recipe for corruption. Although super PAC’s are prohibited from giving money directly to candidates—one of the few remaining campaign finance laws that wasn’t eviscerated by Citizens United and similar cases (see January 21, 2010)—it’s not like a presidential candidate isn’t perfectly capable of finding out which billionaires funded the shadowy groups that supported their campaign. Moreover, if just a handful of people are responsible for the bulk of these donations, a newly elected president will have no problem figuring out who to lavish favors on once they enter the White House.” [Think Progress, 8/4/2011]
Entity Tags: Charles R. Spies, Robert B. Rowling, Richard Marriott, Bobby Jack Perry, Sandra Edgerly, Service Employees International Union, USA Today, W Spann LLC, A. Jerrold Perenchio, American Crossroads, American Crossroads GPS, Priorities USA Action, Paul Edgerly, Restore Our Future, Bill Burton, Harold Simmons, Meredith McGehee, Fred Eychaner, Eli Publishing, F8 LLC, Ian Millhiser, Louis Moore Bacon, James S. Davis, John Paulson, Karl C. Rove, James Richard (“Rick”) Perry, Jeffrey Katzenberg, J. W. (“Bill”) Marriott
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus sharply criticizes the actions of so-called “super PACs.” Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization. A mere 12 donors, including several corporations, one union, and a number of billionaires, made up over half of the donations given to super PACs in the first half of 2011, and Republican super PACs have outraised Democratic super PACs by more than a 2-1 margin (see August 4, 2011). Marcus writes that the presidential election is already devolving into an affair “without meaningful contribution limits or timely disclosure, outsourced to political action committees whose spending often dwarfs that of the candidates they support.” The PACs and super PACs rarely obey the law and operate independently of the candidates they support. The Republican primary season demonstrates just how powerful they are: the super PAC supporting presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA), “Restore Our Future,” has spent $4 million attacking Republican candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA). The veneer of independence for Restore Our Future is thin: it is run by former Romney political director Carl Forti, its treasurer Charles Spies was Romney’s general counsel, its head fundraiser Steve Roche used to head the Romney 2012 finance team, and Romney has spoken at Restore Our Future events (see June 23, 2011). However, Marcus notes, “up-to-date information about who is bankrolling this effort will not be available until the end of January, by which point four states will have voted and Romney may have the nomination wrapped up.” Restore Our Future was last required to report its donors to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in July 2011, when it reported raising $12 million. Gingrich’s own super PAC, “Winning Our Future,” is primarily funded by billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, and their fellow Republican candidate Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) has the super PAC “Make Us Great Again.” Long-shot Republican candidate Jon Huntsman’s super PAC, “Our Destiny,” is reportedly funded primarily by Huntsman’s wealthy father. And President Obama’s super PAC, “Priorities USA Action,” has launched anti-Romney ads. Marcus writes, “The rise of these groups erodes the twin pillars of a functional campaign finance system: limits on the size of contributions and timely information about who is writing the checks.” Her concerns are echoed by veteran campaign finance reformer Fred Wertheimer, who recently said: “The establishment of the candidate-specific super PAC is a vehicle to completely destroy candidate contribution limits. It is a vehicle that will spread to Congress and it will lead us back to a system of pure legalized bribery, because you will be back, pre-Watergate, to unlimited contributions that are going for all practical purposes directly to candidates.” For now, super PACs, with their supposed independence, are free to air advertisements attacking opposing candidates while the candidate they support, Marcus writes, “gets to remain above the fray, not required to appear on camera to say that he or she approved this message.” FEC official Ellen Weintraub tells Marcus, “I view the super PAC as the evil twin of the candidate’s campaign committee.” Referring to the legal limit of $2,500 for donations to candidates from individual or corporate donors, Weintraub says, “How can it possibly be true that to give more than $2,500 to a candidate is potentially corrupting but to give millions to an outside group that is acting on the candidate’s behalf is not?” Marcus concludes by saying that “dangerous” super PACs will only increase their influence as the presidential campaign season continues. [Washington Post, 1/3/2012]
Entity Tags: Fred Wertheimer, Willard Mitt Romney, Winning Our Future, Charles R. Spies, Carl Forti, Barack Obama, Washington Post, Federal Election Commission, Steve Roche, Ruth Marcus, Make Us Great Again, Jon Huntsman, James Richard (“Rick”) Perry, Newt Gingrich, Priorities USA Action, Ellen L. Weintraub, Our Destiny, Sheldon Adelson, Restore Our Future
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
