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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

“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

“Ted Cruz’s Super Stingy Sugar Daddies”: Cruz’s Own Super PAC Hedging Against Him

Ted Cruz’s coterie of supportive super PACs are crawling with cash—but it’s not doing him much good at the moment.

The Republican presidential contender, a first-term senator from Texas, has an unusual network of super PACs in place to boost his White House prospects. Instead of giving his imprimatur to one main super PAC, which is the norm, Cruz has four officially sanctioned super PACs: Keep the Promise PAC, Keep the Promise I, Keep the Promise II, and Keep the Promise III. National Review reported that this set-up is designed to give individual billionaires and their families maximal control over how their cash gets spent.

And there’s the rub. FEC filings show that those four PACs, combined, have taken in a healthy $39 million—but only spent a teeny tiny little fraction of that on the senator’s presidential efforts. And one of the PACs actually donated to one of Cruz’s 2016 rivals.

This news comes as Cruz faces lackluster poll numbers and less than a week before the first GOP debate. RealClearPolitics’ average gives him just 5.2 percent of the vote, lagging behind fellow conservative firebrands Rand Paul and Ben Carson. And a recent Fox News poll showed his support among likely Republican primary voters got cut in half since mid-March—from 10 percent to just 4 percent.

And while Cruz’s PACs have kept their powder dry, other 2016 contenders’ backers are spending big. The Conservative Solutions Project spent seven figures on TV ads touting Sen. Marco Rubio’s record on Iran, per the Tampa Bay Times. And, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the John Kasich-backing New Day for America has already spent $1.7 million blanketing New Hampshire televisions with ads touting the Ohio governor’s record.

Candidates who aren’t running for president are getting similar boosts; Pat Toomey, a vulnerable Republican senator in Pennsylvania, is benefitting from a $1.5 million TV, direct mail, and digital video ad campaign from Concerned Veterans for America.

But Ted Cruz doesn’t seem to be getting that kind of love. And in his home state, it’s raised a few eyebrows.

“Are these people really planning to spend this money?” queried one Texas Republican insider, adding that he thought the super PACs’ gun-shy approach to spending was “bizarre.”

So while Cruz has made a host of positive headlines for the cash that his supporting super PACs have raked in, he doesn’t actually seem to have benefitted much from their largesse.

First off, there’s Keep the Promise I, a PAC that gets the bulk of its cash from billionaire investor Robert Mercer. In this quarter of the year, the PAC took in more than $11 million and spent only $536,169.90. The kicker? Of that $536,169.90, a sweet five hundred grand went to a super PAC backing Carly Fiorina—who, of course, is also running for president. Against Cruz.

CNN, which first reported on Carly’s PAC’s money, called the contribution “unusual,” which is certainly a nice way to put it. Of the remaining $36,000 that the PAC spent, $20,000 went to a D.C.-based polling company. The remaining $16,169.90 went to Bracewell and Giuliani LLP for legal consulting. So from April through July of this year, the biggest benefactor of a putatively pro-Cruz super PAC was Carly Fiorina.

“It’s Cruz’s own super PAC hedging against him before the first debate,” said the Republican insider.

Then there’s Keep the Promise II—funded solely by a $10 million donation from Toby Neugebauer, son of Rep. Randy Neugebauer—and Keep the Promise III, funded by the fracking-enriched Wilks family. Those two PACs, combined, raised $25 million this quarter. Keep the Promise II didn’t spend anything, and Keep the Promise III spent just $5,025.

Finally, there’s the Keep the Promise PAC, which doesn’t appear to be dominated by one major donor or donor family. It brought in a comparatively modest $1.8 million this quarter and spent about $97,000. Most of that went to covering legal fees, software, and media production. The PAC also spent $1,698.39 at an Austin Apple Store on a computer. This all means that while this PAC looks like it’s been busier than the other three, it’s still not doing a whole lot.

Cruz’s atypical super PAC situation was designed to give donors more control over how their money got spent. But no one anticipated that these donors would be so stingy—except when it comes to boosting a Cruz competitor.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, July 31, 2015

August 3, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, Super PAC's, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I’m Not An ‘Official’ Candidate”: Will Jeb Bush Get Away With His ‘Scheme’ To Skirt Campaign Finance Rules?

With candidates and outside groups already raking in money for the 2016 presidential contest and the Federal Election Commission abdicating its duty to enforce campaign finance laws, watchdog groups are pushing the Department of Justice to fill the void. To start, groups are asking the DOJ to investigate one of the most blatant exploiters of lax enforcement: Jeb Bush.

