The barrage of commercials tells the story: This is a presidential election without meaningful contribution limits or timely disclosure, outsourced to political action committees whose spending often dwarfs that of the candidates they support.
The PACs’ benign, intentionally uninformative names belie the brutal nature of their attack ads and the closeness of their relationships with the candidates, despite the requirement that they operate independently.
The leading example, in terms of financial firepower and ferocity of assault, is “Restore Our Future,” the Mitt Romney-supporting super PAC that has unleashed a $4 million barrage against Newt Gingrich. (It worked. Gingrich complained of being “Romney-boated,” a reference to the Swift boat attacks on John Kerry in 2004.)
The committee is run by Carl Forti, political director of Romney’s 2008 campaign. Its treasurer is Charles Spies, the Romney 2008 general counsel. Its fundraiser, Steve Roche, headed the Romney 2012 finance team until jumping to the super PAC last summer. And to underscore the flimsiness of the PAC’s supposed independence, Romney himself has spoken at “Restore Our Future” events.
Yet 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.
The last time “Restore Our Future” disclosed its donors to the Federal Election Commission was six months ago, when it reported raising $12 million. The committee would have had to update the information by Jan. 15 but — as have several other super PACs — it managed to postpone that two more weeks by changing its filing status from quarterly to monthly.
In New Hampshire, the “Our Destiny” PAC backing Jon Huntsman, and reportedly funded by the candidate’s wealthy father, has a new ad calling on voters to “stop the chameleon.” (That would be Romney.) On the Democratic side, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, former aides to President Obama, launched “Priorities USA,” which has already aired anti-Romney ads.
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.
“The establishment of the candidate-specific super PAC is a vehicle to completely destroy candidate contribution limits,” says Fred Wertheimer, president of the campaign finance reform group Democracy 21, which is releasing a report on the phenomenon. “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.”
Bonus points: The super PAC funds the dirty work of attack ads while the candidate gets to remain above the fray, not required to appear on camera to say that he or she approved this message.
“I view the super PAC as the evil twin of the candidate’s campaign committee,” Federal Election Commission member Ellen Weintraub told me.
The emergence of these entities is the unanticipated but logical outgrowth of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. The uproar over the opinion involved the justices giving the all-clear to unlimited corporate independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, and this is still a potential problem.
But as a practical matter, most publicly held corporations are squeamish about being associated with such direct advocacy. Instead, the real-world impact of Citizens United, in combination with lower-court rulings, was to usher in the era of the super PAC.
“By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, dismissing the notion that such spending could be corrosive.
Did he really mean to clear the path for independent expenditure committees backing a particular candidate — and bankrolled by the candidate’s father or run by his former top aides?
“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?” Weintraub asked.
Absent legislative intervention (unlikely) or regulatory action (even less likely), the super PAC is a dangerous new force in American politics. What happened in Iowa won’t stay in Iowa.
By: Ruth Marcus, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 3, 2012
GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s unexpected finish in Iowa has thrust his record into the spotlight. Naturally, his anti-choice, homophobic, and patently outrageous positions only help shore up his right-wing credentials. As he said in Sioux City, “A track record is a pretty good indication of what you’re going to do in the future.”
However, some of his votes in the past will certainly put a dent in his conservative credentials. As Bloomberg News points out, Santorum spent a lot of his 16-year congressional career fighting alongside labor advocates to protect striking workers, increase the minimum wage, and ensure that the law requiring employers to pay the prevailing wage stayed on the books:
In 1993, Santorum was one of 17 House Republicans who sided with most Democrats in backing a Clinton administration bill to protect striking employees from being permanently replaced by their employers.
Santorum’s Senate service shows a clear track record of supporting the Davis-Bacon Act, the federal law that requires government contractors to pay workers the local prevailing wage (USMMMNCH) and a perennial target for elimination by the business community and anti-union Tea Party activists.
In 1996, Santorum voted in effect for an amendment by former Massachusetts Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy that said the 1931 law shouldn’t be repealed.
In 1999, the Senate accepted a Santorum amendment that said it should consider “reform” of Davis-Bacon rather than repeal. Later that year, Santorum was one of 15 Senate Republicans who sided with Democrats in rejecting an amendment that would have limited the application of Davis-Bacon in federal disaster areas.