The news Web site Politico reports that many Democrats are worried that the “flat-out” opposition of President Obama to super PACs, including the one supporting his re-election, will cripple the Obama campaign’s re-election campaign for 2012, especially in the face of enormous corporate donations for Republican-supporting super PACs. The super PAC that supports Obama, Priorities USA Action, has been in operation since 2011, but has so far raised relatively little—around $5 million—in comparison to Republican super PACs and other such organizations. The super PAC supporting Republican contender Mitt Romney (R-MA), Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011 and July 12, 2011), has raised $12 million so far, and other groups such as American Crossroads and its “nonprofit” affiliate, Crossroads GPS, have raised far more. Former South Carolina Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian, a member of the Obama campaign’s national finance committee, says: “I don’t think the president is just ambivalent about his super PAC. He’s flat-out opposed to it.… I was at the national finance committee in Chicago, and these are the people with these connections, and nobody was talking, even behind the scenes, about writing checks to the super PAC. That’s a problem. We didn’t make the rules. The president has called out the Supreme Court on Citizens United to their faces (see January 21, 2010, January 24, 2010, and January 27-29, 2010).… But it’s the state of play now, and we have to look at what Romney’s PAC did to [Republican primary challenger Newt Gingrich] in Iowa (see January 3, 2012). It’s dangerous. We can’t unilaterally disarm.” So far, Obama’s campaign has pledged that neither Obama nor his top aides will raise money for super PACs, but the campaign says it realizes the magnitude of the threat posed by the wide-open fundraising from the GOP. In a concession, Obama’s senior campaign staff will allow their top bundlers to ask wealthy contributors for donations to Priorities USA Action. Vice President Joseph Biden has already spoken before a meeting of major donors in November 2011, hours after those donors heard fundraising pitches from Priorities USA Action and other Democratic groups. Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who is helping the Obama campaign reach out to donors, says: “Super PACs are like guns. In the right hands, a gun is useful, essential for defending your country and perfectly acceptable. In the wrong hands, they kill people.… My goal is to make sure the president doesn’t get outgunned.” Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod says of the organizations lining up behind Romney: “They’re talking upwards of half a billion dollars in negative ads aimed at the president from interest groups who don’t disclose and who can raise unlimited amounts of money. That is a very, very concerning thing to me.” [Politico, 1/18/2012]
Entity Tags: David Axelrod, American Crossroads, 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, Willard Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Restore Our Future, Politico, Dick Harpootlian, Joseph Biden, Priorities USA Action, Newt Gingrich, American Crossroads GPS, Paul Begala
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
The Obama campaign reverses its previous policy and begins asking major contributors to donate to a super PAC, Priorities USA, that supports President Obama’s re-election. Previously, the Obama campaign, and Obama himself, had been reluctant to ask for donations for the PAC. Since 2010, Democrats have been worried about the effect of the Republican super PACs on the presidential campaign as well as Congressional and even state and local races, but have been divided on how to respond to the flood of money in support of their Republican opponents (see August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 24, 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, Mid-November 2010, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, and January 6, 2012). Obama campaign spokesman Jim Messina says that Republican-supporting super PACs are collectively expected to spend “half a billion dollars, above and beyond what the Republican nominee and party are expected to commit to try to defeat the president. With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.… We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back.” Messina also says that Obama is strongly against such campaign finance practices, and supports strong action “by constitutional amendment, if necessary” to once again restrict campaign donations from the wealthy. (In January 2012, Politico reported that Obama was completely opposed to the idea of super PACs, including his own—see January 18, 2012.) Joe Pounder of the Republican National Committee issues a statement harshly critical of the decision, which reads in part, “Yet again, Barack Obama has proven he will literally do anything to win an election, including changing positions on the type of campaign spending he called nothing short of ‘a threat to our democracy.’” So far, super PACs supporting Republican candidates have raised over $50 million, putting the Obama campaign at a distinct disadvantage. New York Democratic fundraiser Robert Zimmerman observes: “It’s hard to pass the plate for super PAC money while Democratic leaders have been preaching about the sins of it. But the reality is, it is essential in 2012.” Campaign and White House officials will appear at fundraisers for Priorities USA, though neither the president nor the first lady will make such appearances. Super PACs, created by