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“The Bane Of Many Politicians’ Existence”: Senate GOP Solution To Super PAC Rivals; More Money In Politics

This may sound odd, but it rings true amongst Republicans and Democrats alike: The only people who loathe Super PACs more than voters forced to sit through an onslaught of their bullshit ads, are politicians themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, at first many Republicans loved the new, post-Citizen United world of PACs (a.k.a. Political Action Committees who act any way they want). But those powerful outside groups have become the bane of many politicians’ existence—even GOP lawmakers who oppose overturning the Supreme Court ruling.

“We’re at a point where the outside groups have so much more flexibility than the parties do that there’s nothing wrong with giving both political parties a little more flexibility in how they work with candidates,” said Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of the GOP leadership team in the Senate.

As Congress scrambles to avoid a year end government shutdown, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is quietly trying to include a provision to dismantle any limitations remaining on what the parties in Washington can spend coordinating with their candidates. Both parties bemoan that their candidates have lost control of their own campaigns.

Currently GOP and Democratic leaders can only spend about $50,000 to assist House candidates and around $3 million working with Senate campaigns. But for Super PACs the sky is the limit on what they can raise and spend, thus neutering the parties and politicians alike.

“You notice that the political parties are now being shunted aside, because he who pays the pipers calls the tune,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) who doesn’t think McConnell’s latest attempt is all that significant. “It’s the outside money, particularly in the Republican sphere, that is funding elections. And it’s all this undisclosed, unlimited money uncontrolled by the campaign finance law. So until we can stop the outside money you can tinker here and tinker there, and it doesn’t make any difference.”

PACs have complicated everything for today’s political class. Yes, candidates are still the central component of any campaign, but all the campaign cash has eclipsed many candidates’ messages in recent elections. That’s because it’s easier for PACs to rake in millions than it is for candidates and their party to take in similar rolls of dollar bills. Candidates and parties also have to play by different rules.

“The candidates we have to disclose everything and I have to put my name on it,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) told The Daily Beast. She’s facing a bruising reelection battle and thinks the Citizens United ruling has unleashed a double standard.

“The parties also, they have to say ‘from the party’ and be able to do that, but you know there are a lot of outside groups, they have different names and it’s tough to know where they’re coming from.”

While candidates want to exert more control over their own campaigns, so do party leaders. In recent years Tea Party challengers have embarrassed themselves and the Republican Party in Senate races from Delaware to Nevada. That made the GOP establishment bristle, and seems to be behind McConnell’s latest move to strengthen the parties.

“McConnell is a party man,” said Kyle Kondik, a campaign analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “He probably believes that if the parties are stronger they can exert more control over who gets the nomination. You make the party stronger the individual candidates get weaker.”

That’s why the Tea Party wing of the GOP is opposed to McConnell’s latest move.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the head of the House Freedom Caucus, said the changes on coordination should also be extended to Super PACs who currently are forbidden from coordinating with campaigns.

“What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander,” Jordan told The Daily Beast. “So if it’s good for the parties, it should be good for outside groups who are involved in politics and have a big influence on politics as well. I mean free speech is free speech. So either don’t do it at all, or if you’re going to do it, do it in an equal fashion.”

This isn’t the first time McConnell has stealthily tried to unwind election law. As the legislative clock wound down at the end of last year, he worked with then Speaker John Boehner to lift the cap on what party committees could solicit from donors. The provision hiked the rate from just under $100,000 to nearly $800,000. It was barely noticed, but critics argue the new provision will be felt.

“It will basically turn the parties into another apparatus that’s owned by the big money crowd,” said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), an advocate for public financing of campaigns. “In a sense it would allow big donors to become benefactors of specific candidates, using the parties to do it. They would kind of go through the parties to become the sugar daddy of this candidate or that candidate. So the parties lose all independence; they just become the tool of the big money crowd.”

Then there’s the whole presidential scramble going on. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham has proven to be a lackluster fundraiser in his #YOLOrace for the White House, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been carefully watching his opponents and their Super PACs. He predicts something will give when the new Congress convenes at the start of 2017.

“I think there is going to be a scandal about money coming in the 2016 cycle from unsavory sources,” Graham to The Daily Beast. “That’s what it’s going to take to spur discussion. So I don’t really care about moving the caps as long as it’s transparent.”

 

By; Matt Laslo, The Daily Beast, December 14, 2015

December 15, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United, Mitch Mc Connell, Super PAC's | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“One Million For Me, None For You”: How Carly Fiorina Screwed Her Campaign Staff And Paid Herself First

After Carly Fiorina’s unsuccessful 2010 run for Senate in California, it took her more than four years to fully pay staff and vendors for their work on her campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

But a review of Federal Election Commission records by The Daily Beast shows that Fiorina first paid herself back for more than $1.25 million in personal loans she made to the campaign, including a $1 million check on the day before Election Day. That check set the campaign back so far it was impossible to pay staff and vendors what they were owed for years.

