“Fighting Big Money With Big Money”: Until Citizens United Overturned, Best Way Out Of Our Dilemma Is To Democratize The Money Game
If you are tired of seeing the debate on guns dominated by the National Rifle Association and yearn for sensible weapons laws, you have to love New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. When most politicians were caving in or falling silent, there was Bloomberg, wielding his fortune to keep hope alive that we could move against the violence that blights our nation.
But imagine that you also believe the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was a disaster for representative government because a narrow majority broke with long precedent and tore down the barriers to corporate money in politics. The decision also encouraged the super-rich to drop any inhibitions about using their wealth to push their own political agendas.
When it comes to policy, I fall into both of these camps — pro-Bloomberg on guns but anti-Citizens United. So I have been pondering the issue of consistency or, as some would see it, hypocrisy.
Put aside that the hypocrisy question rarely is raised against those who defend unlimited contributions except when the big bucks are wielded against them. Can I be grateful for what Bloomberg is doing and still loathe Citizens United? I say: Yes.
Are opponents of Citizens United and the new super PAC world required to disown those who use their wealth to fight for causes we believe in? I say: No.
To begin with, even before Citizens United, the regulations on “issue advertising” — most of what Bloomberg is doing now — were quite permissive for activities outside the period shortly before elections. The Supreme Court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision already had given wealthy individuals such as Bloomberg a great deal of leeway.
And, unlike those who donate large amounts anonymously, Bloomberg is entirely open about what he’s up to. He is simply offsetting the political might of the arms manufacturers.
Supporters of universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines simply cannot be asked to repudiate the help they need to face down the power of the gun lobby.
To put it in an unvarnished way, I’m glad some members of Congress will have to think about whether enraging Bloomberg is more dangerous than angering the NRA. And Bloomberg’s advertising serves to remind politicians inclined to yield to the gun lobby that their constituents support universal background checks by margins of around 9 to 1.
The Supreme Court has stuck us with an unsavory choice. If the only moneyed people giving to politics are pushing for policies that favor the wealthy, we really will become an oligarchy. For now, their pile of dough needs to be answered by progressive rich people who think oligarchy is a bad idea.
But playing the game as it’s now set up should not blind anyone to how flawed its rules are. Politics should not be reduced to a contest between liberal rich people and conservative rich people. A donor derby tilts politics away from the interests and concerns of the vast majority of Americans who aren’t wealthy and can’t write checks of a size that gets their phone calls returned automatically. A Citizens United world makes government less responsive, less representative and more open to corruption.
That’s why many who welcome the continued political engagement of President Obama’s campaign organization are nonetheless concerned about its dependence on big-dollar givers. This creates a troubling model that other politicians are certain to follow. It would be far better if Obama concentrated primarily on building off the pioneering work his campaigns did in rallying small donors.
This points to the larger danger for those who tout their tough-mindedness about using the current system for progressive purposes while still claiming to be reformers: Politicians are growing so comfortable with the status quo that they largely have given up trying to change it.
Two who haven’t are Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), sponsors of the Empowering Citizens Act. It would provide a 5 to 1 match from public funds for contributions of $250 or less, thus establishing strong incentives for politicians to rely on smaller donors while offering the rest of us a fighting chance against the billionaires. Harnessed to new technologies, this approach could vastly expand the number of citizens who are regular contributors. Similar reforms are being proposed at the state level in New York, and Obama’s organization says it will push to get them passed.
Until Citizens United is overturned, as it should be, the best way out of our dilemma is to democratize the money game.
So, yes, let’s cheer for Mike Bloomberg. But let’s also insist on creating a system in which we will no longer need his money.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 27, 2013
Republican presidential primary frontrunner Mitt Romney (R) is taking a break from the campaign trail a day after finishing third in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, stopping in New York City for multiple fundraisers and a visit with campaign surrogate Donald Trump. Romney will attend three fundraisers and haul in an expected $2 million this week, bolstering a fundraising total that has already made him Wall Street’s favorite candidate.
More than any other institution on Wall Street, Romney has ties to Goldman Sachs, the firm that was slammed in a New York Times editorial this morning by a resigning executive director who decried the firm’s “toxic and destructive” culture. Romney and his wife, Ann, have investments in almost three-dozen Goldman Sachs funds valued between $17.7 million and $50.5 million, according to his personal financial disclosure forms.