the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and a lower court decision in the wake of that ruling (see March 26, 2010), have come to dominate US election activities, particularly in the area of television, radio, and print advertising. Shortly after the Citizens United decision, Obama criticized it during his State of the Union address, saying: “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems” (see January 27-29, 2010). However, Congress has been unable to rein in the super PACs, with the most visible effort, Congressional Democrats’ DISCLOSE Act, being successfully filibustered by Senate Republicans (see July 26-27, 2010). CBS News political expert John Dickerson says the Obama campaign has no choice but to emulate the Republicans: “What the Obama camp saw is these fundraising numbers from last year. The Republicans were able to raise so much money. They also saw what Romney was able to do to Newt Gingrich in Florida, just absolutely bury him under ads, and they started to worry about what this was going to mean for the president in the general election.” Dickerson says that with the public perception of Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) being so negative, the ads in support of Romney will undoubtedly be quite negative against Obama. Dickerson expects the Obama campaign to retaliate in kind, saying: “Some of the things that Romney had to do to combat those [primary] attacks, he had to get a little bit more negative, seem a little bit more unpleasant as a candidate.… That’s another reason why [Obama] had to make this decision on super PACs: that this is going to be ugly, it’s going to be on the airwaves, and they need to be able to compete.” [New York Times, 2/6/2012; CBS News, 2/7/2012] The Obama campaign’s announcement comes on the same day as news that the Romney campaign has benefited from $1.22 million in funding from oil, gas, and coal corporations (see February 6, 2012).
Almost a quarter of the millions donated to super PACs so far during the campaign season comes from just five donors, a USA Today analysis shows. Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization. In August 2011, a USA Today analysis showed that a dozen wealthy individuals and corporations contributed over half of the money given to super PACs (see August 4, 2011). Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has called the influence of the supposedly independent organizations corrosively corrupting and extraordinarily dangerous, and correctly predicted that their influence would increase as the campaign season wears on (see January 3, 2012). Four of those donors are:
Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons, who financed the 2004 “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign that vilified presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), has given $12 million to the Republican super PAC “American Crossroads” and $2.2 million to super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates;
Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who with his wife Miriam has given $10 million to “Winning the Future,” the super PAC supporting Republican candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012), and who says he is willing to donate up to $100 million more to keep Gingrich in the race (see February 21, 2012);
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who has given $2.6 million to “Endorse Liberty,” a super PAC backing Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and his presidential campaign;
Houston real estate developer Bob Perry, who has given $3.6 million to super PACs, including $2.5 million to American Crossroads. Perry formerly backed Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) and former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) in the presidential primaries, but has now shifted his allegiance to frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA).
Republican organizations have vastly outraised their Democratic counterparts, though so far much of the money spent by Republican organizations has been to attack Republican presidential candidates during the primary campaigns. Indeed, some political observers say that Romney would have secured the nomination long ago if not for the billionaires supporting other Republican candidates. “Without the flow of super PAC money, the Republican race would be over,” says campaign finance expert Anthony Corrado. “Super PACs have become a vehicle for a very small number of millionaires and billionaires who are willing to spend large sums in pursuit of their political agenda.” Political scientist Cal Jillson says of the billionaires contributing these huge sums: “They are extremely wealthy people who put their resources behind their vision of the appropriate relationship between the government and the private sector. That vision is low taxes, small government, and personal responsibility.” The super PAC working on behalf of President Obama, “Priorities USA,” collected $2 million in late 2011 from Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, but since then has raised relatively paltry amounts in comparison to its Republican counterparts. It raised a mere $59,000 in January 2012, most of that made up of a $50,000 contribution from John Rogers, CEO of Arial Investments and a close friend of Obama. [USA Today, 2/21/2012] The USA Today analysis is congruent with a recent analysis by Robert Reich, the former Treasury Secretary under President Clinton (see February 21, 2012).