Marty Wilson, Fiorina’s then-campaign manager, said Fiorina knew at the time that there would be debts at the end of the campaign, but that it was difficult to know how deep the debt would be.

“The problem with campaigns is you project debt based on what you think revenues are going to be,” Wilson said. “People say they are going to send money, but Election Day comes and goes, and you’ve lost, and those receivables don’t materialize.”

With more than $1 million out the door at the last minute and a shortfall in fundraising commitments, the campaign ended nearly $500,000 in debt, unable to pay vendors and staff, including Wilson, who was owed more than $60,000.

“We certainly talked to her after the campaign quite a bit about the nature of the debt, who the money was owed to, did some things to get some of the bills paid off after the election,” Wilson said. “Was I frustrated? Yes. But there were other people who were more frustrated than I was.”

The best part? This is totally, 100 percent legal.

Under federal law, self-funding candidates can spend unlimited money on their campaigns. Some donate the money outright, while others, like Fiorina, make loans to the campaign with the hopes of being paid back once the money is raised from other sources.

But the loans are not indefinite. The 2002 McCain-Feingold Act limits the window during which a candidate can be reimbursed for those candidate-sponsored loans, which could explain Fiorina’s haste to get at least some of her money back.

Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, D.C., said the law was supposed to keep lobbyists from paying candidates’ campaign expenses, but it also entices candidates to repay themselves quickly or never be paid back at all.

“The unfortunate thing in this scenario is that a bunch of other vendors and staff were seemingly shafted by this move,” said Ryan. “It’s not illegal, but one may draw their own conclusions about the type of person who would rather pay themselves back a loan, when they are free to spend as much money as they want on their campaign, rather than repay others who they owe money to.”

Even going into the campaign, it was clear the Senate bid would be a wildly expensive proposition for any Republican candidate. Fiorina, a first-time candidate who had made her name, and much of her estimated $120 million personal fortune at that time, as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 until 2005, was no exception.

Although Fiorina’s run at HP was rocky, with more than 30,000 layoffs and a stock that lost more than half its value, Fiorina left with a $21 million payout and more than $20 million more in additional compensation.

Altogether, Fiorina financed nearly $7 million of the $21 million Senate campaign through personal loans to her campaign at 0 percent interest. In November 2009, she launched Carly for California and quickly pumped $2.5 million into the nascent Senate bid. She then repeatedly dipped into her personal fortune as the campaign went on, including a $1 million loan in the final weeks of the campaign to pay for a last-minute ad buy against Boxer.

Having declared all of her loans during the primary as a loss, Fiorina paid herself back in full for loans she made in the general election, using cash on hand to repay herself $250,000 two weeks before the election and $1 million on the day before Election Day.

Over the next four years, the Carly for California campaign pushed its debts back month after month after month, year after year. As Fiorina and her husband relocated to a multimillion-dollar Virginia estate and campaign treasurers came and went, the vendors and staff remained unpaid, including the widow of a close adviser who had died suddenly during her Senate bid.

Only as Fiorina began to publicly consider launching a presidential campaign in 2015 did she pay off her 2010 debts, quietly writing a personal check for $487,410 to finally pay the outstanding bills and close the Carly for California campaign.

Three months later, Carly for President launched, quickly raising $1.4 million for Fiorina’s presidential bid. But unlike Carly for California, the new campaign is making do without her personal fortune. So far, she and her husband, Frank, have given $2,700 each, the maximum allowed for any average donor.

That may be partially explained by Marty Wilson’s observation of Fiorina’s 2010 experience. “I don’t think anybody likes parting with a substantial percentage of their net worth for a speculative venture.”

The Carly for President campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

 

By: Patricia Murphy, The Daily Beast, September 25, 2015

September 26, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Campaign Staffers, Carly Fiorina | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Organization Has Just One Member”: ‘Veterans For A Strong America’ Draws Scrutiny

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump hasn’t offered much in the way of policy speeches since launching his campaign, so it was of great interest this week when Team Trump announced plans for a major foreign-policy speech, delivered from a decommissioned battleship. If you’ve watched the show this week, however, you know the speech didn’t quite live up to its billing.

Right off the bat, Trump’s speech on matters of national security had very little to do with national security. There weren’t even any references to ISIS. Military Times published a report noting that the remarks “featured few new ideas for military policy or Veterans Affairs reform but plenty of promises to crack down on illegal immigration and ‘make our country great again.’”