Of course, Santorum’s fight for the middle class and low-income Americans may merely reflect that he first ran in “a democratic-leaning, working class congressional district” in Pennsylvania. But in seeking national office, Santorum is throwing those same people under the bus. Now, he compares programs that help America’s workers — the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, or food stamps — to fascism, even going so far as to say, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better” with taxpayer funds. He also advocated for the elimination of all public sector unions.
Santorum’s convenient rejection of his previous efforts may not be enough to maintain the right-wing veneer he is aggressively pursuing. After all, if he is to be believed, his track record is a good indication of what he’ll do in the future.
By: Tanya Somanader, Think Progress, January 4, 2012
A “Wholly Legal Decision”: The Senate Cannot Take Away President Obama’s Recess Appointment Power By Pretending To Work
As ThinkProgress predicted yesterday, congressional Republicans did not wait long to whine that President Obama’s wholly legal decision to recess appoint Richard Cordray is unconstitutional. According to a blog post written by Speaker John Boehner’s staff, the Cordray appointment is unconstitutional because Obama defied an imaginary time-limit on his recess power and failed to respect the Senate’s decision to pretend that it’s actually doing something:
President Obama today made an unprecedented “recess” appointment even though the Senate is not in recess – “a sharp departure from a long-standing precedent that has limited the President to recess appointments only when the Senate is in a recess of 10 days or longer,” according to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
It turns out that the action not only contradicts long-standing practice, but also the view of the administration itself. In 2010, Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal explained to the Supreme Court the Obama administration’s view that recess appointments are only permissible when Congress is in recess for more than three days.
First of all, Boehner needs to learn to count. For constitutional purposes, the Senate has been in recess since December 23. Although a single senator has opened a pretend session that lasts about half a minute — what is known as a “pro forma” session — every three days since then, these pro forma sessions have no impact whatsoever on the president’s recess appointment’s power. As Steven Bradbury and John Elwood, two key constitutional advisors during the Bush Administration, explained in 2010:
Historically, the recess appointments clause has been given a practical interpretation. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 67, the clause enables the president to keep the government fully staffed when the Senate is not “in session for the appointment of officers.” . . . [A 1905 Senate report] cautioned that a “recess” means “something actual, not something fictitious.” The executive branch has long taken the same common-sense view. In 1921, citing opinions of his predecessors dating back to the Monroe administration, Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty argued that the question “is whether in a practical sense the Senate is in session so that its advice and consent can be obtained. To give the word ‘recess’ a technical and not a practical construction, is to disregard substance for form.”
The Senate, of course, does not meet as a body during a pro forma session. By the terms of the recess order, no business can be conducted, and the Senate is not capable of acting on the president’s nominations. That means the Senate remains in “recess” for purposes of the recess appointment power, despite the empty formalities of the individual senators who wield the gavel in pro forma sessions.
Moreover, even if the Senate could stave off a recess by convening in the Neighborhood of Make Believe, it is simply not true that three days must pass before the president’s recess power kicks in. Though it’s true that Katyal once said that “I think our office has opined the recess has to be longer than 3 days,” an off-the-cuff comment by the Deputy Solicitor General does not have the power to change what the Constitution actually says. As the highest court to consider issue explained, “[t]he Constitution, on its face, does not establish a minimum time that an authorized break in the Senate must last to give legal force to the President’s appointment power under the Recess Appointments Clause.”
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, January 4, 2011
Mitt Romney, last night’s Iowa caucus winner, has been on the campaign trail claiming that the private equity firm he ran, known as Bain Capital, was responsible for creating loads of jobs. Romney responded to criticism about his time at Bain by saying, “I’m very happy in my former life; we helped create over 100,000 new jobs.”
When a group of Romney backers ran an ad making the same claim, they were unable to back up the number with data. And as it turns out, the Romney camp can’t either, as it admitted that the statistic is nothing but cherry-picked job growth from a few companies that did well after they were bought by Bain:
[Romney spokesman Eric] Fehrnstrom says the 100,000 figure stems from the growth in jobs from three companies that Romney helped to start or grow while at Bain Capital: Staples (a gain of 89,000 jobs), The Sports Authority (15,000 jobs), and Domino’s (7,900 jobs).
This tally obviously does not include job losses from other companies with which Bain Capital was involved — and are based on current employment figures, not the period when Romney worked at Bain. (Indeed, Romney made his comments in response to a former employee of American Pad & Paper Co. who says he lost his job after Bain Capital took it private.)
