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“Presidential Candidates, Each Sold Separately”: The Donor Class Will Shape The Choice Of Candidates Long Before A Single Ballot Is Cast

Mark Hanna used to say, “there are two things important in politics.The first is money and I forget the second.” The next president will take the oath of office in 2017, but between now and then expect a lot of money to be spent buying the ear of the next president. The large amount of spending will be driven in part because there are presently 22 candidates vying for the two major party nominations. If Prof. Lawrence Lessig makes it official, there will be 23.

Our campaign finance laws maintain the legal fiction that there is a difference between money given directly to a candidate’s campaign and money spent on ads in support of the candidate that benefit them. Your local billionaire can still only give $5400 (or $2700 per election per candidate) to a candidate for federal office. But at the very same time the wealthy can spend an unlimited amount on ads touting their favorite candidate or trashing the object of their ire.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be mighty grateful if someone spent a million in support of me. And I’d probably be more grateful for the million spent than the $5400 given directly.

The wealthy have had the right to spend lavishly on independent ad buys since Buckley v. Valeo in 1976. But the real spending spiked after Citizens United and a case called SpeechNow with the advent of the Super PAC. According to www.opensecrets.org, in 2010 Super PACs raised $828 million and spent $609 million in the federal election.

Spending through a Super PAC, even if there is one funder ponying up 95 percent or more of the money, gives the illusion that there are groups involved—often with an appropriately Orwellian name—instead of just one random rich guy. Using Super PACs as a vehicle, in 2012 Sheldon Adelson and his wife spent $93 million, William “Bill” Koch of the Koch Brothers spent $4.8 million and Foster Friess spent $2.6 million.

And already we see billionaires lining up behind 2016 candidates in the “money primary” like they were buying so many action figures in a toy store with matching podiums, blue suits, and karate grip. Of course, like so many toys, each candidate is sold separately. And the spending has already started. As Mother Jones recently put it, “These 8 Republican Sugar Daddies Are Already Placing Their Bets on 2016.”

The other phenomenon that has happened is some are backing more than one candidate. With 5 Dems and 17 Republicans, the Center for Public Integrity, argues that “[i]t’s speed dating season for presidential campaign contributors.”

There is no rule that says a donor must only back one candidate. If they want, they can hedge their bets and back two or three. Hell, if they want, they can try to collect them all. At least ten donors are backing two or more of the Republican candidates.

Donors don’t have to be loyal to a single political party either.  Seventeen mega spenders are already backing Republican Bush and Democrat Clinton, who may end up as respectively the most popular GI Joe and American Girl doll of 2016. For example, John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, has supported both Bush and Clinton. The same is true of Richard Parsons, the former head of Time Warner, and David Stevens, the CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association.  For a full list of the seventeen Clinton/Bush supporters see here.

Now it’s not necessarily a bad thing for there to be over 20 candidates for president over a year out. It’s a big country with diverse views. But because the presidential public financing system was allowed to atrophy, each of these candidates must run in privately funded races. And this has led to the unseemly spectacles of multiple candidates flying to California for the “Koch” primary or to Las Vegas for the “Adelson” primary. The only primaries that should matter are the ones with actual voters. But the reality is the donor class is likely to shape the choice of candidates long before any Iowans caucus or a New Hampshirite cast a single ballot.

 

By: Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law, August 14, 2015

August 16, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Democracy, Mega-Donors, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Sheldon Adelson Primary”: The GOP Presidential Primary; A Brawl Of Billionaires?

There are few spectacles more absurd or horrifying (depending on your perspective) than a group of political leaders who want to be president of the United States trooping to the lair of a billionaire to genuflect before him in hopes of winning his favor — and, of course, his money.

If you’re looking for a symbol of what presidential politics has become, particularly in the Republican Party, look no further than the festival of grovelling that will occur this weekend in Las Vegas. Alex Isenstadt reports:

Before Iowa and New Hampshire, GOP candidates are competing in the Sheldon Adelson primary, and some will travel to his posh Venetian hotel in Las Vegas this weekend in hopes of winning it. But one candidate — Marco Rubio — has emerged as the clear front-runner, according to nearly a half-dozen sources close to the multibillionaire casino mogul.

In recent weeks, Adelson, who spent $100 million on the 2012 campaign and could easily match that figure in 2016, has told friends that he views the Florida senator, whose hawkish defense views and unwavering support for Israel align with his own, as a fresh face who is “the future of the Republican Party.” He has also said that Rubio’s Cuban heritage and youth would give the party a strong opportunity to expand its brand and win the White House.

Adelson came to many people’s attention when he dropped $20 million in a vain attempt to get Newt Gingrich the GOP nomination in 2012, an effort doomed by the identity of his chosen candidate. It’s a good reminder that money is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for winning the primary. I suppose there might be some level of funding that could propel even someone as ridiculous as Gingrich to victory, but whatever it is — $200 million? $500 million? — it’s more than even someone like Adelson is going to spend in a primary, particularly when there are other billionaires out there doing the same thing.

We may be about to see an unprecedented arms race among Republican plutocrats. The Koch brothers are supposedly leaning toward Scott Walker, though they haven’t made a final decision; they’ll be holding their own audition for candidates this summer. Ted Cruz is backed by a hedge fund magnate named Robert Mercer; investment manager Foster Friess will once again keep Rick Santorum funded, as he did in 2012.

But the real question isn’t whether a candidate can find the one donor that will bring him to victory, it’s what happens when the next president takes office.

All this money — not just the volume but the way it’s being moved around — is making a mockery of our already porous campaign finance laws. One of the last restrictions on funding that the Supreme Court has left standing is the limit on direct contributions to candidates. This year, if you’re a billionaire, you can only give Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign $2,700 for the primary and $2,700 for the general election, because everyone agrees it would be inherently corrupting if you could just write him a check for $1 million or $10 million or $100 million.

