The Center for Grassroots Oversight

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Context of '(May 4, 2011): Republican Presidential Candidate Says Campaign Finance System Is ‘Dysfunctional,’ Runs against ‘Big Money’ Interests'

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The Smith-Connally Act restricts contributions to federal candidates from labor unions as well as from corporate and interstate banks (see 1925). The law is passed in response to the powerful influence of labor unions in elections beginning in 1936, where some unions used labor dues to support federal candidates (Center for Responsive Politics 2002 pdf file) , and by public outrage at a steelworkers’ union going on strike for higher wages during the war, an action characterized by many as unpatriotic. The law was written both to punish labor unions and to make lawmakers less dependent on them and their contributions. (Campaign Finance Timeline 1999) One example held up to scrutiny is the 1936 donation of $500,000 in union funds to the Democratic Party by John L. Lewis of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). (Geraci 2006 pdf file) Motivated by anti-union and anti-liberal sentiment after the war’s end, the Taft-Hartley Act (see June 23, 1947) will make the ban permanent. (Campaign Finance Timeline 1999)

The Taft-Hartley Act makes permanent the ban on contributions to federal candidates from unions (see June 25, 1943), corporations, and interstate banks (see 1925), and extends the regulations to cover primaries as well as general elections. It also requires union leaders to affirm that they are not supporters of the Communist Party. President Harry S. Truman unsuccessfully vetoed the bill when it was sent to his desk, and when Congress passes it over his veto, he echoes AFL-CIO leader John L. Lewis by denouncing the law as a “slave-labor bill.” Taft-Hartley declares the unions’ practice of “closed shops” illegal (employers agreeing with unions to hire only union members, and require employees to join the union), and permits unions to have chapters at a business only if approved by a majority of employees. The law also permits employers to refuse to bargain with unions if they choose. And, it grants the US attorney general the power to obtain an 80-day injunction if in his judgment a threatened or actual strike “imperil[s] the national health or safety.” (Federal Elections Commission 1998; U-S History (.com) 2001; Center for Responsive Politics 2002 pdf file; John Simkin 2008)

Cato Institute logo.Cato Institute logo. [Source: Cato Institute]The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, launch the libertarian Cato Institute, one of the first of many think tanks and advocacy organizations they will fund (see August 30, 2010). While records of the Koch funding of the institute are not fully available, the Center for Public Integrity learns that between 1986 and 1993 the Koch family gives $11 million to the institute. By 2010, Cato has over 100 full-time employees, and often succeeds in getting its experts and policy papers quoted by mainstream media figures. While the institute describes itself as nonpartisan, and is at times critical of both Republicans and Democrats, it consistently advocates for corporate tax cuts, reductions in social services, and laissez-faire environmental policies. One of its most successful advocacy projects is to oppose government initiatives to curb global warming. When asked why Cato opposes such federal and state initiatives, founder and president Ed Crane explains that “global warming theories give the government more control of the economy.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)

Oil billionaire David Koch runs for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket. David and his brother Charles are the primary backers of hard-right libertarian politics in the US (see August 30, 2010); Charles, the dominant brother, is determined to tear government “out at the root,” as he will later be characterized by libertarian Brian Doherty. The brothers have thrown their support behind Libertarian presidential candidate Ed Clark, who is running against Republican Ronald Reagan from the right of the political spectrum. The brothers are frustrated by the legal limits on campaign financing, and they persuade the party to place David on the ticket as vice president, thereby enabling him to spend as much of his personal fortune as he likes. The Libertarian’s presidential campaign slogan is, “The Libertarian Party has only one source of funds: You.” In reality, the Koch brothers’ expenditures of over $2 million is the campaign’s primary source of funding. Clark tells a reporter that the Libertarians are preparing to stage “a very big tea party” because people are “sick to death” of taxes. The Libertarian Party platform calls for the abolition of the FBI and the CIA, as well as of federal regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Energy. The platform proposes the abolition of Social Security, minimum-wage laws, gun control, and all personal and corporate income taxes; in return, it proposes the legalization of prostitution, recreational drugs, and suicide. Government should be reduced to only one function, the party proclaims: the protection of individual rights. Conservative eminence William F. Buckley Jr. calls the movement “Anarcho-Totalitarianism.” The Clark-Koch ticket receives only one percent of the vote in the November 1980 elections, forcing the Koch brothers to realize that their brand of politics isn’t popular. In response, Charles Koch becomes openly scornful of conventional politics. “It tends to be a nasty, corrupting business,” he says. “I’m interested in advancing libertarian ideas.” Doherty will later write that both Kochs come to view elected politicians as merely “actors playing out a script.” Doherty will quote a longtime confidant of the Kochs as saying that after the 1980 elections, the brothers decide they will “supply the themes and words for the scripts.” In order to alter the direction of America, they had to “influence the areas where policy ideas percolate from: academia and think tanks.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)

The anti-abortion National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) issues a series of “voter guides” just before Election Day. The pamphlets are later credited as helping persuade voters to cast their ballots for presidential candidate Ronald Reagan (R-CA) and a number of Republican Senate candidates. In 2012, reporter Jeffrey Toobin will characterize them as “barely concealed works of advocacy,” a form of “electioneering” that federal law bans groups such as NRLC from issuing this close to an election. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) later tries to challenge the pamphlet distribution, and the NRLC wins a First Amendment challenge in court under the legal leadership of general counsel James Bopp Jr. As a result of the court case, Bopp becomes interested in challenging campaign finance restrictions (see January 10-16, 2008) as well as abortion rights. (Toobin 5/21/2012)

