These days, presidential candidates are not just raising money for their own campaigns. They are also raising money for outside groups with generic sounding names like Priorities USA, Right to Rise and Our American Renewal.
These are Super Pacs (political action committees), affiliated with each outside campaign but nominally independent. In 2012, they were helpful appendages. This year, heading into 2016, they are becoming fully fledged substitutes for campaigns, taking over functions including opposition research, polling and even knocking on doors.
Super Pacs are just five years old. Like most developments in modern campaign finance law, they were created by accident through judicial decisions, not by legislation.
First, in 2010 the Citizens United supreme court decision struck down restrictions on independent expenditures in campaigns by nonprofits. Citizens United was followed the same year by a decision by the DC circuit court of appeals in a case called SpeechNOW, which said political groups that sought to make only independent expenditures could not be subject to federal campaign contribution limits.
These two decisions combined to create “super” versions of previously existing political action committees, that would make expenditures independently of the candidates they supported and thus could raise as much money as they wanted. In other words, one donor can fund an entire Super Pac.
In the 2012 Republican primary, Super Pacs were credited with keeping the campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum alive for months, extending the race into the spring.
In that race and the general election that followed, Super Pacs were primarily used to run television ads. American campaigns have long focused on saturating the airwaves with advertisements; Super Pacs provided a new vehicle to air even more commercials. Campaigns, however, still have major advantages over Super Pacs when it comes to buying television time.
Within 60 days of a general election or 45 days of a primary, political campaigns are entitled to something called “lowest unit rate”. It means that a political campaign gets the lowest rate a television station offers to any advertiser, and it is coupled with the requirement that stations give political campaigns “reasonable access” to run ads. Lowest unit rate also means TV stations cannot censor or restrict ads that federal campaigns seek to run.
None of these rules apply to Super Pacs. This means that they have to pay a much higher rate per ad and may find it more difficult to get their advertisements on television.
However, all such advantages for campaigns pale next to the fact that Super Pacs can raised unlimited money from an individual donor. Federal campaigns can only take $5,400 from any individual ($2,700 for a primary election and another $2,700 for a general election). So while campaigns can get more value for their money when spending on advertising, Super Pacs don’t have to worry too much about value.
And this year, they are not worrying too much about just running television ads.
The nascent campaign of Jeb Bush has been entirely headquartered out of an organization called Right to Rise. The group is on pace to raise more than $100m in May alone and is expected to be significantly better-funded than Bush’s inevitable presidential campaign.
Bush has also set up a connected nonprofit, Right to Rise Policy Solutions, which is serving as a parking place for campaign policy advisers until the former Florida governor announces his candidacy.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Right to Rise is that it is expected to be led by Bush’s top political adviser, Mike Murphy. Because Super Pacs cannot coordinate with campaigns, this means that Bush will probably be unable to communicate with Murphy for the duration of the campaign.
While Bush has yet to declare his candidacy, Ted Cruz, who has announced his bid for the White House, has also bragged about the success of the four interrelated Super Pacs that are backing his campaign.
In a speech at the April meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, the Texas senator boasted that a Super Pac supporting him had “raised $31m” in the first week of his campaign. “That’s more money than any other Super Pac has raised … in the history of politics” in a comparable period, he said.
Each of the four Super Pacs supporting Cruz is funded entirely by one major donor and devoted to one specific campaign task.
Nor are Republicans alone in such activity. Hillary Clinton, the clear Democratic frontrunner for 2016, is holding a number of fundraisers for one of her affiliated Super Pacs, Priorities USA. A separate group, Correct the Record, has spun off from the Democratic research Super Pac American Bridge, solely to do rapid response for Clinton.
Correct the Record insists it will be able to coordinate with the Clinton campaign, despite taking unlimited contributions, because it will not run any ads on her behalf.
Not all of this may end up being legal. But as Rick Hasen, an election law expert who teaches at University of California, Irvine, points out, even “if some of these things don’t pass muster with the courts”, such matters probably won’t be resolved until after the 2016 election.
Furthermore, campaign finance may have changed dramatically by the time such legal issues are resolved.
“Nothing is permanent when it comes to campaign finance,” said Hasen.
For now, though, the landscape is dominated by Super Pacs.
