Published: Thursday 15 March 2012
Still confused about exactly what “super PACs” are and how they're suddenly pouring unlimited donations into presidential politics? Just sit back, relax and listen to the music as we explain:

It is still a mystery to many what exactly super PACs are and how they operate. As the courts changed the law in 2010 on anonymous donations to candidates, super PACs became a huge force for each candidate.  As money and politics come hand in hand it is important to know the details behind this new method of donating money.  This short video will give you a brief and complete understanding of how super PACs work and their true intentions.

Published: Tuesday 28 February 2012
“PhRMA gives largest chunk of $4.5 million to conservative group, American Action Network”

The drug lobby's trade association was a multimillion-dollar donor to nonprofit groups that were actively working to elect federal candidates during the 2010 election, an iWatch News analysis of documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service reveals.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, better known as PhRMA, doled out $9.4 million to 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit groups, some of which paid for ads that influenced races in the 2010 midterm election, records show.

In 2010, PhRMA gave about $20 million in “grants and other assistance” to more than 200 nonprofit organizations, including five politically active 501(c)(4) nonprofits, both liberal and conservative, which together received nearly half of the funds.

The groups were: the American Action Network, the American Future Fund, Americans for Tax Reform, America’s Families First, Inc. and the Citizens for Strength and Security Action Fund.

PhRMA's largest gift in 2010 was a $4.5 million contribution to the American Action Network, a conservative 501(c)(4) that spent big money on a half-dozen high-profile U.S. Senate races and more than two dozen U.S. House races.

In 2010, American Action reported spending more than $26 million on ads to the Federal Election Commission. That was more than any other politically active nonprofit group, with the exception of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Overall, the American Action Network reportedly raised more than $30 million in 2010, meaning PhRMA alone was responsible for close to 15 percent of the group's ...

Published: Friday 24 February 2012
“Can Paul really oppose such ‘fascism’ while his campaign is bankrolled by one of the chief protagonists and beneficiaries of the very system Ron Paul claims to oppose?”

If there’s one thing that distinguishes Ron Paul from the rest of the GOP field, it’s his principled stand against American empire and his ardent defense of individual liberties. Paul’s opposition to wars, bloated defense budgets and government espionage of US citizens has made him a hero among some young conservatives. His seemingly rock-solid principles and radicalism has even drawn some on the left; unlike even left-wing Democrats, Paul has said he wants to abolish both the CIA and the FBI to protect individual “liberty.”

So it should come as a shock and disappointment to his followers that Ron Paul’s single largest donor—his Sheldon Adelson, as it were—founded a controversial defense contractor, Palantir Technologies, that profits from government espionage work for the CIA, FBI and other agencies, and which last year was caught organizing an illegal spy ring targeting American political opponents of the US Chamber of Commerce, including journalists, progressive activists and union leaders. (Palantir takes its name from the mystic stones used by characters in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings to spy one another.)

According to recently filed FEC disclosure documents, Ron Paul’s Super PAC has received nearly all of its money from a single source, billionaire Peter Thiel. So far, Thiel has contributed $2.6 million to Ron Paul’s Super PAC, Endorse Liberty, providing 76 percent of the Super PAC’s total intake. 

Thiel, a self-described libertarian and opponent of ...

Published: Friday 24 February 2012
“As the Obama campaign ‘dances with the devil’ of super PACs, perhaps campaign co-chair Russ Feingold will help us follow the money.”

“The president is wrong.” So says one of the newly appointed co-chairs of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

Those four words headline the website of the organization Progressives United, founded by former U.S. senator and now Obama campaign adviser Russ Feingold. He is referring to Obama’s recent announcement that he will accept super PAC funds for his re-election campaign. Feingold writes: “The President is wrong to embrace the corrupt corporate politics of Citizens United through the use of Super PACs—organizations that raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations and the richest individuals, sometimes in total secrecy. It’s not just bad policy; it’s also dumb strategy.” And, he says, it’s “dancing with the devil.”

In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt said to Congress, “All contributions by corporations to any political committee or for any political purpose should be forbidden by law.” He signed a bill into law banning such contributions in 1907. In 2012, this hundred-year history of campaign-finance controls died, thanks to five U.S. Supreme Court justices who decided, in the 2010 Citizens United case, that corporations can use their money to express free speech, most notably in their efforts to influence federal elections.