KochPAC logo.KochPAC logo. [Source: KochPAC (.com)]After their stinging loss during the November 1980 presidential campaign, the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, decide that they need to work to inculcate their brand of hard-right libertarianism into the electorate through indirect means (see 1979-1980). Therefore, they begin spending vast amounts of their personal fortunes on what purport to be independent think tanks and other political or ideological organizations. At the same time, the brothers become political recluses, rarely speaking in public and rarely acknowledging the breadth or the direction of their donations. It is hard to know exactly how much the Kochs spend and where they spend it, though public records give some of the picture. Between 1998 and 2008, Charles Koch’s foundation spends over $48 million on political funding. The Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, controlled by Charles and his wife, spends over $28 million. David Koch’s foundation spends over $120 million. Koch Industries, controlled primarily by Charles, spends over $50 million on lobbying efforts. Their political action committee, KochPAC, donates around $8 million, almost all of it going to Republicans. In 2010, as in other years, Koch Industries leads all other energy companies in political donations. The brothers spend over $2 million of their personal fortunes on political donations, almost all of it going to Republicans. Ari Rabin-Havt of the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will say that the Kochs’ effort is unusual in its marshalling of corporate and personal funds: “Their role, in terms of financial commitments, is staggering.” Lee Fang, writing for the liberal blog ThinkProgress (an arm of the Center for American Progress), calls the Kochs “the billionaires behind the hate.” Some believe that the Kochs have either skirted, or outright broken, laws controlling tax-exempt giving. Charitable foundations must conduct exclusively nonpartisan activities that promote the public welfare. But in 2004, a report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a watchdog group, describes the Kochs’ foundations as being self-serving, and concludes, “These foundations give money to nonprofit organizations that do research and advocacy on issues that impact the profit margin of Koch Industries.” The Kochs also use their charitable foundations to fund hard-right political organizations that, according to reporter Jane Mayer, “aim to push the country in a libertarian direction,” including: the Institute for Justice, which files lawsuits opposing state and federal regulations; the Institute for Humane Studies, which underwrites libertarian academics; and the Bill of Rights Institute, which promotes a conservative interpretation of the Constitution. David Koch acknowledges that the family exerts tight ideological control. “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent,” he tells a reporter. “And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)

Citizens for a Sound Economy logo.Citizens for a Sound Economy logo. [Source: Greater Houston Pachyderm Club]The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, launch the first of a number of “citizen advocacy” groups they either found or fund, Citizens for a Sound Economy. The Kochs are staunch right-wing libertarians determined to successfully combat government regulation and oversight of businesses, government taxation, and government funding of social programs (see August 30, 2010). Between 1986 and 1993, the brothers will provide $7.9 million to the group, even as it promotes itself as a “grassroots,” “citizen-driven” organization. (Such organizations that call themselves “citizen-based” while actually being founded, operated, and funded by corporate interests are called “astroturf” organizations.) Matt Kibbe, who will go on to head a Koch-funded lobbying organization, FreedomWorks, will later say of Citizens for a Sound Economy that its driving force was to take the Kochs’ “heavy ideas and translate them for mass America.… We read the same literature Obama did about nonviolent revolutions—Saul Alinsky, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. We studied the idea of the Boston Tea Party as an example of nonviolent social change. We learned we needed boots on the ground to sell ideas, not candidates.” One organization participant will say that the brothers are “very controlling, very top down. You can’t build an organization with them. They run it.” By 1993, the organization will become powerful enough to successfully thwart the Clinton administration’s efforts to place a “BTU tax” on energy, and mounts successful “citizen protests” against Democrats, sometimes funnelling millions of Koch monies into the political campaigns of their Republican opponents. (Mayer 8/30/2010)

The Senate launches an investigation into what a minority (Democratic) report calls “an audacious plan to pour millions of dollars in contributions into Republican campaigns nationwide without disclosing the amount or source” in order to evade campaign finance laws. A shell corporation, Triad Management, is found to have paid more than $3 million for attack ads in 26 House races and three Senate races. More than half of the advertising money came from an obscure nonprofit group, the Economic Education Trust. The Senate minority report finds that “the trust was financed in whole or in part by Charles and David Koch of Wichita, Kansas” (see August 30, 2010). Many in the investigation believe that the Koch brothers paid for the attack ads, most of which aired in states where Koch Industries does business. The brothers refuse to confirm or deny their involvement to reporters. In 1998, the Wall Street Journal will confirm that a consultant on the Kochs’ payroll had been involved in the scheme. Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity will describe the scandal as “historic,” explaining: “Triad was the first time a major corporation used a cutout (a front operation) in a threatening way. Koch Industries was the poster child of a company run amok.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)