For months now the former Florida governor has kept up the elaborate charade that he is not quite sure if he will run for the Republican presidential nomination. “No, no. I’m not an official candidate,” he said during an exchange with reporters a few weeks ago—never mind that he’s been crisscrossing the country raising amounts cash unprecedented for an undeclared candidate. Bush himself has struggled to maintain the farce, as he demonstrated minutes later when he accidentally declared, “I’m running for president in 2016.”

The implications of Bush’s protracted non-candidacy are serious. By waiting to announce his bid for the White House, Bush has skirted one of the last remaining campaign finance rules: the ban on coordination between candidates and super PACs. (To be sure, that supposed firewall already looks more like a shower curtain.) Once Bush officially declares his intention to run, his campaign will be bound by that rule and by limits on donations directly to candidates ($2,700 in the primaries). But until then, absent action by regulators, Bush is apparently free to raise money and direct strategy for Right to Rise, the super PAC that is expected to eventually take on many operations normally undertaken by a campaign committee—not just television and online advertising but also direct mail, data collection, and phone banking. And unlike a campaign committee, the Super PAC’s ability to raise money for these activities won’t be hampered by contribution limits.

In a letter sent to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Wednesday, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 allege that Bush and Right to Rise are “engaged in a scheme to allow unlimited contributions to be spent directly on behalf of the Bush campaign and thereby violate the candidate contribution limits enacted to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.” The groups asked the DOJ to appoint a special counsel from outside the department to investigate the allegation, noting that it would look suspicious were a Democrat-appointed Attorney General to go after a Republican candidate.

The letter argues that Bush should be considered a candidate despite his disavowals, because he’s been acting like one “in all pertinent respects.” He’s hired strategists and buttered up local Republican leaders in early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa. He’s headlined dozens of events for Right to Rise, many of them fundraisers with a $100,000 ticket price. His advisers are overseeing the super PACs operations. Reportedly Bush has even set the timing of his official campaign announcement—expected mid-June—to leave room for a “cross-country fundraising tour” for Right to Rise before the non-coordination rule kicks in.

Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer said that Bush’s association with Right to Rise is “the most blatant example to date” of how super PACs dedicated to a single candidate are being used to circumvent contribution limits. But Wertheimer’s group and the Campaign Legal Center are preparing to ask the DOJ to probe other potential violations by presidential candidates and individual-candidate super PACs.

While the FEC has jurisdiction over civil enforcement of campaign finance laws, the Justice Department can pursue criminal, or “knowing and willful,” violations. The DOJ’s first prosecution involving coordination between a super PAC and a campaign committee was announced in February, in a case involving a campaign manager for a Virginia congressional candidate who coordinated with a super PAC to leverage $325,000 in advertising against a rival. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said at the time that the department “is fully committed to addressing the threat posed to the integrity of federal primary and general elections by coordinated campaign contributions, and will aggressively pursue coordination offenses at every appropriate opportunity.”

“The Justice Department is the only place where we have a chance of getting the laws enforced,” Wertheimer said. “The FEC is useless.” The chairwoman of the commission, which is hamstrung by a three to three split among the commissioners, acknowledged as much recently when she told the New York Times that “the likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim… People think the FEC is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.” If neither enforcer steps up, then according to Wertheimer “We’re going to see the most massive campaign finance violations in the history of the country, done by various presidential candidates.” (A DOJ spokesperson told The Nation that the department would review the letter, but declined to comment further.)

Daniel Weiner, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and a former FEC staffer, shares Wertheimer’s critique of the commission. “It beggars belief that there hasn’t been a single case worth bringing in the last six years,” he said, noting that the FEC hasn’t pursued any cases related to the coordination rule since the Supreme Court unfettered super PAC spending in Citizens United.

But Weiner doesn’t believe that the DOJ can “substitute for competent and active civil enforcement,” because not all violations that warrant a response from regulators rise to a criminal level. “Sooner or later we need to do something about the FEC. It’s nice to talk about the Justice Department, and I support efforts to get disclosure through other avenues, but as long as we have a completely dysfunctional civil regulator there’s going to be an elephant in the room,” he said.

And if that doesn’t happen before the 2016 contests truly heat up? “We’re going to have the Wild West,” Weiner concluded.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, May 27, 2015

May 28, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Federal Election Commission, Jeb Bush, Super PAC's | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fully Fledged Substitutes For Campaigns”: When Is A Campaign Not A Campaign? When It’s A Super Pac

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

May 18, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United, Super PAC's | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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