She was the first woman to win the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa during her Republican presidential primary bid, but Michele Bachmann’s victory there in August 2011 only wound up calling the legitimacy of the political tradition into question. With her presidential campaign itself now under investigation and facing the prospect of a tough reelection fight, the four-term congresswoman on Wednesday released an eight minute and 40 second video announcing her decision not to seek a fifth term representing Minnesota’s 6th District.
A between-the-lines read:
BACHMANN: “Our Constitution allows for the decision of length of service in Congress to be determined by the congresspeople themselves or by the voter in the district. However, the law limits anyone from serving as president of the United States for more than eight years and in my opinion, well, eight years in also long enough for an individual to serve as a representative of a specific congressional district.”
Bachmann routinely describes herself as a Constitutional Conservative, so it’s not surprising she invokes her constitutional right to not serve as a member of Congress or run for office, even though everyone knows there is no mandate that all elected representatives must keep running for reelection forever. Fittingly, Bachmann also compares herself to a president, which is what she sought unsuccessfully to be and the aim of her only national political bid.
That campaign both elevated her profile and undermined her standing as an elected official. She came in sixth in the Iowa caucuses, transforming her from a high-profile national Tea Party leader into a person who was proven unable to garner more than token support among an ideologically sympathetic population of voters outside her carefully drawn district.
BACHMANN: “Be assured my decision was not in any way influenced by any concerns about my being reelected to Congress.”
Despite the advantages of incumbency and outspending him 12-to-1, Bachmann defeated Democrat Jim Graves by only 1 percentage point in the 2012 election in a heavily Republican district that Mitt Romney won by 15 percent. Graves was at a considerable disadvantage at the time. “We had a very abbreviated campaign. When we announced, we had nobody on the team, so we had to create a team and had to create a field operation and we had to do all those things in a very abbreviated time frame up against a very well-funded candidate,” he has said, explaining his loss. Recent internal polling from the Graves campaign put him slightly ahead of her a year and a half before their rematch.
Bachmann not only faced a tough reelection battle but a long one, and in mid-May she started reelection campaign advertising on Minnesota television. That, at the very least, suggests she had not been planning a resignation announcement for long, or was uncertain about how she wanted to proceed.
BACHMANN: “Rest assured this decision was not impacted in any way by the recent inquiries into the activities of my former presidential campaign or my former presidential staff.”
Inquiries is a mild way of putting it: Bachmann’s former national field coordinator, Peter Waldron, turned on her and in March filed complaints against her presidential campaign organization and political action committee with the Federal Election Commission. The Office of Congressional Ethics is also conducting a probe of her campaign payment arrangements. Also investigating the conduct of the Bachmann presidential campaign are: the FBI’s public integrity section, an Iowa special investigator requested by the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee, and the Urbandale, Iowa, Police Department. That’s a lot of potential headaches for a weak incumbent.
BACHMANN: “Last year, after I ran for president, I gave consideration to not running again for the House seat that I hold. However, given that we were only nine months away from the election, I felt it might be difficult for another Republican candidate to get organized for what might have been a very challenging campaign — and I refused to allow this decision to put this Republican seat in jeopardy. And so I ran. And I won.”
It is not unusual for failed presidential candidates to reconsider their political careers, and Bachmann is right that if she had pulled out late in the game Graves might have surged while the GOP scrambled to find a replacement. This time, the Republicans will have time to find someone who can compete against him more effectively in a district that should favor their party, and Bachmann can step down knowing she’s done her all to keep the seat in Republican hands.
BACHMANN: “Feel confident: Over the next 18 months I will continue to work 100-hour weeks.”
Being a member of Congress is exhausting.
BACHMANN: “Looking forward, after the completion of my term, my future is full, it is limitless and my passions for America will remain. And I want you to be assured that there is no future option or opportunity — be it directly in the political arena or otherwise — that I won’t be giving serious consideration if it can help save and protect our great nation for future generations.”
Translation: I haven’t yet figured out what to do next — please hire me.