After 18 years representing Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate, Feingold lost his re-election to self-funded Republican multimillionaire and tea party favorite Ron Johnson. Since then, Feingold has been teaching law, started Progressives United and, while supporting the effort to recall Wisconsin’s embattled Gov. Scott Walker, has steadfastly refused to run against him or for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl.

Feingold was the sole member of ...

Published: Thursday 23 February 2012
“The Federal Communications Commission should forbid television broadcasters from charging for campaign ads, and we should peacefully demonstrate outside the FCC offices at 445 12th Street SW, in Washington, D.C., until it does so.”

Big money has always been a problem in American politics, but now humongous money threatens to capsize the ship of state. Billionaires are very, very good at getting rich, mostly through stealth monopolies, relatively sure things (e.g., casinos) or through riding investment bubbles. But they are seldom scientists, physicians or educators, and can often entertain rather cranky beliefs, such as climate change denial or misogyny. Thus, the GOP super wealthy, having produced the tea party in 2010, have now given us national candidates so extreme that they often seem to be running for Supreme Leader of Iran instead of president of the United States. Although the Citizens United ruling of the Supreme Court contributed to this problem, the culprits here are, fundamentally, the length of U.S. campaigns and the cost of television advertising for them.

Ari Berman has shown that about four-fifths of the money raised by super PACs in 2011 for the Republican primary contests was donated by only 196 individuals, who gave $100,000 or more each. Politics has become a game of the super rich, but the money they donate is significant only because of the way it is spent. An increasingly large percentage of it pays for television and radio commercials, and it is used by our new aristocracy to keep pet candidates alive. Newt Gingrich, for instance, might not have made it to South ...

Published: Wednesday 22 February 2012
“Huge donations may raise ethical issues.”

Thanks to a small number of wealthy individuals, the outside spending groups known as “super PACs” that are working to put the four leading GOP candidates in the White House collectively raised more than the candidates themselves in January.

Candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul raised a combined $21.1 million for the month, according to Federal Election Commission records, while the four primary super PACs backing them raised $22.1 million.

Donors to candidates number in the thousands, but they may only give $2,500 per candidate, per election. Super PAC donors, thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and a lower-cour ruling, can give unlimited amounts. The funds can come from billionaires, corporations and labor unions. So far this election, the funds have been spent overwhelmingly on advertising disparaging competing candidates.

Super PACs are prohibited from coordinating their activities with the candidates.

The average donation to a super PAC filing in January was $63,000, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of FEC data.

Two of the super PACs — “Winning Our Future,” supporting Newt Gingrich and “Endorse Liberty,” supporting Ron Paul — are dominated by a single donor.

Of the $11 million Winning Our Future raised in January, $10 million — about 90 percent of the total for the month — came from ...

Published: Tuesday 21 February 2012
“Sheldon Adelson and family contribute $11 million”

Casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his family have pumped $11 million into the pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC “Winning Our Future,” about 84 percent of the $13.1 million the group has raised so far.

And that doesn’t include the additional $10 million sources say the multibillionaire is expected to kick in to help his political ally and friend Gingrich become competitive again. Gingrich has fallen behind the two frontrunners, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, in national polls.

The PAC’s new filing with the Federal Election Commission shows two separate $5 million donations were made last month by Adelson and wife Miriam, an Israeli-born physician with dual citizenship. Another $1 million was donated in December to the super PAC by three relatives of the Adelsons, bringing the total family contribution to $11 million.

Without the Adelsons’ largesse, the PAC has raised $2.1 million.

The PAC’s latest filing shows the next largest donation in January came from Texas mega-GOP donor Harold Simmons, who gave $500,000, bringing his total contributions to the super PAC to $1 million.

Together, the Adelson family donations have been the largest publicly reported thus far this election cycle. They have been used to pay for a mix of negative television advertisements against Romney and positive ads to promote Gingrich.

Those donations, respectively, helped to fund hard-hitting and expensive advertising drives before the South Carolina primary — which Gingrich won — and the Florida primary, which he lost, and where he was badly outspent by the ...

Published: Wednesday 15 February 2012
“The president needed to play the super PAC game in 2012. I just wish he hadn’t decided to go all in.”