The Supreme Court rules in the case of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission. The case addresses limitations on so-called “soft money,” or contributions to a political party not designated specifically for supporting a single candidate, that were imposed by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), often known as the McCain-Feingold law after its two Senate sponsors (see March 27, 2002). A three-judge panel has already struck down some of McCain-Feingold’s restrictions on soft-money donations, a ruling that was stayed until the Court could weigh in. Generally, the Court rules that the “soft money” ban does not exceed Congress’s authority to regulate elections, and does not violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause. The ruling is a 5-4 split, with the majority opinion written by liberal Justice John Paul Stevens and his conservative colleague Sandra Day O’Connor. The opinion finds that the “minimal” restrictions on free speech are outweighed by the government’s interest in preventing “both the actual corruption threatened by large financial contributions and… the appearance of corruption” that might result from those contributions. “Money, like water, will always find an outlet,” the justices write, and the government must take steps to prevent corporate donors from finding ways to subvert the contribution limits. The majority is joined by liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter, and the four other conservatives on the court—Anthony Kennedy, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—dissent. (Legal Information Institute 12/2003; Oyez (.org) 2011) The case represents the consolidation of 11 separate lawsuits brought by members of Congress, political parties, unions, and advocacy groups; it is named for Senator Mitch McConnell, who sued the FEC on March 27, 2002, the same day the bill was signed into law. Due to the legal controversy expected to be generated by the law and the need to settle it prior to the next federal election, a provision was included in the BCRA that provided for the case to be heard first by a special three-judge panel and then appealed directly to the Supreme Court. This District of Columbia district court panel, comprised of two district court judges and one circuit court judge, was inundated with numerous amicus briefs, almost 1,700 pages of related briefs, and over 100,000 pages of witness testimony. The panel upheld the BCRA’s near-absolute ban on the usage of soft money in federal elections, and the Supreme Court agrees with that finding. However, the Court reverses some of the BCRA’s limitations on the usage of soft money for “generic party activities” such as voter registration and voter identification. The district court overturned the BCRA’s primary definition of “noncandidate expenditures,” but upheld the “backup” definition as provided by the law. Both courts allow the restrictions on corporate and union donations to stand, as well as the exception for nonprofit corporations. The Court upholds much of the BCRA’s provisions on disclosure and coordinated expenditures. The lower court rejected the so-called “millionaire provisions,” a rejection the Supreme Court upholds. A provision banning contributions by minors was overturned by the lower court, and the Court concurs. The lower court found the provision requiring broadcasters to collect and disclose records of broadcast time purchased for political activities unconstitutional, but the Court disagrees and reinstates the requirement. (Legal Information Institute 12/2003) McConnell had asked lawyer James Bopp Jr., a veteran of anti-campaign finance lawsuits and the head of McConnell’s James Madison Center for Free Speech, to take part in the legal efforts of the McConnell case. However, before the case appeared before the Supreme Court, McConnell dropped Bopp from the legal team due to a dispute over tactics. (Kirkpatrick 1/25/2010) The 2010 Citizens United decision will partially overturn McConnell (see January 21, 2010).

Wisconsin Right to Life logo.Wisconsin Right to Life logo. [Source: Dane101 (.com)]After the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA—see March 27, 2002), also known as the McCain-Feingold law after its original sponsors, and the 2003 McConnell Supreme Court decision that upheld the law (see December 10, 2003), corporations and labor unions are prohibited from airing ads that attack candidates but avoid specific language that turns the ads from general commercials into “campaign” ads within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a federal election. Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) comes to anti-abortion and anti-campaign finance lawyer James Bopp Jr. (see November 1980 and After) with a dilemma. The WRTL wants to run ads attacking Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), a powerful advocate of abortion rights, for his record of opposing President Bush’s judicial nominees. It intends to use the ads as campaign attack ads against Feingold, but skirt the BCRA’s restrictions by not specifically discouraging votes for him, thereby giving the appearance of “issue” ads and thusly not running afoul of the BCRA. Bopp is worried that the McConnell decision, just rendered, would make the Court reluctant to reverse itself so quickly. Bopp knows that the McConnell decision was in response to a broad challenge to the BCRA that argued the law was unconstitutional in all circumstances. Bopp decides to challenge the BCRA on behalf of the WRTL on narrower grounds—to argue that the specific application of the BCRA in this instance would violate the group’s First Amendment rights. He decides not to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) because of that agency’s notoriously slow response time, but instead files a preemptive challenge in court objecting to the BCRA’s ban on “issue advertisements” in the weeks before elections. Bopp is encouraged by the prospects of a court challenge that may wend its way to the Supreme Court, as the “swing” vote in McConnell was Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has been succeeded by the more conservative Samuel Alito (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006). (Toobin 5/21/2012) Bopp will prove to be correct, as the Supreme Court will find in WRTL’s favor (see June 25, 2007).

Americans for Prosperity logo.Americans for Prosperity logo. [Source: Americans for Prosperity]After the 2004 presidential election, the “astroturf” organization Citizens for a Sound Economy (see Late 2004) splits due to internal dissension. Oil billionaire David Koch and Koch Industries lobbyist Richard Fink (see August 30, 2010) launch a new “astroturf” organization, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009)). They hire Tim Phillips to run the organization. Phillips (see August 6, 2009) is a veteran political operative who worked closely with Republican operative Ralph Reed; the two co-founded the political consulting firm Century Strategies. Phillips’s online biography will describe him as an expert in “grasstops” and “grassroots” political organizing. Conservative operative Grover Norquist will call Phillips “a grownup who can make things happen.” In 2009, Phillips will claim that AFP has “only” 800,000 members, but its Web site will claim “1.2 million activists.” A former employee of the Cato Institute, a Koch-founded libertarian think tank, will say that AFP is “micromanaged by the Kochs” (indicating involvement by both David and Charles Koch). (Mayer 8/30/2010)

The Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore interviews reclusive billionaire Charles Koch, the head of the Koch Brothers oil empire. Among the items of interest in the interview is Koch’s admission that he, along with his brother David (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, and Late 2004), coordinates the funding of the conservative infrastructure of some of the most influential front groups, political campaigns, think tanks, media outlets, and other such efforts through a semiannual meeting with wealthy conservative donors. (Moore himself receives Koch funding for his work, according to a Think Progress report published four years later. In return, Moore is quite laudatory in the interview, writing that Koch is a “creative forward-thinking… professorial CEO” who “is immersed in the ideas of liberty and free markets.”) Koch tells Moore that his basic goal is to strengthen what he calls the “culture of prosperity” by eliminating “90 percent” of all laws and government regulations. Moore writes of the twice-yearly conference: “Mr. Koch’s latest crusade to spread the ideas of liberty has been his sponsorship of a twice-yearly conference that gathers together many of the most successful American entrepreneurs, from T. Boone Pickens to former Circuit City CEO Rick Sharp. The objective is to encourage these captains of industry to help fund free-market groups devoted to protecting the fragile infrastructure of liberty. That task seems especially critical given that so many of the global superrich, like George Soros and Warren Buffett, finance institutions that undermine the very system of capitalism that made their success possible (see January - November 2004). Isn’t this just the usual rich liberal guilt, I ask. ‘No,’ he says, ‘I think they simply haven’t been sufficiently exposed to the ideas of liberty.’” (Moore 5/6/2006; Fang 10/20/2010)