By: Ben Jacobs, The Guardian, May 17, 2015
Earlier this week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, along with a gaggle of bored reporters and some boldfaced names in the progressive movement, unveiled a “Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality.” Much like the media event that accompanied its unveiling, the agenda is supposed to be understood as a kind of 21st-century, liberal version of the storied “Contract with America,” the PR stunt that, as legend (erroneously) has it, rocketed Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party to power after the 1994 midterm elections. As my colleague Joan Walsh reported on Thursday, this backward-looking attempt to lay out a forward-looking platform for the Democratic Party did not go entirely according to plan.
Which is not to say it was a failure. In fact, for a photo-op held during a non-election year in May and headlined by a relatively unknown local politician, the unveiling of the agenda probably got more attention than it deserved. Even so, as Joan relayed from the scene, there was some tension at the event — and not only because President Obama’s hard sell of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is driving some liberals to distraction while making others defensive. Sure, the agenda does call on lawmakers to “[o]ppose trade deals that hand more power to corporations at the expense of American jobs, workers’ rights, and the environment,” which is basically how the TPP is described by its foes. But that discord was for the most part kept under the surface.
The real reason de Blasio’s stab at playing the role of Progressive Moses was a bit awkward (despite going much better for him than it did for Ed Miliband) is knottier and harder to ignore. And it didn’t only trip up Hizzoner, but also marred a same-day Roosevelt Institute event on “rewriting the rules” of the economy, which was keynoted by no less a figure than Sen. Elizabeth Warren. It’s an issue that’s long dogged the American left, and the United States more generally, and it’s one that will not go away, no matter how fervently everyone may wish. It is, of course, the issue of race; and as these D.C. left-wing confabs showed, it will dash any hope of a liberal future unless the “professional left” gets deathly serious about it — and quick.
If you haven’t read Joan’s piece (which you really should), here’s a quick summary of how race wound up exposing the fault lines of the left at two events that were supposed to be about unity of purpose. Despite American politics becoming increasingly concentrated over the past two years on issues of mass incarceration and police brutality — which both have much to do with the legacy of white supremacy and the politics of race — neither de Blasio’s agenda nor the Roosevelt Institute’s report spend much time on reforming criminal justice. To their credit, folks from both camps have agreed that this was a mistake and have promised to redress it in the future. Still, it was quite an oversight — and a shame, too, because it justifiably distracted from an agenda and a report that were both chock-full of good ideas.
I wasn’t in the room when de Blasio’s agenda or the Roosevelt Institute’s report were created, but I feel quite confident in saying that the mistake here was not a result of prejudice or thoughtlessness or even conscious timidity. I suspect instead that ingrained habits and knee-jerk reflexes — born from coming of age, at least politically, in the Reagan era — are more likely to blame. Because while the radical left has been talking about and organizing around racial injustices for decades, mainstream American liberalism, the kind of liberalism that is comfortably within the Democratic Party mainstream, is much less familiar with explicitly integrating race into its broader vision.
Let me try to put some meat on those bones with a concrete example also taken from earlier in the week. On Tuesday, President Obama joined the Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne, the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks, and Harvard’s Robert Putnam at Georgetown University for a public conversation about poverty. And while you’d expect race to come up — what with the African-American poverty rate being nearly three times that of whites, the African-American unemployment rate being more than two times that of whites, and the African-American median household income being barely more than half that of whites — you would be incorrect. As the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates noted in response to this strange conversation, “the word ‘racism’ does not appear in the transcript once.”
Again, it strikes me as unlikely that simple bigotry is the reason. A more probable explanation is that mainstream American liberals like Obama and Dionne (Brooks is a conservative and Putnam is not explicitly political) have become so used to tiptoeing around white Americans’ racial anxieties that they cannot stop without a conscious effort. For the past 30-plus years, mainstream liberalism has tried to address racial injustice by focusing on the related but distinct phenomenon of economic injustice. The strategy, as Coates puts it, has been to “talk about class and hope no one notices” the elephant in the room, which is race. And for much of that time, one could at least make a case that the strategy worked.
But as I’ve been hammering on lately in pieces about Hillary Clinton, the ’90s are over. What made political sense in 1996 doesn’t make nearly as much sense today. Like the Democratic Party coalition, the country is not as white as it used to be. And the young Americans whose backing liberals will need to push the Democrats and the country to the left are the primary reason. If it was always true that the progressive movement could not afford to take the support of non-white Americans for granted, it’s exponentially more true now, when the energy and vitality of the progressive movement is so overwhelmingly the product of social movements — like the Fight for $15 or #BlackLivesMatter — driven by people of color.