The Obama campaign, defending its decision to embrace the super PAC supporting the president’s reelection, contends that it would be foolish to unilaterally disarm.

Fair point. But the Obama campaign’s move goes beyond unilateral disarmament. It amounts to dangerous proliferation in the nuclear arms race of campaign spending.

The campaign did not merely announce its full-throated support of the supposedly independent expenditure effort. It confirmed that it would be sending its own representatives to headline super PAC events. And not just campaign officials, but senior White House aides and Cabinet secretaries.

In for a dime, I suppose, in for a million-dollar check.

So much for a president who railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, warning that it “opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy.” Now he’s deploying the Cabinet to help rake it in.

OK, they won’t be asking for the cash themselves — just sitting in the room to “amplify our message,” as the campaign explained, while others do the grubby work of collecting checks. (Calling Stephen Colbert.) This is a distinction only a campaign finance lawyer can love.

As I said, I have sympathy for the no-unilateral-disarmament argument, and for the Democratic predicament when it comes to matters of money and politics.

The super PAC ...

Published: Wednesday 15 February 2012
“So there you have it — American politics has developed into a game for the fun and profit of a few superrich narcissists.”

The rich are different from you and me, but the really, really, really rich are also different from the merely rich.

For example, the rich can buy caviar and Champagne, but the Triple-R Rich can buy entire presidential campaigns.

Take Sheldon Adelson, the moneybags who's pumped $11 million so far into Newt Gingrich's right-wing run. He has single-handedly kept Gingrich's White House ambitions alive. Without this one guy's money, The Newt would've been long gone. Thanks a lot, Sheldon.

But Adelson can easily afford to roll the dice on a far-out candidate. This global casino baron hauled in $3.3 million in pay last year. Not for a year — that's what his hourly take was. In other words, his $11-million bet on Newt, which altered the Republican presidential race, was nothing — less than three-and-a-half hours of one of Sheldon's workdays.

Even Rick Santorum, who's so far to the right that his left brain has entirely atrophied from lack of use, is actually in the running for the GOP nomination. He insists that people are flocking to him because of the power of his ideas. Sure, Rick — and the power of Foster Friess' money.

This little-known Wall Street multimillionaire has long been a partner in the Koch brothers' plutocratic cabal and a steady funder of right-wing Christian politics. Friess modestly claims that God is "the ...

Published: Tuesday 14 February 2012
“But to have both unlimited and undisclosed donations, Hoersting noted, activists can form a so-called 501(c)4, named for the section of the Internal Revenue Service code on social-welfare nonprofits.”

The big Republican names were all at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., last week: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Sarah Palin.

The three-day conference, known as CPAC and hosted by the American Conservative Union, drew about 11,000 participants and 1,300 journalists, who crammed into the Marriott's ballroom for the big speeches.

While most attention focused on Republican presidential hopefuls and other party luminaries, we opted to take a spin around panels and events devoted to fundraising. They were a window into how money might be raised this election cycle, through new-fangled super PACs and their even more opaque nonprofit sidekicks, as well as through more old-fashioned tactics.

One conference panel -- "What's Up With Campaign Finance?" -- featured some of the lawyers who helped win the recent court decisions, such as Citizens United, that cleared the way for the new, more free-wheeling campaign-finance landscape.

At one point, moderator and lawyer Dan Backer predicted the eventual overhaul of the Federal Election Campaign Act of the 1970s, which he crowed "has been brutalized and made Swiss cheese by the courts, thanks to the folks on this panel."

At another point, panelist Benjamin Barr, a constitutional lawyer, joked about the hoopla over Citizens United and the worry that it would lead to a campaign-finance "apocalypse."

"If there's an apocalypse upon us, I suppose we have the four ...

Published: Wednesday 1 February 2012
“The details that emerged late Tuesday night in reports to the Federal Election underscored the outsized influence wealthy individuals are having on the 2012 race.”

The new role that the super-rich play in electoral politics began to emerge with greater clarity Tuesday as recently formed "super PACs" publicly reported their donors and expenses for 2011.

Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Mitt Romney's candidacy, raised $30 million during 2011, thanks in part to separate $1-million donations from three New York-based hedge fund executives: Paul Singer, Robert Mercer and Julian Robertson. Two privately held corporations each gave $1 million to Romney as well.