A poster promoting ‘Hillary: The Movie.’A poster promoting ‘Hillary: The Movie.’ [Source: New York Times]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU—see May 1998 and (May 11, 2004)) releases a film entitled Hillary: The Movie. The film is a lengthy diatribe attacking the character and career of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Large portions of the film are comprised of conservative critics launching attacks against the personalities and character of Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he based his film on a documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, released in 2004 by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore (see August 6, 2004), and calls it “a rigorously researched critical biography” comparable to the material presented on political talk shows such as Meet the Press. (Barnes 3/15/2009; Moneyocracy 2/2012) Bossie intended for the film to be released in late 2007 and impact the 2008 race in the same way that he believes Fahrenheit 9/11 impacted the 2004 race. A cable company made the film, at a cost of $1.2 million, available for free to viewers on “video on demand.” Bossie also scheduled a small theater run for the film, but his primary focus was always cable television and the accompanying television advertisements. Knowing the film will probably run afoul of campaign law, he hired lawyers, first James Bopp Jr. (a former member of the far-right Young Americans for Freedom—YAF—and the former general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee—see November 1980 and After) (Toobin 5/21/2012) and later Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under the Bush administration. Olson will later say the film is “a critical biographical assessment” that provides “historical information about the candidate and, perhaps, some measure of entertainment as well.” The New York Times calls it “a scathingly hostile look at Mrs. Clinton” replete with “ripe voice-overs, shadowy re-enactments, and spooky mood music.” The film also contains interviews and material from mainstream media reporters, and interviews with figures such as former CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a “tell-all” book about the Clinton administration, and with Kathleen Willey, who has claimed that Bill Clinton once made an unwelcome sexual advance towards her. Reviewer Megan Carpentier of Radar Online will trounce the movie, saying that it “scrolls through more than a decade of press clippings and a treasure trove of unflattering pictures in its one-sided romp” and will advise potential viewers to watch it “while inebriated in the manner of your choosing, and only if you don’t pay $10 for the privilege.” (Liptak 3/5/2009) Bossie claims the movie has nothing to do with the impending primary elections. CU intends to show the movie in a small number of theaters but primarily on “video on demand” cable broadcasts, with accompanying television advertisements. In return for a $1.2 million fee, a cable television consortium has agreed to make the movie freely available to its customers as part of what CU calls its “Election ‘08” series. (CU has another negative documentary on Clinton’s Democratic challenger Barack Obama in the works—see October 28-30, 2008—but apparently has no plans to air any documentaries on Republican candidate John McCain or any other Republican presidential candidates.) However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the film to be aired on cable channels, or advertised for theater release, because the FEC considers the film “electioneering” and thus subject to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002) restrictions. Moreover, the film and its planned distribution are funded by corporate donations. (United States District Court for the District Of Columbia 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen 1/15/2008; Toobin 5/21/2012) Bossie claims the film takes no position on Clinton’s candidacy, and says that if he had to vote between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he would vote for Clinton. (Liptak 3/5/2009)
Court Fight - Bopp, CU’s original lawyer, decides to pursue the same general aggressive course that he took in a recent successful Supreme Court campaign finance case, the Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) decision (see Mid-2004 and After). The Hillary film was envisioned from the outset to serve multiple purposes: to advance conservative ideology, damage Clinton’s presidential chances (despite Bossie’s claims), and generate profits. Bopp knows that the FEC would likely classify the film as a political advertisement and not a work of journalism or entertainment (see August 6, 2004), and therefore would fall under campaign law restrictions. Before the film is officially released, Bopp takes the film to the FEC for a ruling, and when the FEC, as expected, rules the film to be “electioneering communication” that comes under campaign law restrictions, Bopp files a lawsuit with the Washington, DC, federal district court. The court rules in favor of the FEC judgment, denying CU its request for a preliminary injunction against the FEC’s ruling. The court specifically finds that the WRTL decision does not apply in this case. “[I]f the speech cannot be interpreted as anything other than an appeal to vote for or against a candidate, it will not be considered genuine issue speech even if it does not expressly advocate the candidate’s election or defeat,” the court states. The court also questions CU’s statement that the film “does not focus on legislative issues.… The movie references the election and Senator Clinton’s candidacy, and it takes a position on her character, qualifications, and fitness for office.” Film commentator Dick Morris has said of the film that it will “give people the flavor and an understanding of why she should not be president.” The court rules, “The movie is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” (During arguments, Bopp says that the film is much like what a viewer would see on CBS’s evening news show 60 Minutes, and Judge Royce Lamberth laughs aloud, saying: “You can’t compare this to 60 Minutes. Did you read this transcript?” Other judges find it problematic that one of the film’s central “issues” is its assertion that Clinton is, in Bopp’s words, “a European socialist,” but still claims not to be overtly partisan.) (Mencimer 1/13/2008; United States District Court for the District Of Columbia 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen 1/15/2008; Toobin 5/21/2012)
Supreme Court Appeal - CU appeals the court’s decision directly to the Supreme Court. Bossie soon decides to replace Bopp with Olson, a far more prominent figure in conservative legal circles. Toobin will write: “Ted Olson had argued and won Bush v. Gore (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and was rewarded by President Bush with an appointment as solicitor general. Olson had argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times, and he had a great deal of credibility with the justices. He knew how to win.” (Richard Hasen 1/15/2008; Toobin 5/21/2012)
Previous Attempt - In September 2004, Bossie and CU attempted, without success, to release a similar “documentary” supporting President Bush and attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on television, just weeks before the presidential election. The FEC turned down the group’s request. The FEC did allow the film to be shown in theaters (see September 8, 2004 and September 27-30, 2004).
'Ten-Year Plan' - Bopp will later reveal that the lawsuit is part of what he will call a “10-year plan” to push the boundaries of campaign finance law, and that he urged Bossie and other CU officials to use the documentary as a “test case” for overturning the body of law (see January 25, 2010).