As Hillary Clinton seems to understand, a key component of smart politics is to meet your voters and your activists where they are, rather than where history or the conventional wisdom tells you they should be. For the broader progressive movement, that means shaking off the learned habits of the recent past — and, more specifically, overcoming the fear that talking forthrightly about unavoidably racial problems, like mass incarceration, will scare away too many white voters to win. Economic and racial injustice have always been seamlessly interconnected in America; but as leading progressives learned this week, the time when liberals could talk about class but whisper about race is coming to an end.
By: Elias Isquith, Salon, May 16, 2015
There are many reasons George W. Bush was unpopular when he left office. A big one was the Great Recession, which crested and crashed down on the world in his last few months in office. Then there was Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 New Orleans debacle that helped kneecap Bush’s second term in office not long after it started. But the most enduring stain on Bush’s tenure is the Iraq War.
Not only is Iraq still a mess — worse, America’s mess — but the effects of toppling Saddam Hussein are being felt in everything from Iran’s expanding influence in the region to Islamic State’s rise. So it’s odd that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, making his case for following his older brother and father into the White House, would double-down on the Iraq War.
Even knowing that Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, Jeb Bush told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly on Sunday, he would have still invaded Iraq in 2003, “and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”
First, let’s dispatch with that pathetic blame-sharing nonsense. Hillary Clinton — if, for some reason, voters had elected her right after her husband — would not have invaded Iraq, and neither would President Al Gore. Both probably would have invaded Afghanistan, because, after all, that country’s Taliban government was sheltering the terrorist group that had just murdered nearly 3,000 Americans, destroyed a cluster of skyscrapers, and damaged the Pentagon.
But Iraq was a textbook war of choice. There was some faulty intelligence, but it was being pushed and exaggerated by a Bush White House that wanted to invade Iraq already. I don’t think that’s even in dispute anymore.
Nobody named Clinton has ever invaded Iraq — in fact, since Somalia’s “Black Hawk Down” incident, Democrats bomb countries; they generally don’t send in ground troops. Two presidents named Bush have invaded Iraq. Voters remember that.
And just how unpopular is the Iraq War now? Last summer, some major news organizations asked voters.
In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll from June 2014, 71 percent of respondents said the Iraq war “wasn’t worth it,” including 44 percent of Republicans. A CBS News/New York Times poll from the same month similarly found that 75 percent of respondents said the war was not worth the costs, including 63 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of independents. Another June 2014 poll, from Quinnipiac, was a bit more favorable, with only 61 percent saying that “going to war with Iraq” was “the wrong thing.” In all those polls, the Iraq War disapproval numbers have continued to inch upwards.
The biggest obstacle to a President Jeb Bush was always going to be his last name — a polite way of saying his brother. He knows that. He even jokes about it.
But because of family loyalty or pride, or the advisers he has hired from his brother’s administration, or core convictions, Jeb Bush isn’t willing to throw his brother under the bus. From a tactical standpoint, it must be helpful having a father and brother who have collectively won three presidential elections, but acknowledging in public that George W. Bush is your most influential adviser on Middle East affairs? That’s something different.
Jeb Bush seems determined to win this or lose this as a card-carrying member of the Bush dynasty.
Is that a deal-breaker? Well, people who care about foreign policy often lament that voters don’t. But that’s not going to help John Ellis Bush. Because while most voters probably do vote on pocketbook issues, Republican voters are fired up about foreign policy, especially the sort of engaged partisans who vote in primaries.
And they’re revved up about foreign policy because that’s what Republican lawmakers and politicians and pundits have been attacking President Obama on since the economy improved enough, ObamaCare started showing positive dividends, and Osama bin Laden’s death under Obama’s command became a part of American history.
“Attacking President Obama’s record on Israel and Iran is now one of the biggest applause lines for presidential candidates,” note Josh Kraushaar and Alex Roarty at National Journal, in a write-up on a poll about how Republicans believe 2016 will be a foreign policy election.
Jeb Bush is going to have to step up his game if he wants to ride the GOP’s foreign policy wave. His big coming out party on the subject wasn’t promising — even with his A-list of Bush-linked advisers, he “delivered a nervous, uncertain speech on national security,” reported Tim Mak and Jackie Kucinich at The Daily Beast, “full of errors and confusion.”
That’s something Jeb Bush can fix. After all, none of the Republican governors, former governors, senators, former CEOs, or celebrated pediatric neurosurgeons running against him have much experience with war or international diplomacy or other key elements of foreign policy, either.