By: Grance-Franke-Ruta, The Atlantic, May 29, 2013
The emergence of nonprofits  as the leading conduit for anonymous spending in this year’s presidential campaign is often attributed to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United  ruling, which opened the money spigot, allowing corporations and unions to buy ads urging people to vote for or against specific candidates.
But a closer look  shows that there are several reasons that tens of millions of dollars of secret money are flooding this year’s campaign. Actions — and inaction — by both the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service have contributed just as much to the flood of tens of millions of dollars of secret money into the 2012 campaign. Congress did not act on a bill that would have required disclosure after Citizens United and other court rulings opened the door to secret political spending.
To understand how all this happened, it’s worth returning to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion  in Citizens United, and the political system the court envisioned. In the decision’s key finding, Kennedy and four other justices said the First Amendment entitled corporations and unions to the same unlimited rights of political speech and spending as any citizen.
But in a less-noticed portion of the ruling, Kennedy and seven of his colleagues upheld disclosure rules and emphasized the role of transparency. Undue corporate or union influence on elections, he wrote, could be addressed by informed voters and shareholders who would instantly access campaign finance facts from their laptops or smart phones.
“With the advent of the Internet,” Kennedy wrote, “prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.”
If a company wasted money on politics, the justices agreed, its shareholders could use the publicly available information to “determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits.” Separately, the sunshine of public disclosure will let “citizens see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”
“The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way,” Kennedy concluded. “This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”
A very different system has taken shape. As our reporting this week showed, money for political ads is pouring into non-profits ostensibly dedicated to promoting social welfare. These groups are paying for many of the negative ads clogging the airwaves, but are not disclosing their donors.
As a result, it’s entirely unclear whether these ads are being paid for by unions and corporations empowered by Citizens United or by wealthy individuals.
Separately, corporations have resisted calls  to list their donations to political social welfare nonprofits or other political spending. So far, the Securities and Exchange Commission has not responded to a rulemaking petition  asking for it to develop rules to require public companies to disclose that spending.
The Supreme Court’s opening of the door to hefty flows of secret money began years before Citizens United. In a 2007 case (PDF)  involving a nonprofit called Wisconsin Right to Life , the justices ruled that unions and corporations could buy ads that mentioned a candidate in the weeks before an election as long as the commercials stopped short of directly advocating the candidate’s election or defeat. Even if these ads, known as “electioneering communications,” clearly attacked the positions of one candidate, they were permissible unless they were “susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.”
The flood began and the identities of hardly any of the donors were disclosed. The reason? A decision by the FEC, the oversight panel with three Republicans and three Democrats who frequently deadlock.
After Wisconsin Right to Life, the FEC told social welfare nonprofits that they had to disclose only if the donors specifically earmarked the money for political ads. “It proved to be the exception that swallowed the rule,” said Paul S. Ryan, general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit, non-partisan group that tracks campaign finance. The day the FEC adopted this rule, Ryan wrote on his blog that it would allow massive amounts of secret money into politics. He proved correct.
In 2006, ads bought by groups that didn’t disclose their donors amounted to less than 2 percent of outside spending, excluding party committees, research by the Center for Responsive Politics  shows. By 2008, that number hit 25 percent; by 2010, more than 40 percent.
All of this raises an intriguing question: Was Kennedy aware when he drafted the January 2010 Citizens United opinion that nonprofits were being widely used to avoid public disclosure of political spending?
At the least, critics say, Kennedy was poorly informed.
“Justice Kennedy was living in a fantasy land,” said Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a professor at Stetson University College of Law who tracks campaign finance issues. “I wish the world he envisaged exists. It doesn’t.”
Instead, this is the disclosure world that exists: Someone who gives up to $2,500 to the campaign of President Barack Obama or challenger Mitt Romney will have his or her name, address and profession listed on the FEC website for all to see. But that same person can give $1 million or more to a social welfare group that buys ads supporting or attacking those same candidates and stay anonymous.
This year, a federal judge struck down the FEC rule stemming from Wisconsin Right to Life. The FEC announced in July that major donors to electioneering communications — ads that focus on issues without directly advocating for candidates — would have to be named.