The Supreme Court dismisses an appeal by the political advocacy group Citizens United (CU) that argued the group’s First Amendment rights had been violated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The Court had agreed to hear CU’s case that it should be allowed to broadcast a partisan political documentary about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Hillary: The Movie, on cable television networks in the days before critical primary elections (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court did not rule on the merits of the case, but instead ruled that CU should have filed its case first with the federal appeals court in Washington. The ruling does not dismiss the case entirely, but makes it unlikely that the Court will rule on the campaign law issues surrounding the case (see March 27, 2002) before the November 2008 elections. Lawyer James Bopp, representing CU, says, “It is our intention to get the case expeditiously resolved on the merits in the district court, and then if we are unsuccessful there, to appeal” again to the Court. Bopp accuses Justice Department lawyers of trying to slow down the case to prevent it being resolved before the election. CU also wants to release a similar documentary about the other leading Democratic presidential contender, Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008), in a similar fashion to its planned widespread release of the Clinton film. Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the Court’s more liberal members, says in the order dismissing the appeal that had the case been taken up, he would have affirmed the previous decision in favor of the FEC. None of the other justices made any public statement about the case. The case will be heard by the Washington, DC, federal appeals court. (Richey 3/24/2008) The appeals court will find against CU, and the organization will reapply to the Court for a hearing, an application which will be granted (see March 15, 2009).

The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank and lobbying organization, releases a report that says the “tea party” movement protesting the various policies of the Obama administration (see April 8, 2009) is not, as purported, entirely a grassroots movement of ordinary citizens, but an “astroturf” movement created, organized, and funded by powerful conservative and industry firms and organizations. (CAP notes that the anti-tax “tea parties,” with “tea” standing for “Taxed Enough Already,” fail to note that President Obama’s recent legislation actually has cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans.) Two of the most prominent organizations behind the “tea parties” are FreedomWorks and Americans for Progress (AFP). FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) is a corporate lobbying firm run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), and organized the first “tea party,” held in Tampa, Florida, on February 27. It then began planning and organizing “tea parties” on a national scale; officials coordinated logistics, called conservative activists, and provided activists with sign ideas and slogans and talking points to use during protests. AFP has coordinated with FreedomWorks. AFP is a corporate lobbying firm run by Tim Phillips, a former lobbying partner of conservative activist Ralph Reed, and funded in part by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in America (see May 29, 2009). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is also involved, through his lobbying form American Solutions for Winning the Future, which is supported by oil companies.
Support, Promotion from Fox News - On cable news channels, Fox News and Fox Business have run promotions for the “tea parties” in conjunction with enthusiastic reports promoting the affairs (see April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 6-13, 2009); in return, the organizers use the Fox broadcasts to promote the events. Fox hosts Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, and Sean Hannity all plan to broadcast live reports from the events. Fox also warns its viewers that the Obama administration may send “spies” to the events. (Fox justifies its depth of coverage by saying that it provided similar coverage for the 1995 Million Man March. However, Fox did not begin broadcasting until 1996—see October 7, 1996.)
Republican Support - Congressional Republicans have embraced the “tea parties” as ways to oppose the Obama administration. Many leading Republicans, such as Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and some 35 others, will speak at AFP-funded “tea parties.” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has moved the RNC to officially support the protests. And Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced legislation formally honoring April 15 as “National Tea Party Day.” “It’s going to be more directed at Obama,” says reporter and commentator Ana Marie Cox. “This is very much, I think, part of the midterm strategy” to win elections in 2010.
Fringe Elements - According to CAP, many “fringe” elements of the conservative movement—including “gun rights militias, secessionists, radical anti-immigrant organizations, and neo-Nazi groups”—are involved in the “tea parties.” (Shakir et al. 4/15/2009; Fang 5/29/2009)

Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress profiles Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the conservative Washington lobbying organization that is planning to coordinate anti-tax “tea party” protests (see April 8, 2009 and April 15, 2009) with a summer push against the White House’s health care reform proposals. AFP is largely funded by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in the US; AFP has long advocated positions favorable to the energy and health care industries. AFP also uses the technique of “astroturfing,” the creation of ostensibly citizen-driven “grassroots” advocacy groups that are actually funded and driven by corporate and lobbying interests. AFP’s most recent creation is a “front group” called “Patients United Now” (PUN), a group explicitly designed to thwart health care reform. PUN’s Web site declares, “We are people just like you,” and actively solicits participation and donations from ordinary Americans without revealing its corporate roots. AFP employs close to 70 Republican operatives and former oil industry officials.
Other 'Astroturf' Campaigns - Think Progress notes that other AFP “Astroturf” groups have organized events such as the “Hot Air Tour” attacking environmental regulation, the “Free Our Energy” movement to promote domestic oil drilling, the “Save My Ballot Tour” which sent conservative activist “Joe the Plumber” (see October 10, 2008) around the country attacking the Employee Free Choice Act, the “No Climate Tax” group aimed at defeating the Clean Energy Economy legislation, and the “No Stimulus” organization, which opposes the Obama administration’s economic policies.
Headed by Former Abramoff Colleague - AFP’s president is Tim Phillips, a veteran conservative lobbyist and “astroturfer.” In 1997, Phillips, then a Republican campaign strategist, joined Christian conservative activists in a new lobbying firm, Century Strategies. The firm promised to mount “grassroots lobbying drives” and explained its strategy as “it matters less who has the best arguments and more who gets heard—and by whom.” Century Strategies was given a boost by Texas GOP political operative Karl Rove, and began its career representing the Texas oil giant Enron. The firm was paid $380,000 to mobilize “religious leaders and pro-family groups” to push energy deregulation on the federal and state level, an effort which helped lead, says Think Progress, “to the energy crisis and economic meltdown of 2001.” As part of their efforts, Phillips and his partner, former Christian Coalition official Ralph Reed, used their congressional connections and “placed” purported “news” articles in the New York Times and other prominent newspapers. Phillips managed the firm’s direct mail subsidiary, Millennium Marketing, which was hired by then-GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff to pressure members of Congress to oppose federal wage and worker safety legislation. Phillips and Reed also worked with Abramoff in the lobbyists’ efforts to fraudulently charge Native American tribes millions of dollars in lobbying fees over their efforts to build casinos on tribal lands. And they helped Abramoff launder gambling money. Phillips and Reed are responsible for the ads that helped Republicans win election victories by comparing Democratic candidates to Osama bin Laden, and helped George W. Bush (R-TX) defeat Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2000 by accusing McCain of fathering an illegitimate black child. They were unsuccessful in preventing the 2000 election of Republican Eric Cantor (R-VA) to the House by attacking his Jewish heritage. (Fang 5/29/2009)
Headed by Oil Billionaire, Republican Party Funder - MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow will later note that AFP’s director is Art Pope, a multi-millionaire who has given so much money to the North Carolina Republican Party that it named its headquarters after him. The national chairman of AFP is David Koch, who with his brother runs Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the US and a longtime supporter of right-wing causes. Koch is the 19th richest man in the world. (MSNBC 8/6/2009)

