Published: Thursday 16 February 2012
“How the Politics of the Super Rich Became American Politics.”

At a time when it’s become a cliché to say that Occupy Wall Street has changed the nation’s political conversation -- drawing long overdue attention to the struggles of the 99% -- electoral politics and the 2012 presidential election have become almost exclusively defined by the 1%. Or, to be more precise, the .0000063%. Those are the 196 individual donors who have provided nearly 80% of the money raised by super PACs in 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each.

These political action committees, spawned by the Supreme Court’s 5-4Citizens United decision in January 2010, can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, or unions for the purpose of supporting or opposing a political candidate. In theory, super PACs are legally prohibited from coordinating directly with a candidate, though in practice they’re just a murkier extension of political campaigns, performing all the functions of a traditional campaign without any of the corresponding accountability.

If 2008 was ...

Published: Saturday 21 January 2012
Opponents of the decision hope to amend the Constitution.

Two years after a controversial Supreme Court ruling lifted many restrictions on political spending, America’s campaign finance laws have officially become a joke.

Stephen Colbert, a comedian who says he wants to be the “president of the United States of South Carolina,” has used the "Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC" to highlight the weak separation between candidates and the outside spending groups that support them.

But the new power corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals have to sway elections in the wake of the Citizens United decision is not a laughing matter to many Americans. People are organizing protests Friday and over the weekend to draw attention to the lack of disclosure and accountability in the U.S. campaign finance system.

Citizens United and a lower-court ruling in 2010 allowed corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals to 

Published: Tuesday 22 November 2011
So long as candidates and Super PACs don’t discuss the particulars of their election spending — such as exactly where or how long their election ads will run — they’re free to discuss strategy and candidates can even help fundraise.

Ask any campaign-finance expert about Super PACs and you’ll likely keep hearing one word: “coordination.” That’s because Super PACs — the super-powered groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from anyone — have just one crucial restriction on their powers: By law, they’re not supposed to coordinate with candidates.

Think that sounds clear? Think again.

“The restrictions on interactions between candidates and Super PACs are far more modest than the public believes,” said Paul Ryan, a lawyer with Campaign Legal Center, a campaign-finance advocacy group.

So long as candidates and Super PACs don’t discuss the particulars of their election spending — such as exactly where or how long their election ads will run — they’re free to discuss strategy and candidates can even help fundraise. One result: A presidential candidate can ask supporters — even his own father — to give to a Super PAC without it being “coordinated.” Or a group could plan to produce a “fully coordinated” ad with a candidate that it argues is uncoordinated.

“Coordination limits are essentially a joke if you want to avoid them,” said Michael Franz, an associate professor of government at Bowdoin College.

At least one professional joke-teller agrees: Comedian Stephen Colbert recently seized on the issue, ridiculing how some groups seem to be cutting it laughably close with the law.

Fundamentally, coordination rules are no laughing matter. Just ask ...

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