No Wall Street bank has been as generous to Romney’s campaign, his leadership PAC, and the super PAC that backs him as Goldman. According to an analysis of Federal Election Commission reports, Goldman Sachs employees have given the Romney campaign more than $427,000 during the 2012 cycle, nearly twice as much as he has received from any other major Wall Street bank (Citigroup employees have given roughly $274,000 to Romney, the second-largest amount). According to OpenSecrets.org, total contributions to Romney from Goldman Sachs, its employees, and their immediate family members totals more than $521,000.
The Free And Strong America Leadership PAC, which is affiliated with the Romney campaign, has received $30,000 from Goldman Sachs employees during the 2012 cycle. Goldman employees and their spouses, meanwhile, have given $670,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Romney.
After making billions of dollars in the run-up to the financial collapse of 2008, Goldman Sachs benefited from a federal bailout that saved Wall Street banks. The company, like other Wall Street firms, stood opposed to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act that was signed into law in 2010 and also fought regulations it contained, such as the Volcker Rule, which would prevent proprietary trading that made the bank billions but left taxpayers on the hook when it nearly collapsed. Romney has rarely missed a chance to tout his opposition to the law on the campaign trail, announcing that he’d repeal it even before he read it.
By: Travis Waldron and Josh Israel, Think Progress, March 14, 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
In retrospect, the transformation began the way most major changes in society begin: without anyone fully realizing what was taking place. Yes, when the Supreme Court handed down its 2010 Citizens United decision — allowing virtually unlimited spending by corporations and individuals to sway elections — there was a fair amount of outrage, mostly from the left. President Barack Obama, then in his first term, spoke out against what he called the corporate takeover of our democracy. But even those who imagined the threat posed by this unfettered influence could not have conceived of what would happen in the years that followed.
It started slowly. The so-called “super PACs” inserted themselves in congressional races. They ran a number of deeply misleading ads across the country. And they even took on roles traditionally associated with the political parties and candidates. But in those early days, the influence of these groups was limited: First, there were a lot of super PACs competing with campaigns and each other for donations and political talent. Second, they were prevented by law from coordinating with candidates.
But that all changed after the election in 2012.
Barack Obama’s narrow victory came after a brutal campaign in which the parties spent some $2 billion, yet were almost matched dollar for dollar by outside groups. The airwaves in swing states were saturated with a level of political vitriol not seen in this country since the days before the Civil War. The lack of coordination between PACs and candidates, however, meant that while people were inundated with ads, the messages were often competing and disjointed, forgotten as soon as the commercial break was over. Voters were angry, confused, frightened, and unmoved.
After the president’s reelection, a group of senior Republican operatives, joined by energy executives, Christian conservatives, and wealthy Republican donors, gathered to commiserate over the outcome of the race, and to plot the way forward. But the meeting quickly devolved into chaos. Karl Rove and representatives of Crossroads GPS, his super PAC, nearly came to blows with Mitt Romney’s campaign team — both sides slinging accusations as to who allowed the election to slip through their fingers.
Then a junior staffer, there only to take notes, stood up.
“This is the problem,” he said quietly.
Karl Rove, holding a folding chair over the prone and weeping form of Eric Fehrnstrom, paused. “What is it, son? Speak up.”
“This,” he said, taking a deep breath. “This is the first time any of us have been in the same room together.”
Grover Norquist, who took shelter behind a potted plant at the first sign of trouble, stood up and cleared his throat. “But we were barred by law, kid. Sure, the leaders of PACs can talk, but what use is it if we can’t coordinate with the campaigns?”
Karl unfolded the chair and sat down, his mind turning. “What if…” Karl squinted, shined an apple on his shirt, and took a bite. “What if there are no campaigns to coordinate with?”
Soon after, Crossroads GPS merged with the remnants of the pro-Romney “Restore our Future” super PAC, and absorbed other smaller organizations as well. With unlimited resources and few disclosure requirements, this new entity, TruePAC, had the funds to hire away talented staffers and operatives from the national party and campaigns. TruePAC enlisted polling firms, direct mail distributors, and other mainstays of traditional political operations. And Rove traveled the country delivering what became known as the PACs Americana Speech to convince bundlers and major donors to eschew traditional campaigns and parties to support his new organization.
His answer to a ban on coordination was to make coordination irrelevant. The PAC would be the campaign. The campaign would be the PAC. Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, campaigns really only existed to meet filing deadlines and conduct paperwork; beyond this, the real difference between an official campaign and a political action committee was a bunch of onerous rules and restrictions.
And who needed those?