Entity Tags: Cal Jillson, Sheldon Adelson, Bobby Jack Perry, USA Today, Willard Mitt Romney, Anthony J. Corrado Jr., American Crossroads, Ruth Marcus, Barack Obama, Tim Pawlenty, Peter Thiel, James Richard (“Rick”) Perry, Harold Simmons, Endorse Liberty, Priorities USA Action, Ron Paul, John Kerry, John Rogers, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Newt Gingrich, Miriam Adelson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
The liberal news Web site Think Progress cites the two-year anniversary of the SpeechNow.org v. Federal Elections Commission ruling (see March 26, 2010), which allowed the creation of “super PACs,” or “independent expenditure” organizations. Think Progress writes, “Combined with the unlimited corporate expenditures enabled by the Supreme Court’s earlier Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), this case brought the campaign finance system to where it is now: more than $80 million spent already this cycle by super PACs and more than two-thirds of their funding coming from just 46 rich donors.” $67 million of the $80 million spent so far comes from 46 extraordinarily wealthy citizens. Almost all of them are owners and/or senior executives of oil and energy companies, hoteliers, and financial executives. Almost all are white and male. And almost all of them contribute to conservative and Republican-supporting groups (see February 21, 2012). John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity says, “We’re looking at a singularly weird phenomenon.” The super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA), himself a former financial services CEO, is primarily funded by Wall Street executives, mostly private equity and hedge fund executives. One major Romney contributor, hedge fund manager John Paulson, has contributed $1 million. Paulson made enormous profits in 2008 by investing funds in ventures based on the mortgage industry collapse. Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics says, “The financial sector is one where there’s a lot of money, and it’s a sector with which Romney is very familiar, so it’s not surprising that it would be a big source of contributions.” Other Republican candidates such as Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Ron Paul (R-TX) also garner big contributions from billionaires. Gingrich is primarily funded by casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who makes much of his money in Las Vegas and China’s Macau. Paul has the backing of billionaire Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and Santorum is primarily supported by billionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012)—arguably all three candidates’ campaigns are being supported by single donors who decide whether their campaigns will continue by virtue of granting or withholding donations. Attorney Paul S. Ryan of Campaign Legal Center says: “We’ve had a small group of donors maintain the viability of certain candidates. It’s an Alice in Wonderland situation. It defies logic.… American elections are funded by a very narrow range of special interests, and that has the effect of making our democracy look a lot more like a plutocracy.” Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says it is sometimes difficult to discern the motivations behind billionaires’ funding of certain candidates, but billionaire Harold Simmons, who made his fortune in leveraged buyouts and corporate takeovers, says he is funding conservative super PACs because President Obama is a “socialist.” The Wall Street Journal has noted that Simmons and others like him would profit greatly if their industries were less regulated by government agencies. If Republicans do well in the November elections, Simmons told the Journal that “we can block that crap [regulations].” Conservative super PACs are far outstripping the super PAC backing the Obama re-election campaign as well as other Democrats running for office. Mann says, “The pool of billionaires who can throw tens of millions into the game—and are inclined to do so—is concentrated on the right.” Obama has so far been reluctant to get involved in his super PAC’s fundraising activities, but recent statements by his campaign indicate that White House aides will try to help Priorities USA Action, the Obama super PAC, raise more money in the near future. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina says the Obama campaign is in danger of being overwhelmed by the fundraising from conservative billionaires. CNN states that the most notable effect of super PAC funding might not be on the presidential race, but on “downticket” races for Congress. Much smaller outlays of super PAC money can have extraordinary impacts on such races. Dunbar says, “An individual donor and a super PAC could go off to some district in Kentucky and just completely destroy some candidate because he doesn’t favor what’s good for your business.” [Think Progress, 3/26/2012; CNN, 3/26/2012; Huffington Post, 6/16/2012]
Entity Tags: Jim Messina, Harold Simmons, Viveca Novak, Wall Street Journal, Willard Mitt Romney, CNN, Barack Obama, Thomas Mann, Think Progress (.org), US Supreme Court, Foster Friess, Newt Gingrich, John Paulson, John Dunbar, Sheldon Adelson, Ron Paul, Paul S. Ryan, Rick Santorum, Priorities USA Action, Peter Thiel
