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Profile: Ruth Marcus

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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

Former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), a 2008 presidential contender, speaks on Fox News about his dislike for “super PACs” (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, and November 23, 2011) and what he calls their corrosive effect on US politics. Huckabee says that the pretense of super PACs’ independence from the candidates they support is untrue and debilitating. He objects to the way that such groups allow candidates to pretend to stay above the fray while unidentifiable “snipers from the trees,” meaning the super PACs, run negative attack ads against opponents, calls super PACs “one of the worst things that ever happened in American politics,” and says they have “killed civility.” Huckabee advocates for greater transparency, saying anyone who gives money to fund attack ads should have to put their name on them. He says in part: “I think one of the worst things that ever happened in American politics is the rise of the independent expenditure groups that really don’t have accountability. You don’t know where this money is coming from. You don’t know where the accountability is coming from, and the candidates have no coordination.… I wish that every person who gives any money [to fund an ad] that mentions any candidate by name would have to put their name on it and be held responsible and accountable for it. And it’s killing any sense of civility in politics because the cheap shots that can be made from the trees by snipers that you never can identify. It’s just the worst part of this process.” [Think Progress, 1/3/2012] Liberal Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus writes a column the same day that agrees with much of what Huckabee says (see January 3, 2012).

Entity Tags: Ruth Marcus, Mike Huckabee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

Dahlia Lithwick, the senior legal correspondent for Slate, muses on the likelihood that the US Supreme Court will overturn a recent decision by the Montana Supreme Court that upheld the state’s limits on corporate election spending (see December 30, 2011 and After). The Montana high court’s opinion directly contradicts the 2010 Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). Lithwick notes that some Republican primary candidates are learning to their sorrow just how effective corporate spending can be when it is turned against them, citing Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who was targeted by almost $5 million of super PAC spending on negative ads against him in the recent Iowa caucuses (see January 3, 2012). Much of that came from a super PAC supporting Gingrich’s rival Mitt Romney (R-MA). Lithwick also cites a recent column by liberal columnist Ruth Marcus “explaining all the ways in which the super PACs are both coordinating with campaigns and evading federal disclosure requirements” (see January 3, 2012). Marcus wrote that the Citizens United decision set the stage for just the kind of negative, coordinated attacks seen in Iowa, and allowed the political system to be overwhelmed by corporate-funded entities that are not publicly accountable (see January 4, 2012). The probability for historic levels of corruption was overwhelming, Lithwick writes, and entirely foreseeable (see October 17, 2011). Lithwick notes conservative legal scholar Eugene Volokh as saying the Montana high court’s decision “practically begs to be overturned at the Supreme Court.” But the Montana high court, citing specific evidence showing the potential for corruption in the plaintiff’s actions (including a fundraising brochure that promised donors “no politician, no bureaucrat, and no radical environmentalist will ever know you made” any donations), found that the limits on corporate electoral spending are necessary to keep corruption at bay. Lithwick concludes, “I think what we just saw in Iowa and Montana proves again that corporations aren’t really people, money isn’t really speech, and that saying so isn’t just a way of speaking truth to power.” [Slate, 1/4/2012]

Entity Tags: Montana Supreme Court, Dahlia Lithwick, Eugene Volokh, Ruth Marcus, US Supreme Court, Willard Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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:
bullet 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;
bullet 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);
bullet 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;
bullet 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

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