The US Supreme Court says it will schedule a hearing on the controversial “Citizens United” case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (see March 15, 2009), for September 2009, in an unusual second presentation before the Court (see September 9, 2009). According to the justices, the lawyers for both Citizens United (CU) and the federal government should argue whether previous Court rulings upholding federal election law should be overturned based on First Amendment grounds. Both sides are asked to argue whether the Court should overrule the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), which upheld restrictions on corporate spending on political campaigns, and/or the 2003 McConnell decision (see December 10, 2003), which upheld the bulk of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). Law professor Nathaniel Persily says of the directive: “The Court is poised to reverse longstanding precedents concerning the rights of corporations to participate in politics. The only reason to ask for reargument on this is if they’re going to overturn Austin and McConnell.” The New York Times observes, “The Roberts court [referring to the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts] has struck down every campaign finance regulation to reach it, and it seems to have a majority prepared to do more.” Previous lower court rulings have found that CU’s attempt to air a film attacking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was an attempt to engage in “electioneering,” and thus came under the restrictions of the McCain-Feingold campaign law (see March 27, 2002). The film was financed in part by donations from corporations and individuals whom CU has refused to identify. (United Press International 6/29/2009; Liptak 6/29/2009) CU previously attempted to have its case heard by the Court, but the Court sent the case back to a federal appeals court, which ruled in favor of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and against CU (see March 24, 2008). Law professor Richard Hasen agrees with Persily and the Times that the decision to reargue the case a second time indicates that the Court’s conservative majority is prepared to overturn both Austin and McConnell, and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Hasen writes that if the Court does indeed rule in favor of unlimited corporate spending, it will be in response to the fundraising advantage currently enjoyed by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) over his Republican counterpart, John McCain (R-AZ). (Hasen 6/29/2009) The decision will indeed overturn both Austin and McConnell, and gut most of the BCRA (see January 21, 2010).

The second round of arguments in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, and June 29, 2009) is heard by the US Supreme Court. The first round of arguments, which unexpectedly focused on an unplanned examination of government censorship, ended in a 5-4 split, with the majority of conservative justices readying a decision to essentially gut the entire body of federal campaign finance law in the name of the First Amendment (see March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003), but an angry dissent by Justice David Souter that accused Chief Justice John Roberts of failing to follow the procedures of the Court in rendering the opinion prompted Roberts to temporarily withdraw the opinion and offer a rare second argument (see May 14, 2012). Newly appointed Solicitor General Elena Kagan argues her first case before the Court. Citizens United, the plaintiff, is represented by former Bush administration Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, a veteran of Court arguments, quickly discerns from the new round of “Questions Presented” that the Court is prepared to not only find in the plaintiff’s favor, but to use the case to render a broad verdict against campaign finance law as a whole. Olson argues cautiously, not wanting to extend the case farther than the Court may desire. The four minority liberal justices, knowing the case is lost, try their best in their questioning to raise awareness in the public once news reports of the arguments are made public. One of those justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, asks: “Mr. Olson, are you taking the position that there is no difference” between the First Amendment rights of a corporation and those of an individual? “A corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights. So is there any distinction that Congress could draw between corporations and natural human beings for purposes of campaign finance?” Olson replies, “What the Court has said in the First Amendment context… over and over again is that corporations are persons entitled to protection under the First Amendment” (see January 30, 1976, April 26, 1978, June 25, 2007, and June 26, 2008). Ginsburg follows up by asking, “Would that include today’s mega-corporations, where many of the investors may be foreign individuals or entities?” Olson replies, “The Court in the past has made no distinction based upon the nature of the entity that might own a share of a corporation.” Kagan then takes her turn, and begins: “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, I have three very quick points to make about the government position. The first is that this issue has a long history. For over a hundred years, Congress has made a judgment that corporations must be subject to special rules when they participate in elections, and this Court has never questioned that judgment.” She begins to make her second point before Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the conservative majority, interrupts her. In 2012, author and reporter Jeffrey Toobin will write that Kagan almost certainly knows hers is a legal “suicide mission,” and can only hope that her arguments may sway the Court to narrow its decision and leave some of the existing body of campaign finance law intact. She tells Roberts later in the questioning period, “Mr. Chief Justice, as to whether the government has a preference as to the way in which it loses, if it has to lose, the answer is yes.” Justice John Paul Stevens, the most senior of the liberal minority, attempts to assist Kagan in making her argument, suggesting that the Court should content itself with a narrow ruling, perhaps creating an exception in the McCain-Feingold law (see March 27, 2002) for the plaintiff’s documentary (see January 10-16, 2008) or for “ads that are financed exclusively by individuals even though they are sponsored by a corporation.” Kagan agrees with Stevens’s proposal. Stevens then says: “Nobody has explained why that wouldn’t be a proper solution, not nearly as drastic. Why is that not the wisest narrow solution of the problem before us?” Kagan, with help from Ginsburg, undoes some of the damage done by Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart during the first argument, where he inadvertently gave the conservative justices the “censorship” argument by which they could justify a broader verdict. Ginsburg asks: “May I ask you one question that was highlighted in the prior argument, and that was if Congress could say no TV and radio ads, could it also say no newspaper ads, no campaign biographies? Last time, the answer was yes, Congress could, but it didn’t. Is that still the government’s answer?” Kagan replies: “The government’s answer has changed, Justice Ginsburg. We took the Court’s own reaction to some of those other hypotheticals very seriously. We went back, we considered the matter carefully.” Unlike Stewart, Kagan specifically says that the government cannot ban books. But the censorship argument remains. After the arguments, the justices render the same verdict: a 5-4 split favoring Citizens United. Roberts, Scalia, and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas vote in the majority, while Ginsburg, Stevens, and Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor vote in the minority. The second round of questioning, with its much broader scope, gives Roberts and his conservative colleagues the justification they need to render a broad verdict that would gut existing campaign finance law (see January 21, 2010). (Toobin 5/21/2012)