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
A screenshot from an ad attacking Mitt Romney, sponsored by a super PAC on behalf of Newt Gingrich. [Source: Think Progress]The Wesleyan Media Project (WMP), a nonpartisan political analysis group working out of Connecticut’s Wesleyan University, finds that negative political advertising has become the mainstay of political broadcast advertising in the 2012 presidential campaign. Only about 8 percent of ads in the 2008 presidential campaign could be considered negative, the WMP writes, but in 2012, 70 percent of ads are negative. (The WMP defines negative as “mentioning an opponent.”) Erika Franklin Fowler, the WMP’s co-director, says: “One reason the campaign has been so negative is the skyrocketing involvement of interest groups, who have increased their activity by 1,100 percent over four years ago. But we cannot attribute the negativity solely to outside groups. Even the candidates’ own campaigns have taken a dramatic negative turn.” Interest-group advertising, i.e. ads financed by “independent” third-party organizations that support one candidate or another, were 75 percent positive in 2008, but only 14 percent positive in 2012. In 2008, ads financed directly by candidate campaigns were 9 percent negative, but this year are 53 percent negative.
Huge Spike in Third-Party Advertising from 2008 - Almost two-thirds of the ads aired in 2012 are paid for by “third party” organizations such as super PACs and “nonprofit” groups. Super PACs alone have financed 60 percent of the ads during this cycle; that figure for 2008 was 8 percent. The WMP writes: “An estimated $112M [million] has been spent to date on 207,000 ads compared to $190M spent on just under 300,000 ads in 2008. Much of this decline in spending and ad volume is due to the lack of a nomination contest on the Democratic side this year.” The project refers to the Republican presidential primary, which is featuring massive spending on behalf of candidates by third-party organizations. “Such levels of outside group involvement in a presidential primary campaign are unprecedented,” according to co-director Travis Ridout. “This is truly historic. To see 60 percent of all ads in the race to-date sponsored by non-candidates is eye-popping.” One of the most prominent organizations, the nonprofit Crossroads GPS (see April 13-20, 2012), has already aired some 17,000 ads, mostly attacking President Obama. Those ads are joined by commercials paid for by another conservative advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, and November 2009), which has aired some 7,000 ads. The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have combined to air some 20,342 ads. WMP data shows that 33,420 anti-Obama, pro-Republican spots have aired as opposed to 25,516 anti-Republican, pro-Obama ads.
Most Ads Paid for by Anonymous Donations - Unlike the majority of the ads that aired in the primary election, most of the ads airing for the general election have “come from groups that do not need to disclose their donors,” according to WMP co-founder Michael M. Franz. “That’s a lot of money and airtime backed by undisclosed sources.” Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Jon Huntsman (R-UT), Mitt Romney (R-MA), and Rick Santorum (R-PA) were very reliant on super PAC advertising, with Ron Paul (R-TX) less so. About 20 percent of ads aired on Obama’s behalf have come from his super PAC, Priorities USA Action, though the DNC has aired a number of ads on behalf of Obama. Priorities USA Action is answering negative ads from Crossroads GPS with its own advertising, mainly in “battleground” states such as Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, and Nevada. Ridout says: “Early general election spending reveals that both parties are focused on markets in the same key battleground states. The past couple of weeks, Obama and his super PAC have been on the air in a few more markets than Crossroads GPS, but both sides have focused their advertising in markets in Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, and Ohio.” Groups such as the conservative Club for Growth, the American Action Network (AAN—see Mid-October 2010), and AFP are airing ads in Senate races in Florida, Indiana, and Nebraska. And some $6 million in advertising has flooded Wisconsin and its gubernatorial recall election involving Governor Scott Walker (R-WI). Walker and the super PAC supporting him, Right Direction Wisconsin PAC (an arm of the Republican Governors’ Association), have outspent their Democratic opponents; of the 17,000 ads aired in Wisconsin about the recall election, 10,000 have either been pro-Walker or negative ads attacking the recall and Walker’s challengers. Franz says: “Wisconsinites have been inundated with advertising surrounding the gubernatorial recall election. Walker and his allies hold a substantial advantage to date in the air war in all markets except Madison, and the incumbent governor’s ads have been more positive than his competitors’ ads.” The liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that the 2010 Citizens United decision is largely responsible for the increased spending by third-party groups (see January 21, 2010). [Wesleyan Media Project, 5/2/2012; Think Progress, 5/3/2012]