Already, groups are looking for work-arounds. They’re running different kinds of ads. Some will name other social welfare nonprofits as their donors.
The loose oversight by the FEC helped bring so much anonymous money into campaign finance. But no one expects the commission to take a more assertive role anytime soon. Dan Backer, a lawyer who represents several conservative nonprofits, likened the deadlocked agency to a “cute bunny” while referring to the IRS as a “500-pound gorilla.”
The IRS or Congress are more plausible avenues for change, experts say. Ryan said he was hopeful that Congress and the IRS might some day limit ads from groups that don’t disclose their donors. The 2012 campaign, though, appears to be a lost cause. “I think this election will be mired and perhaps overwhelmed by secret money,” Ryan said.
By: Stephen Engelberg and Kim Barker, ProPublica, August 23, 2012
For those who believe money already has too much power in U.S. politics, 2012 will be a miserable year. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, lassitude at the Federal Election Commission and the growing audacity of very rich conservatives have created a new political system that will make the politics of the Gilded Age look like a clean government paradise.
Americans won’t even fully know what’s happening to them because so much can be donated in secrecy to opaque organizations. It’s always helpful for voters to know who is trying to buy an election, and for whom. This time, much of the auction will be held in private. You can be sure that the candidates will find out who helped elect them, but the voters will remain in the dark.
We do know that the playing field this year is tilted sharply to the right. Journalists often focus on the world of rich liberals in places such as Hollywood and Silicon Valley. But there are even more conservative millionaire and billionaire donors who hail from less mediagenic places. There is, for example, a lot of oil money in Texas. Then there’s Wall Street. Once a bountiful source of Democratic as well as Republican cash, it has shifted toward the party of Mitt Romney, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. And then there’s Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, whose $10 million donation to the super PAC supporting Romney was reported Wednesday.
Republicans argue that turnabout is fair play. Barack Obama shunned the public financing system in 2008 and vastly outspent John McCain. Democrats, they say, are complaining now because they are at a disadvantage.
That’s at best half right. It’s true that Obama struck a blow against public financing, though the system was insufficiently financed and would eventually have collapsed under its own weight. And four years ago, Obama filled his coffers through the regulated system that limited the size of contributions and that required disclosure. This year, there are no guardrails, no limits on what can be raised and spent. A remarkably small number of very wealthy people will be able to do what hasn’t been done for generations.
And their influence will be especially large in congressional races where the outside groups can swamp what the candidates themselves spend. Those who claim that this is all about free speech need to explain how speech is free when one side can buy the microphone and can set the terms of debate, especially in contests below the presidential level.
What is to be done? The IRS could and should crack down on political committees legally disguised as “charities.” The Federal Election Commission and Congress could promote disclosure. The Supreme Court could undo its error, or we could do it by embarking on the cumbersome process of amending the Constitution. Ultimately, we need to democratize the money chase by providing, say, 5-to-1 public matches for small donations.
But it’s highly unlikely that any of this will happen before November, so here is a modest proposal: A small group of billionaires, aided perhaps by a few super-millionaires, should form an alliance to offset the spending of the other billionaires and super-millionaires. They might call themselves Billionaires Against Billionaire Politics. These public-spirited citizens would announce that they will match every penny raised by the various super PACs on the other side.
In principle, they could commit themselves to balancing off whichever side — conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat — is dominating the airwaves and the fundraising. The idea would be to destroy the incentives for the very rich to buy the election. If shrewd wealthy people realized that every $10 million they put up would be met immediately by $10 million from the other side, they might lose interest in the exercise.
As a practical matter, it’s conservative dollars that need to be offset, so this balancing act would likely be financed by non-conservatives. George Soros, Warren Buffett and New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg come to mind. But there may be other, less high-profile wealthy folks who want to do their patriotic bit. The hope is that this would be a one-shot deal. After one nuclear winter of an election, rich partisans could agree to mutual disarmament.