But running as a Bush on foreign policy in 2016 is folly. Even if the Dick Cheney wing of the Republican Party pushes him through the primaries, it’s poison in a general election. Jeb Bush has a tough choice to make: Does he want to try to resuscitate his brother’s foreign policy reputation, or does he want a shot at the White House?
By: Peter Weber, The Week, May 11, 2015
If all goes well, in the 2016 campaign we’ll be rehashing the arguments we had about the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003. You may be thinking, “Jeez, do we really have to go through that again?” But we do—in fact, we must. If we’re going to make sense of where the next president is going to take the United States on foreign policy, there are few more important discussions to have.
On Sunday, Fox News posted an excerpt of an interview Megyn Kelly did with Jeb Bush in which she asked him whether he too would have invaded Iraq, and here’s how that went:
Kelly: Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?
Bush: I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.
Kelly: You don’t think it was a mistake?
Bush: In retrospect, the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty. And in retrospect, once we invaded and took out Saddam Hussein, we didn’t focus on security first, and the Iraqis, in this incredibly insecure environment turned on the United States military because there was no security for themselves and their families. By the way, guess who thinks that those mistakes took place, as well? George W. Bush. So, news flash to the world, if they’re trying to find places where there’s big space between me and my brother, this might not be one of those.
While the full interview airs tonight so we don’t yet know whether Kelly followed up to clarify, in this excerpt Jeb Bush deftly answers not the question Kelly asked him but a slightly different question, one that lets him rope in Hillary Clinton and get himself off the hook. While she asked him whether he would have authorized the invasion knowing what we know now, he answered as if she had asked whether he would have authorized the invasion believing what many believed then. For the record, there were plenty of people at the time who objected to the invasion, so it’s utterly false to say “almost everybody” supported it, and while Hillary Clinton did indeed vote for the war, she wouldn’t say she would have invaded knowing what we know now.
Bush’s answer may be evasive, but it’s understandable—after all, it’s not like he’s going to say, “Yes, the whole thing was a catastrophe and we never should have done it.” As of now, Rand Paul is the only Republican presidential candidate who has said that the war was a mistake.
But the question isn’t so much whether a candidate will admit what a disaster Iraq was, but what they’ve learned from the experience. How do they view the extraordinary propaganda campaign the Bush administration launched to convince Americans to get behind the war? Does that make them want to be careful about how they argue for their policy choices? Did Iraq change their perspective on American military action, particularly in the Middle East? What light does it shed on the reception the American military is likely to get the next time we invade someplace? What does it teach us about power vacuums and the challenges of nation-building? How does it inform the candidate’s thinking on the prospect of military action in Syria and Iran specifically? Given the boatload of unintended consequences Iraq unleashed, how would he or she, as president, go about making decisions on complex issues that are freighted with uncertainty?
I would love to know how Jeb Bush would answer those questions, whether he’ll say that the invasion was a mistake or not. The same goes for his primary opponents. But if what we’ve seen so far is any indication, we aren’t likely to get a whole lot of thoughtful foreign policy discussion from them. This weekend the non-Bush candidates were in Greenville for the South Carolina Freedom Summit, where they walked on stage and beat their chests while advocating for a foreign policy inevitably described by the press as “muscular.” Scott Walker apparently thrilled the crowd by telling them that terrorists are coming to America, and “I want a leader who is willing to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us.” But the real good stuff came from Marco Rubio:
“On our strategy on global jihadists and terrorists, I refer them to the movie Taken. Have you seen the movie Taken? Liam Neeson. He had a line, and this is what our strategy should be: ‘We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.'”
Ah, the inspiringly sophisticated foreign policy thinking of the GOP candidate. I’m old enough to remember when we had another president who liked to sound like a movie-star tough guy. “There’s an old poster out West, as I recall,” he said when asked about Osama bin Laden, “that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.'” You’ll recall that it was a different president who was in charge when bin Laden was found. “There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there,” he said about Iraqi insurgents early on in the war. “My answer is, bring ’em on.” They came, and thousands of American servicemembers were killed in the ensuing fighting. But George W. Bush was praised at the time for his “moral clarity.”
We shouldn’t forget Hillary Clinton—I doubt she wants to talk much about Iraq, since she supported the war at the time (which was one of the biggest reasons she lost to Barack Obama in 2008). She should explain how the the Iraq War will inform her thinking about the foreign policy challenges the next president is likely to face. But twelve years after the war started, we’re back in Iraq (albeit with boots hovering in midair). Large swaths of the country have been taken over by a terrorist group that emerged out of the war’s chaos. And the glorious flowering of freedom and democracy across the region that George W. Bush promised hasn’t come to pass.