Democrats, slow to see the power of this new model, were overwhelmed by the onslaught that followed. Republicans took the White House and Congress in an election defined by TruePAC’s famous slogan, “ARGHHHHHHH,” which was shouted by children being pushed into a volcano. It was then that the last vestiges of the labor movement, Hollywood moguls like the chairman of NBC Hulu Universal, prominent trial lawyers, and wealthy liberal activists decided it was time to fight fire with fire. They created what became known as GoodPAC, which soon leveled the playing field.
In the coming years, GoodPAC and TruePAC waged a cold war, with candidates as their proxies, and advertisements as their arsenal. Campaigns became mere shells, with a skeleton staff on hand to secure signatures to gain ballot access and to file the requisite financial disclosures, which no one cared about anymore, because they were pretty much blank. Eventually, candidates stopped campaigning all together, fearing that any appearance would give TruePAC or GoodPAC more recent footage that could be used in their horrible, blood-curdling advertisements.
These tactics were of little use, however, as both PACs hired artists to ‘render’ versions of the other side in various animal and arachnid forms. Soon, people forgot which parties they originally favored, and came to identify with GoodPAC or TruePAC alone. After a while, the elections almost blended together. It was easy to think that GoodPAC had always been at war with TruePAC.
In time, supporters of GoodPAC and TruePAC grew more and more polarized, often refusing to live in the same parts of town. Campaigns were loud and garish affairs with long marches and slogans shouted in support of candidates rarely ever met or seen. The saddest part is, the elections themselves were usually decided by just a few votes, with the ballot counting extending for months or longer. Sometimes, you never even hear about who wins.
What’s strange is, I could swear that there have been times when the PACs have switched views to what the other PAC held in the last election. And there even are rumors that some companies support both PACs. It’s hard to know, because there are no disclosures. But I don’t understand how anyone could support both GoodPAC and TruePAC when they have such wildly different principles. Honestly, I’m not even sure if the members of TruePAC are people at all. They seem so awful, and lack the values that made this country strong. Are they rats? I think they may be giant rats.
At this point, I only know two things:
One, we have to do something — anything — to wrestle control of our government away from these powerful interests that distort our debate and limit our choices; that would scare us and divide us and deny us a voice in our political process, in our democracy.
And two, I hate with every fiber of my being the candidates backed by TruePAC, and I will do all that is in my power to help elect the decent, honest people who have earned the support of GoodPAC. So will you help us defeat the dragon-faced rat monsters who are out to destroy this country?
Which side are you on?
By: Jon Lovett, The Atlantic, February 2, 2012
In recent days, Newt Gingrich has been excoriating Mitt Romney in television ads and attacking his business background in language that President Obama would likely repeat in a general election.
“The most significant campaign news of the last few days was not the debates over the weekend, or even today’s New Hampshire primary,” Brendan Nyhan wrote. “Rather, it was the report that a super PAC backing Newt Gingrich will air millions of dollars in negative ads against Romney in South Carolina, the site of the next Republican primary after New Hampshire.”
Amusingly, it wasn’t so long ago that Gingrich got all sanctimonious about what he cast as a principled refusal to attack fellow candidates for the Republican primary. As he put it in September 2011:
JOHN HARRIS: Speaker Gingrich, it sounds like we have a genuine philosophical disagreement. In Massachusetts, a mandate, almost no uninsured–in Texas, a more limited approach, about a quarter uninsured. Who’s got the better end of this argument?
GINGRICH: Well, I’m frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other. The fact is–
HARRIS: Speaker Gingrich, we’ve got–
GINGRICH: No, no we don’t–
HARRIS: We’ve got a choice between the individual mandate or not. Anyway, go ahead.
GINGRICH: You’d have, you would like to puff this up into some giant thing. The fact is, every person up here understands Obamacare is a disaster. It is a disaster procedurally. It was rammed through after they lost Teddy Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts. It was written badly, it was never reconciled. It can’t be implemented. It is killing this economy. And if this president had any concern for working Americans, he’d walk in Thursday night and ask us to repeal it because it’s a monstrosity. Every person up here agrees with that. And let me just say– since I still have a little time left, let me just say–
GINGRICH: I for one, and I hope all of my friends up here, going to repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama who deserves to be defeated. And all of us are committed as a team, whoever the nominee is, we are all for defeating Barack Obama.
Then there’s the statement the Gingrich campaign made last month: “Negative attacks on fellow Republicans will not create a single new job or help rebuild America… The Gingrich campaign has a different approach than some other Republican campaigns: Newt Gingrich has only one opponent — Barack Obama.”
Even in a race with Romney, Gingrich is as phony as they come.
By: Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, January 11, 2012