A committee backing Newt Gingrich kept the former House speaker's candidacy alive and on the airwaves in December, thanks to donations from relatives of gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Tuesday's filings did not include the $10 million that Adelson and his wife gave to a Gingrich-allied super PAC in January, but they did reveal that the entrepreneur's stepchildren separately gave a total of $1 million to the fund, known as Winning Our Future. That group also received a $500,000 check from Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, whose company also gave $1 million to a super PAC backing Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

The details that emerged late Tuesday night in reports to the Federal Election Commission - the first substantial financial disclosures made by the super PACs this cycle - underscored the outsized influence wealthy individuals are having on the 2012 race.

The reports also spotlighted the lopsided fundraising race between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to this new breed of political organizations. Although President Barack Obama is far outstripping his potential challengers when it comes to fundraising, GOP super PACs are pulling more money than their Democratic counterparts.

Simmons is now chasing Adelson as the biggest billionaire donor of the season. Tuesday's filings also showed that he gave $7 million to American Crossroads, a super PAC founded in part by Republican strategist Karl ...

Published: Tuesday 17 January 2012
“The 71-year-old Friess said he has sent a note to 5,000 “sportsmen” pledging that he will match whatever they donate to the super PAC, up to $500,000.”

A billionaire Wyoming investor has pledged to give up to a half-million dollars in matching funds to an outside spending group that supports Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum.

Foster Friess put up a good chunk of the $537,000 that the Santorum super PAC, the “Red White and Blue Fund,” spent on ads to help Santorum come in a close second to Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses.

Now, the 71-year-old Friess said he has sent a note to 5,000 “sportsmen” pledging that he will match whatever they donate to the super PAC, up to $500,000, which is expected to be crucial to Santorum’s chances of halting Romney’s march to his party’s presidential nomination. He declined to be more specific.

“The Democrats will chew Romney up because of his patrician background,” Friess said in an interview with iWatch News, in explaining his support for Santorum over the Massachusetts Republican. “It’s not his fault. Who’s going to be more appealing to blue-collar workers?”

Romney is a member of a prominent political family and is a very wealthy former head of a private equity firm that has received hefty criticism lately from other Republicans. Friess noted that Santorum’s grandfather was a coal miner. 

Friess made his fortune running mutual funds and is a keen stock picker. He is a veteran supporter of conservative causes, a born-again Christian and ally of the much-richer Koch brothers. Friess said he’s called several wealthy friends urging them to back Santorum, a former Pennsylvania congressman and senator, by helping the super PAC.

Friess declined to identify any of the people he called.

Despite a big financial disadvantage for Santorum, and polls showing he is still lagging ...

Published: Monday 2 January 2012
“If present trends continue, the 2012 election will reverse more than a century of efforts to curb the influence of big money on politics.”

Political committees unfettered by donation limits are dominating the last weeks of the presidential nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, funding aggressive attack campaigns that are swamping the efforts of the candidates themselves.

 

In Ohio, $3 million in ads funded by secret donors have already been aired against the state's incumbent Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown - a year before the election.

 

In California, three of the committees financed by unlimited donations have formed in recent weeks to back Congressman Howard L. Berman, who has been forced by redistricting into a primary battle against fellow Democratic incumbent Brad Sherman.


The early activity at all levels heralds a transformation across the country in the first presidential cycle since a 2010 Supreme Court decision lifted the limits on individual and corporate donations to independent political organizations, known as super PACs.

Super PACs are now outspending the GOP presidential candidates on ads in what could be a $6 billion or $7-billion election year for federal races, rendering obsolete the old system under which donations were strictly limited to candidates and party committees.

"This is a radical change," said Trevor Potter, the Republican election lawyer who advised Arizona Sen. John McCain in his 2008 presidential bid.

If present trends continue, the 2012 election will reverse more than a century of efforts to curb the influence of big money on politics.

 

During his second term, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke with alarm about the ability of corporate and financial elite - "malefactors of great wealth" - to steer government decisions. In 1907, he signed legislation banning corporate contributions to federal candidates.

 

In future decades - including during Richard Nixon's presidency - Congress expanded campaign regulation, requiring ...

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