Entity Tags: Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, Travis Ridout, Wesleyan Media Project, Willard Mitt Romney, American Action Network, 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, Scott Kevin Walker, Ron Paul, Think Progress (.org), Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, Erika Franklin Fowler, Democratic National Committee, American Crossroads GPS, Right Direction Wisconsin PAC, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Michael M. Franz, Priorities USA Action, Newt Gingrich
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
The New York Times reports that wealthy liberal donors, after months of relative inactivity, are gearing up to make large donations on behalf of Democratic candidates. But unlike their Republican counterparts, these donors are not going to give millions to super PACs. Instead, the Times reports, they will give most of their money to organizations focused on grassroots organizing, voter registration, and “get out the vote,” or GOTV, efforts. The Times reports, “The departure from the conservatives’ approach, which helped Republicans wrest control of the House in 2010, partly reflects liberal donors’ objections to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), which paved the way for super PACs and unbridled campaign spending.” Also, donors and strategists do not believe they can go head-to-head with wealthy Republican donors who are giving to groups like American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity (AFP). Instead, they say they feel Democrats can press an advantage in grassroots organizing. Rob Stein of the Democracy Alliance, a group of liberal donors, says that while super PACs “are critically important,” local efforts and social-media outreach “can have an enormous impact in battleground states in 2012.” Billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros (see January - November 2004) will give $1 million to America Votes, an organization that coordinates political actions for environmental, abortion rights, and civil rights groups, and another $1 million to American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC that focuses on election research. Soros has not yet given significantly during the 2012 cycle. A Soros spokesperson, Michael Vachon, says: “George Soros believes the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to special interests’ paying for political ads. There is no way those concerned with the public interest can compete with them. Soros has always focused his political giving on grass-roots organizing and holding conservatives accountable for the flawed policies they promote. His support of these groups is consistent with those views.” President Obama’s reelection campaign is in the process of unleashing a $25 million ad campaign against the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney (R-MA), directed and financed by the campaign itself. Romney and other Republicans have relied more heavily on “independent” spending by American Crossroads, AFP, and other “third party” groups. An Obama-aligned super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has raised relatively little money in comparison to its Republican counterparts, though it has been active in some battleground states (see May 2, 2012). Obama’s opposition to super PACs and his reluctance to have his campaign rely on their efforts (see January 18, 2012) has slowed super PAC fundraising efforts on his behalf, though he has recently given his approval for the group to operate at maximum capacity (see February 6, 2012). David Brock, the founder of American Bridge 21st Century and the liberal watchdog organization Media Matters for America, says, “The idea that we’re going to engage in an arms race on advertising with the Republicans is not appealing to many liberal donors.” While Priorities USA and two other groups founded to help Democrats in Congress remain on the list of organizations that the Democracy Alliance recommends to its members, Robert McKay, the chairman of the group and a board member of Priorities USA, says that much of the money expected to be spent this year—up to $100 million—by the group’s donors will go to organizing and research, and far less to television advertising. “There is a bias towards funding infrastructure as it relates to the elections,” McKay says. “That means get-out-the-vote efforts” aimed at minority voters, women, and younger voters. Organizations involved in Democracy Alliance include Catalist, a voter database organization; ProgressNow, which organizes Internet-based groups in different states; and the newly created Latino Engagement Fund, an organization that works to organize Latino voting on behalf of Democrats. Groups outside Democracy Alliance will also be involved, particularly labor unions and advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club. San Francisco philanthropist Steve Phillips, who intends to spend some $10 million on efforts to increase turnout among Latino voters, says: “You can dump 10 or 20 million in TV ads in Ohio and try to reach the persuadable swing voters there, or you can up voter turnout among Latinos in Colorado and Arizona and win that way. It’s much cheaper.” [New York Times, 5/7/2012]