Bain Capital has been responsible for thousands of layoffs at companies it bankrupted, such as American Pad & Paper, Dade International, and LIVE Entertainment, which Romney’s stat completely leaves out. He’s also taking credit for jobs created long after he left the firm to launch his political career. To sum it up, the stat Romney uses is incredibly dishonest, like much of his jobs rhetoric.
One of Romney’s Bain business partners has said that he “never thought of what I do for a living as job creation.” “The primary goal of private equity is to create wealth for your investors,” he added. And Bain has certainly done that, maximizing earnings “by firing workers, seeking government subsidies, and flipping companies quickly for large profits.” Due to a lucrative retirement deal, Romney is still making millions from Bain, as he goes across the country calling himself “middle class” and joking about being “unemployed.”
By: Pat Garofalo, Think Progress, January 4, 2012
Mitt Romney and his backers decided that to win in Iowa they had to destroy Newt Gingrich’s campaign. Now Gingrich looks eager — and able — to return the favor.
Romney got his victory, but it doesn’t feel much like one. It’s embarrassing that the supposed Republican front-runner managed to beat Rick Santorum by only eight votes out of about 120,000 cast in Tuesday’s caucuses. It’s troubling that Romney has spent the past five years campaigning in Iowa and still could draw just one-quarter of the vote.
And it’s downright ominous that Gingrich is threatening to do whatever he can to block Romney’s path to the nomination. If the sneering description of Romney in Gingrich’s post-caucus speech Tuesday is a preview — he called him a “Massachusetts moderate” who is “pretty good at managing the decay” — this could get ugly.
I mean uglier. Sometimes it seems as if niceness is Iowa’s state religion, but the way Romney and his crew took Gingrich apart was vicious. A pro-Romney political action committee, Restore Our Future, spent more than $4 million ensuring that Iowans couldn’t watch 10 minutes of television without being assaulted by an ad explaining why Gingrich was a scoundrel, a knave, a hack, a goon or — shudder — a closet liberal.
Romney could claim distance from this sordid barrage since Restore Our Future is “independent,” wink wink, of the campaign. There was a certain poetic justice, since Gingrich has done as much as any individual to make U.S. political rhetoric a blood sport. Could it be that the man who calls Barack Obama a “food-stamp president” can’t take a little heat?
But Gingrich is furious — perhaps not just because he believes that the negative advertising was unfair but because he knows that it was brutally effective. He had surged ahead of Romney and seemed to have a viable path to the nomination. Tuesday night, after being worked over, Gingrich won just 13 percent of the vote and finished fourth.
It’s doubtful Gingrich can become the nominee. But he can inflict as much damage as possible on Romney, especially in this weekend’s two New Hampshire debates.
Gingrich is smart enough to know that the effect will be to give Santorum the time and space he needs to begin building a campaign organization that can compete with Romney’s. This de facto anti-Romney alliance, if it materializes, will be one of convenience, not conviction. But it could be effective.
The Iowa campaign proved what pollsters have been telling us all along: Republicans just don’t like Mitt Romney very much.
Oh, they like him much better than they like Obama. But this past week in Iowa, while it was easy to find support for Romney, it was hard to find passion. Crowds didn’t swoon over Romney the way they did over Ron Paul or Michele Bachmann. Many of the staunch conservatives who dominate Republican politics here simply do not believe that Romney is one of their own.
“I would never vote for Mitt Romney, even if he were the nominee,” said Phil Grove, whom I met Monday afternoon at a Bachmann rally in West Des Moines.
Grove, a chemist, and his wife Sue, a nurse, were still undecided — the caucuses were just a day away — and had reasons for rejecting each candidate. Santorum and Gingrich were creatures of Washington, they said; Bachmann and Paul had good ideas but probably couldn’t beat Obama. Romney, though, was seen by the couple as simply beyond the pale.
Romney’s good fortune is that true-believer conservatives have had multiple candidates from which to choose — until now. With Bachmann dropping out and Rick Perry staggering, the race becomes — from Romney’s point of view — disturbingly simple.
He comes out of Iowa with a win, in the technical sense, but also with a new chief rival who has the potential to do fairly well in New Hampshire and very well in South Carolina. Given the shrinking field, there will be room for Santorum’s support to grow if he campaigns effectively.
Romney, meanwhile, still hasn’t proved that he can break through that 25 percent ceiling he keeps bumping against. And he has to deal with a Newt Gingrich who is wounded, angry and able to make himself the center of attention — the political equivalent of a snarling wolverine.
Yes, a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 4, 2012