It’s preposterous that our system has handed over so much power to those with large fortunes that the only way to get matters under control is to have one group of rich people check the power of another group of rich people. Maybe the absurdity of it all will finally force the Supreme Court and Congress to bring us back to something more reasonable. It’s called democracy.
By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 13, 2012
In Citizens United v. FEC, the Supreme Court justified its conclusion that corporations and wealthy individuals can spend unlimited money to influence elections because it believed that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” According to a recent survey conducted for the Brennan Center for Justice, however, this places the five conservatives who joined this opinion in very lonely company. According to the poll, “69% of respondents agreed that ‘new rules that let corporations, unions and people give unlimited money to Super PACs will lead to corruption.’ Only 15% disagreed.”
To put this in perspective, a 2007 poll found that 19 percent of Americans believe in “spells or witchcraft,” and that’s just one of the supernatural beliefs that are more common than agreement with the conservative justices’ bizarre reasoning in Citizens United:
Put Conrad, a homemaker from Hampton, Va., firmly in the camp of the 34% of people who say they believe in ghosts, according to a pre-Halloween poll by The Associated Press and Ipsos. That’s the same proportion who believe in unidentified flying objects — exceeding the 19% who accept the existence of spells or witchcraft. . . .
A smaller but still substantial 23% say they have actually seen a ghost or believe they have been in one’s presence, . . . Three in 10 have awakened sensing a strange presence in the room.
To be fair, only 14 percent of Americans believe that they have personally seen a UFO, or one percent less than those who think that Citizens United was correctly decided.
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, April 24, 2012
Have you heard of William Dore, Foster Friess, Sheldon Adelson, Harold Simmons, Peter Thiel or Bruce Kovner? If not, let me introduce them to you. They’re running for the Republican nomination for president.
I know, I know. You think Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are running. They are – but only because the people listed in the first paragraph have given them huge sums of money to do so. In a sense, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul and Romney are the fronts. Dore et al. are the real investors.
According to January’s Federal Election Commission report, William Dore and Foster Friess supplied more than three-fourths of the $2.1 million raked in by Rick Santorum’s super PAC in January. Dore, president of the Dore Energy Corp. in Lake Charles, La., gave $1 million; Freiss, a fund manager based in Jackson Hole, Wyo., gave $669,000 (he had given the Santorum super PAC $331,000 last year, bringing Freiss’ total to $1 million).
Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, provided $10 million of the $11 million that went into Gingrich’s super PAC in January. Adelson is chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. Texas billionaire Harold Simmons donated $500,000.
Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, provided $1.7 million of the $2.4 million raised by Ron Paul’s super PAC in January.
Mitt Romney’s super PAC raised $6.6 million last month – almost all from just 40 donors. Bruce Kovner, co-founder of the New York-based hedge fund Caxton Associates, gave $500,000, as did two others. David Tepper of Appaloosa Management gave $375,000. J.W. Marriott and Richard Marriott gave a total of $500,000. Julian Robertson, co-founder of hedge fund Tiger Management, gave $250,000. Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman gave $100,000.
Bottom line: Whoever emerges as the GOP standard-bearer will be deeply indebted to a handful of people, each of whom will expect a good return on their investment.
And this is just the beginning. We haven’t even come to the general election.
Nonprofit political fronts like Crossroads GPS, founded by Republican political guru Karl Rove, are already gathering hundreds of millions of dollars from big corporations and a few wealthy individuals like billionaire oil and petrochemical moguls David and Charles Koch. The public will never know who or what corporation gave what because, under IRS regulations, such nonprofit “social welfare organizations” aren’t required to disclose the names of those who contributed to them.
Before 2010, federal campaign law and Federal Election Commission regulations limited to $5,000 per year the amount an individual could give to a PAC making independent expenditures in federal elections. This individual contribution limit was declared unconstitutional by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in a case based on the Supreme Court’s grotesque decision at the start of 2010, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.
Now, the limits are gone. And this comes precisely at a time when an almost unprecedented share of the nation’s income and wealth is accumulating at the top.
Never before in the history of our Republic have so few spent so much to influence the votes of so many.
By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, Published in The Huffington Post, February 21, 2012