Entity Tags: American Crossroads, Steve Phillips, Willard Mitt Romney, 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, Robert McKay, American Bridge 21st Century, Rob Stein, New York Times, Americans for Prosperity, David Brock, Priorities USA Action, Michael Vachon, America Votes, George Soros, Democracy Alliance
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
Politico reports that Republican super PACs and other outside groups are coordinating under the leadership of what it calls “a loose network of prominent conservatives, including former Bush political advisor Karl Rove, the oil billionaire Koch brothers, and Tom Donohue of the US Chamber of Commerce,” to spend an unprecedented $1 billion between now and November to help Republicans win control of the White House and Congress. The plans include what Politico calls “previously undisclosed plans for newly aggressive spending by the Koch brothers” (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, February 14, 2011, February 29, 2012, and Late March 2012) to organize funding for county-by-county operations in key states, using tools such as the voter database Themis (see April 2010 and After) to build “sophisticated, county-by-county operations in key states.” The Kochs’ organizations have upped their spending plans to $400 million. Just the Kochs’ spending will outstrip the $370 million spent by the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign, and the $1 billion will exceed the $750 million spent by the 2008 Barack Obama campaign. The “independent” super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011 and January 31, 2012), plans on spending $100 million on the campaign to unseat Obama. American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the two Rove-led groups coordinating much of the Republican spending efforts, plan to spend $300 million on efforts to elect Romney and other Republicans (see February 21, 2012). The raised millions will go to, among other things, television, radio, and Web advertising; voter turnout efforts; mail and telephone appeals; and absentee- and early-balloting drives. The $1 billion is entirely “outside” spending. Romney and the Republican National Committee (RNC) intend to raise some $800 million on their own. According to Politico: “The Republican financial plans are unlike anything seen before in American politics. If the GOP groups hit their targets, they likely could outspend their liberal adversaries by at least two-to-one, according to officials involved in the budgeting for outside groups on the right and left.… The consequences of the conservative resurgence in fundraising are profound. If it holds, Romney and his allies will likely outraise and outspend Obama this fall, a once-unthinkable proposition. The surge has increased the urgency of the Democrats’ thus-far futile efforts to blunt the effects of a pair of 2010 federal court rulings—including the Supreme Court’s seminal Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010)—that opened the floodgates for limitless spending, and prompted Obama to flip-flop on his resistance to super PACs on the left.” The super PAC supporting Obama’s re-election, Priorities USA Action, has not raised anywhere near the amount of money being garnered by Rove and the Koch brothers, partly because of Obama’s initial reluctance to have such groups operating on his behalf (see January 18, 2012). US labor unions may be able to raise some $200 to $400 million on behalf of Obama and other Democrats. The AFL-CIO’s Michael Podhorzer says his organization does not intend to try to match the Republican donor groups, but instead will spend most of its money reaching out to union members and other workers: “Progressives can’t match all the money going into the system right now because of Citizens United, so we have to have a program that empowers the worker movement.” Politico notes that billionaire Sheldon Adelson single-handedly kept the Newt Gingrich (R-GA) primary challenge afloat (see December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 23, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, April 22, 2012, and May 2, 2012), and billionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012) was the key funder for Republican primary challenger Rick Santorum (R-PA). Outside money helped “tea party” challengers defeat incumbents like Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) in the 2012 primaries (see February 21, 2012). “Republicans have taken one big lesson away from campaigns conducted to date in 2011 and 2012,” Politico states: “outside money can be the difference-maker in elections.” [Politico, 5/30/2012]
Entity Tags: Foster Friess, Sheldon Adelson, Tom Donohue, American Crossroads GPS, American Crossroads, David Koch, Richard Lugar, Rick Santorum, Republican National Committee, Karl C. Rove, Michael Podhorzer, Newt Gingrich, Priorities USA Action, Charles Koch, Politico, Restore Our Future
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
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