Oil billionaire David Koch (see August 30, 2010), the founder of “astroturf” advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, and August 6, 2009), makes a rare public appearance at an AFP gathering designed to celebrate the organization’s victories against Obama administration policies (see January 2009 and After). President Obama’s poll numbers are declining, and to a man, Republican senators are refusing to cooperate with the White House or with Congressional Democrats on any issues. Political pundits are labeling Obama “inept,” and “tea party” groups are accusing him of initiating “a government takeover.” Koch praises the AFP members at the event, saying: “Days like today bring to reality the vision of our board of directors when we started this organization, five years ago.… We envisioned a mass movement, a state-based one, but national in scope, of hundreds of thousands of American citizens from all walks of life standing up and fighting for the economic freedoms that made our nation the most prosperous society in history.… Thankfully, the stirrings from California to Virginia, and from Texas to Michigan, show that more and more of our fellow-citizens are beginning to see the same truths as we do.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)

Reporter Lee Fang of the liberal Center for American Progress writes an op-ed for the Boston Globe comparing the current political attacks against Democratic efforts to reform health care being coordinated by the Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, and November 2009) with the efforts of their father, Fred Koch (see 1940 and After), to label former President John F. Kennedy a traitor and a Communist tool. David Koch recently helped coordinate, from behind the scenes, a protest that compared health care reform to the Holocaust, and other protests that have turned violent. More systematically, he and his reclusive brother Charles have funded such conservative organizations as Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004) and other front groups, none of which bear the Koch name. Fang writes: “Americans for Prosperity’s tactics are not new. Just as Koch inherited his oil business from his father, Americans for Prosperity borrows from the ultra-right group also founded in part by his dad, the John Birch Society” (see 1945 and After, March 10, 1961, 1963, August 4, 2008, and April 26, 2010). Fred Koch helped conceive the far-right, anti-Communist John Birch Society (JBS), which, Fang writes, “cloaked its pro-business, anti-civil rights agenda in the rhetoric of the Cold War.” The JBS labeled Kennedy a Communist-inspired traitor and advocated his impeachment (see November 1963), stood against taxation as another aspect of “creeping Communism” inside the federal government, and claimed that the civil rights movement was being directed by the Soviet Union (see April 13, 2009 and December 11, 2009). The JBS helped promote the 1964 presidential candidacy of Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and helped Republicans win key Congressional seats in 1966. AFP and the JBS are alike, Fang notes, in that they rarely acknowledge their funding from wealthy corporate magnates. Both portray themselves as grassroots organizations that are dedicated to promoting freedom. For a time, the JBS succeeded in aligning the interests of the very rich with the idea of anti-Communist patriotism. Similarly, AFP promotes the interests of the extremely wealthy, including the Koch brothers, as synonymous with patriotic opposition to health care reform, financial regulation, net neutrality, and the estate tax. All are labeled as “socialist,” a favorite JBS epithet. Fang concludes that “[w]ith his millions,” David Koch will have “contributed greatly to the obstruction of universal health care, the denial of climate change, and the derailment of much of President Obama’s domestic agenda. His dad would be pleased.” (Fang 12/6/2009)