But that won’t stop you. Here’s what you can do. You can go over to the Right to Rise PAC, which exists in order to make Jeb Bush president, and write it a check for that $1 million. And since Jeb is not officially a candidate, he can raise money for the PAC, and plan and shape its strategy for the election. After he declares himself a candidate he will no longer be allowed to coordinate with it, but by then the preparatory work will be done.

Which is why, in an unprecedented move, Bush has decided to outsource entire sectors of his campaign to the PAC, like advertising and ground organizing, while the official campaign will do far less. It could well be the future of presidential campaign organization. Election law expert Rick Hasen explains why this is so troubling:

In the old days (think the days of the fundraising of Bush’s brother, George W. Bush), the main way of gaining influence was by becoming a campaign bundler. Bundlers not only give the maximum few thousand dollars to the candidate’s campaign; they also get friends, relatives, and acquaintances to do the same. Now, one doesn’t have to become a bundler for the campaign to curry favor: One can simply write a check for $1 million or more to Right to Rise.

By signaling that Right to Rise is his campaign arm, Jeb Bush has broken down the wall between his super PAC and his campaign committee in the eyes of donors. Preventing coordination and preserving independence was one of the last walls that were left.

The next step will be simply handing $1 million checks to candidates. Right now that’s still illegal, but campaign finance opponents will challenge those candidate contribution limits as ineffective since (the Bush campaign will show) super PACs can serve almost the same purpose. Indeed, campaign lawyer Jim Bopp (the brains behind the Citizens United lawsuit) signaled as much this week, arguing that the way to take unaccountable money out of politics is to let individuals give whatever they want directly to candidates.

I suspect Hasen is right about this: Democrats are going to say that 2016 shows we need stronger campaign finance laws, while Republicans will say 2016 shows that the laws are toothless and irrelevant, so we might as well just remove the restrictions altogether.

The candidates themselves probably aren’t too worried about getting attacked as bought and paid for. They see the benefit they’ll get from being backed by a donor like the Kochs or Adelson on the one hand, and the bad press they’ll get from seeming like they’re in the pocket of a billionaire on the other hand, and say it’s a deal worth taking. What’s a few reporters’ questions that can easily be batted away (“I’m grateful for the support of any American who shares my vision for the future”) against all that cash?

“Dark money” — cash which is channeled through shadowy groups, obscuring where it originally came from — is extremely worrisome. But this new development is something else entirely. Sure, we’ll maintain the fiction that these PACs are “independent” and therefore there’s no corrupting influence associated with that money. But if you actually believe that at the end of a campaign in which he was showered with eight or nine figures worth of casino money, President Rubio wouldn’t be particularly open to hearing what Sheldon Adelson has to say about, say, internet gambling (which the magnate has worked hard to stamp out), I’d have to wonder whether you get to drink rainbows and ride unicorns on the fantasy planet you live on.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, April 23, 2015

April 24, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, GOP Presidential Candidates, Plutocrats, Sheldon Adelson | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Koch Brothers Eye 2016 Favorite”: David Koch Talked About The Wisconsin Governor As If His Primary Success Was Simply Assumed

Presidential candidates are always eager to earn support from voters, but with nine months remaining until anyone casts a primary ballot, White House hopefuls have a slightly different focus at this stage in the process. As the race gets underway in earnest, the goal isn’t just to get public backing, but rather, to get support from a specific group of mega-donors.

And in the world of national Republican politics, the Koch brothers have few rivals.

Charles G. and David H. Koch, the influential and big-spending conservative donors, appear to have a favorite in the race for the Republican presidential nomination: Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

On Monday, at a fund-raising event in Manhattan for the New York State Republican Party, David Koch told donors that he and his brother, who oversee one of the biggest private political organizations in the country, believed that Mr. Walker would be the Republican nominee.

According to the New York Times’ report, David Koch talked about the Wisconsin governor as if his primary success was simply assumed: “When the primaries are over and Scott Walker gets the nomination…” he joked.

The article noted two other attendees who said they heard Koch go further, describing the Republican Wisconsinite as the candidate who should get the GOP nomination.

It’s worth emphasizing that Koch, following the Times’ reporting, issued a written statement, describing Walker as “terrific,” but stressing, “I am not endorsing or supporting any candidate for president at this point in time.”

The statement doesn’t necessarily contradict the reporting. It’s entirely possible, for example,  that the Kochs will remain officially neutral during the nominating process, while also privately acknowledging their preference for Walker while talking to allies behind closed doors.

And if that’s the case, it’s a major advantage for the far-right governor over his rivals. The Kochs not only carry an enormous wallet, they oversee a large political operation and enjoy broad credibility among conservative activists and donors.

A Koch endorsement, even if private, matters, especially as candidates search for ways to stand out in a crowded field.

That said, if the reporting is accurate and the Kochs are partial towards Walker, that doesn’t necessarily mean the governor will have the same kind of relationship with his billionaire benefactors as other recent candidates.

We’ve grown accustomed to thinking about Republicans and their billionaires as a kind of dynamic duo – we see the candidate, but we know he has a partner that’s largely responsible for bankrolling his candidacy. In 2012, it was Sheldon Adelson backing Newt Gingrich, while Foster Friess supported Rick Santorum. This year, Robert Mercer has partnered with Ted Cruz, while Norman Braman helps bankroll Marco Rubio.

Don’t expect a comparable relationship between the Kochs and Walker, at least not at this stage. If the powerful billionaire brothers intend to stay officially neutral, then Walker may look forward to the Kochs’ backing in a general election, but he’ll need others to finance his primary fight.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 21, 2015

April 22, 2015 Posted by | GOP Campaign Donors, GOP Presidential Candidates, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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