The GOP frontrunner did, however, vow to “come out with some plans in a very short time,” which struck an odd note given that this was supposed to be a speech about Trump’s plans.

And while all of this matters – presidential candidates with vague platforms who promise to deliver a major address on foreign policy should keep that promise – it’s not the most interesting part of the story.

As it turns out, the event aboard the USS Iowa was less of a campaign speech and more of a fundraiser for a group called “Veterans for a Strong America” – an organization that Trump claims represents “hundreds of thousands of veterans.”

As best as we can tell, Veterans for a Strong America does not, however, have a sizable membership base. In fact, as Rachel noted on the show on Wednesday, the group does not appear to have any members at all.

What’s more, the organization staff itself appears to consist of just one individual: Joel Arends of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

And Joel Arends of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has quite a political background.

In the 2014 election cycle, he worked with a Republican U.S. Senate candidate who was recently convicted on election-related crimes – which the candidate blames on advice she received from Joel Arends.

Arends’ group has also been under investigation by two Arizona agencies for alleged election irregularities. Arends is also facing allegations in Texas of being involved in a super PAC scam.

And just in case that weren’t quite enough, the Associated Press published this report Wednesday:

The Internal Revenue Service revoked the nonprofit status of the veterans benefit organization that hosted and sold tickets to a foreign policy speech by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump aboard a retired U.S. battleship, The Associated Press has learned. The group’s endorsement of Trump at the event also could raise legal problems under campaign finance laws.

So, taken together, this story raises some questions that deserve answers. A political operative facing some legal scrutiny appears to be the sole official at a group, Veterans for a Strong America, which, according to the IRS, has lost its nonprofit status for failing to file tax returns. And yet, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination headlined a fundraiser for the group this week – the organization sold tickets to Trump’s event for up to $1,000 a piece – and repeated a claim about the group’s dubious membership. How did this happen, exactly?

As Rachel concluded, it now seems as if the Trump campaign “is either in on some kind of scheme with this group that is not a non-profit, or Donald Trump and his campaign got duped and taken for a ride by a guy who, you could suss out pretty easily, with literally one page of Googling and 30 spare seconds. In either instance, that is the kind of base-level failure in a presidential campaign that doesn’t bode well for the long-term viability of that candidate – just in terms of the basic functions of what it takes to run.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 18, 2015

September 21, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Donald Trump, Veterans for A Strong America | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Electioneering Committees”: Buying A President For 30 Bucks And Change

For today’s report, I have a bunch of statistics for you. Wait — don’t run away! Where are you going? Come back here and sit still while I drill these stats into your head! It’ll be fun, and you’ll learn something.

I realize that numbers can numb the brain, but this is a good story, and I promise that these statistics are easy to absorb. In fact, the number 400 pretty much sums up this story of political intrigue and corruption involving some of America’s wealthiest families and corporations.

Let’s start with the “Billionaire 400,” a clique of the elite organized by the conniving Koch brothers. These ultra-rich right wingers gather each winter in some warm-weather resort for a secretive, invitation-only retreat. There, they plot strategies and pledge money to elect politicos who’ll support their vision of corporate rule in America. For the 2016 elections, they’ve already committed nearly a billion dollars to impose their vision of plutocracy over our democratic ideals — double the combined amount that the Republican and Democratic parties will spend. I wonder: What do they think they’re getting for that price?

Then there are the secretive SuperPACs that are sacking up tens of millions of dollars to back various presidential candidates. Again, a few hundred corporations and rich families — each writing checks for hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars — have put up nearly half of all the money in these electioneering committees.

Keep that 400 number in mind when I offer my sincerest congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Middle-Class America, since they are all the rage in this present presidential contest, for Jeb, Hillary, and all the rest — even The Donald — say their campaigns are all about the hurting middle class that hasn’t yet recovered from the Great Recession. Well, don’t look now, but after each one promises that they’ll do the most for the Great Mass of the Middle Class, they disappear into the shadows and scurry off to schmooze with the little group of Americans they truly love: The exclusive club of multimillionaires and billionaires, who are shoveling those big bucks into those campaign pockets.

Now, back to our statistics: Jeb Bush got a million dollars each from 26 of his SuperPAC backers; Hillary Clinton took a million each from nine funders; of the $16 million in Marco Rubio’s PAC, 78 percent came from only four donors; and Ted Cruz got the most from the fewest, taking practically all of his $37 million from just three fat-cat families.

So while candidates for the highest office in our land are soaking up applause for the grand rhetoric they’re giving to the middle class, they’re also quietly collecting millions of dollars by pledging their steadfast fealty to the ruling class. Donating millions is not an innocent or noble political transaction. Written on the back of each of their checks is their own corporate agenda, trumping the people’s agenda.