So there’s a basic question the Republican candidates should answer: Is there anything they learned from the Iraq War? Anything at all?
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, May 11, 2015
“The Golden Parachute Candidate”: Corporate-Jet Conservative Carly Fiorina Wants To Be President, For Some Reason
For reasons that remain unclear, Carly Fiorina is running for president. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO and failed Senate candidate has been teasing a potential run for months now, but this morning she made it official and launched her new official campaign website (which drew almost as much attention as her unofficial campaign website). If you peruse the official site in search of a coherent rationale for why we need a Fiorina presidency, you’ll be left sorely disappointed.
Fiorina’s argument for why she should be president seems to be that she’s not Hillary Clinton. She posted a short video that ostensibly explains why she’s running, and the first image you see is the back of Fiorina’s head as she watches Hillary’s announcement video. (Fiorina clicks off the Hillary video with the remote because SYMBOLISM.) From there she launches into an awkward monologue about how politicians shouldn’t run for political office because that’s not what the American Revolution was about. “Our founders never intended us to have a professional political class,” she says. So vote Fiorina, because that’s what the professional political class that founded the country would want.
But Fiorina’s not arguing for herself here; she’s arguing against “politicians.” And the only reason she can make this argument is that her one attempt at becoming part of the “professional political class” ended with a lopsided defeat in a year when other Republicans across the country surged to victory on an anti-Obama wave. This “I’m not a politician” schtick was the same message Fiorina deployed against “professional politician” Barbara Boxer in 2010, and she lost by 10 points. Carly Fiorina’s not a “politician,” but only because she’s bad at politics. Indeed, if she’s saying that America should flock to someone who’s untainted by politics, then why should they back Fiorina over, say, Ben Carson? He’s making the same “I’m not a politician” pitch, but unlike Fiorina, he doesn’t bear the taint of having previously run for office.
Anyway, for her 2016 run, Fiorina says she’ll put an end to “the sound bites, the vitriol, the pettiness, the egos, [and] the corruption,” which is amusing and also hypocritical. No more sound bites, vitriol, and pettiness sure sounds nice until you remember that much of Fiorina’s 2010 campaign was all about painting Barbara Boxer as an out-of-control egotist. They even produced an extremely weird “movie” that depicted Boxer’s “big head” as a grotesque floating blimp that traveled the country inflicting “sound bites” on the masses. No pettiness or vitriol there! After all, Fiorina’s not a politician.
As for ending “corruption,” well, who could be against that? Under the Fiorina regime, there will be no more hand-outs for the privileged and no more payouts for people who don’t do the job that’s expected of them. On a related note, Carly Fiorina received $21 million (plus $19 million in stock options) for being fired as CEO of Hewlett-Packard in 2005.
Speaking of that Hewlett-Packard experience, running on her tenure as CEO did her little good in 2010, mainly because everyone kept pointing out how many jobs were lost under reign (some 30,000 layoffs) and all the enthusiastic outsourcing she presided over. But she’s going back to the same well for 2016 and offering a highly sanitized retelling of her stewardship of the company. “Carly didn’t always make the most popular decisions at HP,” her website boasts, “but, time and time again, they would prove to be the right ones.” And there’s even a little backbiting at the Hewlett-Packard board for forcing her out:
But even though her record as CEO speaks for itself, Carly faced headwinds from people who did not want to see HP change. They wanted to double-down on a flawed agenda that simply wasn’t sustainable against the new challenges of the 21st Century.
Yes, you can certainly tell that Carly Fiorina hates sound bites and isn’t a “professional politician” – only real, authentic people use phrases like “double-down on a flawed agenda” and “new challenges of the 21st Century [capitalized for some reason].” Fiorina’s list of accomplishments as HP CEO include “doubled revenues” and the fact that they were cranking out “11 patents a day.” She’s clearly hoping that people will confuse “good for a giant tech company’s bottom line” with “good for America.”
So at this moment, there is no real justification for why Carly Fiorina is running for president. At the very least, though, she’s carving out a unique space for herself. While other candidates are scrambling to show off their populist cred and fake concern over income inequality, Fiorina is embracing her legacy as a failed tech CEO gliding along on a golden parachute.
By: Simon Maloy, Salon, May 4, 2015