Ironically, it’s Donnie Trump, the bombastic billionaire, who candidly admits that these so-called “gifts” amount to the outright, plutocratic purchase of politicians. He’s long been a campaign donor in order to secure political favors, he confesses, and it works: “When I need something from them … they are there for me.” There’s a word for that: Corruption.

But now, here comes the antidote to this corruption of our politics by fat cats. Instead of being financed by 400 special interests, Bernie Sanders’ campaign has raised its $15 million (as of July) from over 400,000 ordinary Americans. In fact, the average donation to Bernie is a heartwarming, soul-saving $31.30!

You can’t buy a president for just over 30 bucks — but you can help elect one who isn’t owned by Big Money. And isn’t that the way democracy ought to be?

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, September 9, 2015

September 10, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Campaign Financing, Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Incorruptible?”: Trump Hates Lobbyists—Except The Ones Running His Super PAC

Donald Trump says he hates what lobbyists and super PACs are doing to our political system. According to him, his most attractive quality as a candidate—besides, obviously, his terrific looks—is his wealth, because it means Trump will never find himself beholden to anyone but Trump.

At a press conference in Dubuque, Iowa, on Tuesday evening, Trump told reporters, “I know the system better than anybody. The fact is that whether it’s Jeb, or Hillary, or any of ’em—they’re all controlled by these people! And the people that control them are the special interests, the lobbyists and the donors.”

He smiled slightly.

“You know what’s nice about me?” he asked. “I don’t need anybody’s money.”

In practice, however, the candidate seems willing to associate himself with just about anyone offering support—even if that support comes in the form of everything he hates rolled into one: a super PAC run by lobbyists.

On July 1, a pro-Trump super PAC, Make America Great Again PAC, filed with the FEC.

The organization listed on its paperwork a New York City address, which Bloomberg traced to a Midtown FedEx store. The address the PAC provided for supporters to mail their checks to was a Midtown UPS store. Calls to the group’s listed phone number went unanswered, as did an email. The treasurer who submitted the form to the FEC signed it “Les Caldwell,” short for Leslie, and Leslie refused to comment on the record to Politico, while just about every Leslie Caldwell listed in New York chose not to answer or return any of my calls.

Curiously, a closer look at the group’s filing reveals a return address not in New York City but in Colorado.

That address belongs to Jon Anderson, a lobbyist whose “practice is focused on corporate compliance and representing clients before federal, state and local government,” according to the website of his firm, Holland & Hart.

A consultant for the PAC, Mike Ciletti, also from Colorado, is also a lobbyist. He has his own group, New West Public Affairs, which he co-founded in 2009, according to his LinkedIn profile. His clients include the Community Financial Services Association, the trade association for payday lenders, which are often accused of predatory lending.

Anderson didn’t return a call, and Ciletti responded to interview requests with frustration that his activity with the PAC had placed him in the spotlight. “Personally I am waiting to see what other email addresses, phone numbers you can find to try to reach me at. Hats off to you,” he said in an email. “I am not interested in going on the record at this point, perhaps in the future. The focus should be on the candidates.”

At first glance, Make America Great Again PAC seems like it could be a so-called scam PAC, or a fake political operation intended to do nothing more than help its founders get rich. Scam PACs have been cropping up since the rise of the Tea Party. A Politico investigation in January found that of the $43 million that 33 PACs together raised in the 2014 election cycle, only $3 million was spent on candidates. The rest, well…

But Trump seemed to quash those concerns when in mid-July he attended a 200-person fundraiser organized by Make America Great Again PAC at a private home in Manhattan. “It was a combination of friends that have known Mr. Trump for years while others were meeting with him for the first time,” press-shy Ciletti told the press.

Make America Great Again PAC is one of four PACs supporting Trump’s candidacy, though it is the only one to receive his endorsement in the form of a fundraiser appearance.

It might even be said that, when you really assess the pillars of Trump’s campaign platform, he might be known as the Buddy Roemer of 2016—if Trump weren’t so bombastic and intent on incessant racial insensitivity.

To the extent that he is selling a political philosophy, it’s this: “I’m really rich.” He’s not just bragging when he says that. What he means is that the system is so broken that anyone who is not really rich is at the mercy of their financial backers. “I’m really rich” is Trump’s way of saying he is, by virtue of his terrific wealth, incorruptible.

Trump is a cynic. In his view, the only way to fix the broken process by which candidates are elected using massive sums of money funneled to them by shadow organizations and power-hungry billionaires looking to get favors in return is to evade the process altogether by supporting someone like him—someone with the capacity to be their own biggest donor, and thus to answer to no one but themselves.

 

By: Olivia Nuzzi, The Daily Beast, August 26, 2015

August 26, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Donald Trump, Super PAC's | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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