Three of the Supreme Court justices in the majority decision: Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy.Three of the Supreme Court justices in the majority decision: Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy. [Source: Associated Press / Politico]The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that corporate spending in political elections may not be banned by the federal government. The case is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205. The Court is divided among ideological lines, with the five conservatives voting against the four moderates and liberals on the bench. The decision overrules two precedents about the First Amendment rights of corporations, and rules that corporate financial support for a party or candidate qualifies as “freedom of speech” (see March 11, 1957, January 30, 1976, May 11, 1976, April 26, 1978, January 8, 1980, November 28, 1984, December 15, 1986, June 26, 1996, June 25, 2007, and June 26, 2008). The majority rules that the government may not regulate “political speech,” while the dissenters hold that allowing corporate money to, in the New York Times’s words, “flood the political marketplace,” would corrupt the democratic process. The ramifications of the decision will be vast, say election specialists. (Legal Information Institute 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION 1/21/2010 pdf file; Liptak 1/21/2010) In essence, the ruling overturns much of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly known as the McCain-Feingold law (BCRA—see March 27, 2002). The ruling leaves the 1907 ban on direct corporate contributions to federal candidates and national party committees intact (see 1907). The ban on corporate and union donors coordinating their efforts directly with political parties or candidates’ campaigns remains in place; they must maintain “independence.” Any corporation spending more than $10,000 a year on electioneering efforts must publicly disclose the names of individual contributors. And the ruling retains some disclosure and disclaimer requirements, particularly for ads airing within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. The Los Angeles Times writes: “The decision is probably the most sweeping and consequential handed down under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. And the outcome may well have an immediate impact on this year’s mid-term elections to Congress.” (Savage 1/21/2010; OMB Watch 1/27/2010; Richey and Feldmann 2/2/2010; National Public Radio 2012)
Unregulated Money Impacts Midterm Elections - The decision’s effects will be felt first on a national level in the 2010 midterm elections, when unregulated corporate spending will funnel millions of dollars from corporate donors into Congressional and other races. President Obama calls the decision “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising, says the Court “took what had been a revolving door and took the door away altogether. There was something there that slowed the money down. Now it’s gone.” (Legal Information Institute 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION 1/21/2010 pdf file; Liptak 1/21/2010; Savage 1/21/2010; Millhiser 1/21/2010)
Broadening in Scope - According to reporter and author Jeffrey Toobin, CU lawyer Theodore Olson had originally wanted to present the case as narrowly as possible, to ensure a relatively painless victory that would not ask the Court to drastically revise campaign finance law. But according to Toobin, the conservative justices, and particularly Chief Justice Roberts, want to use the case as a means of overturning much if not all of McCain-Feingold (see May 14, 2012). In the original argument of the case in March 2009 (see March 15, 2009), Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart unwittingly changed the scope of the case in favor of a broader interpretation, and gave Roberts and the other conservative justices the opportunity they may have been seeking. (Toobin 5/21/2012)
Majority Opinion Grants Corporations Rights of Citizens - The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, reads in part: “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.… The First Amendment does not permit Congress to make these categorical distinctions based on the corporate identity of the speaker and the content of the political speech.” In essence, Kennedy’s ruling finds, corporations are citizens. The ruling overturns two precedents: 1990’s Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which upheld restrictions on corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates (see March 27, 1990) in its entirety, and large portions of 2003’s McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (see December 10, 2003), which upheld a portion of the BCRA that restricted campaign spending by corporations and unions. Before today’s ruling, the BCRA banned the broadcast, cable, or satellite transmission of “electioneering communications” paid for by corporations or labor unions from their general funds in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections. The law was restricted in 2007 by a Court decision to apply only to communications “susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate” (see June 25, 2007).
Encroachment on Protected Free Speech - Eight of the nine justices agree that Congress can require corporations to disclose their spending and to run disclaimers with their advertisements; Justice Clarence Thomas is the only dissenter on this point. Kennedy writes, “Disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way.” Kennedy’s opinion states that if the restrictions remain in place, Congress could construe them to suppress political speech in newspapers, on television news programs, in books, and on the Internet. Kennedy writes: “When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”
Fiery Dissent - Justice John Paul Stevens, the oldest member of the court, submits a fiery 90-page dissent that is joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor. Kennedy is joined by Roberts and fellow Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Thomas, though Roberts and Alito submit a concurring opinion instead of signing on with Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas. “The difference between selling a vote and selling access is a matter of degree, not kind,” Stevens writes in his dissent. “And selling access is not qualitatively different from giving special preference to those who spent money on one’s behalf.” Stevens writes that the Court has long recognized the First Amendment rights of corporations, but the restrictions struck down by the decision are moderate and fair. “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” Speaking from the bench, Stevens calls the ruling “a radical change in the law… that dramatically enhances the role of corporations and unions—and the narrow interests they represent—in determining who will hold public office.… Corporations are not human beings. They can’t vote and can’t run for office,” and should be restricted under election law. “Essentially, five justices were unhappy with the limited nature of the case before us, so they changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law.”
Case Originated with 2008 Political Documentary - The case originated in a 2008 documentary by the right-wing advocacy group Citizens United (CU), called Hillary: The Movie (see January 10-16, 2008). The film, a caustic attack on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Democrats in general, was released for public viewing during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. When the Federal Election Commission (FEC) won a lawsuit against CU, based on the FEC’s contention that broadcasting the film violated McCain-Feingold, the group abandoned plans to release the film on a cable video-on-demand service and to broadcast television advertisements for it. CU appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, and most observers believed the Court would decide the case on narrow grounds, not use the case to rewrite election law and First Amendment coverage. (Legal Information Institute 2010; CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION 1/21/2010 pdf file; Liptak 1/21/2010; Savage 1/21/2010; Millhiser 1/21/2010; Sherman 1/21/2010; Richey and Feldmann 2/2/2010)
Case Brought in Order to Attack Campaign Finance Law - Critics have said that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, an opponent of the decision, says: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” CU head David Bossie confirms this contention, saying after the decision: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” (Rucker 1/22/2010)

The Wall Street Journal celebrates the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) as a victory for “free speech” (see January 21, 2010). In an unsigned editorial, the Journal celebrates the decision by stating that the Court used the Constitution to “rescue” the political system from “marauding government” elements, particularly a “reckless Congress.” The Journal claims that the Citizens United case rested on the Federal Election Commission (FEC)‘s refusal to allow the airing of a 90-minute political attack documentary on presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) because the film was “less than complimentary” of her. In reality, the FEC considered the film “electioneering” by the organization that released the film, Citizens United, and prohibited it from being shown on pay-per-view cable access (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court rejected campaign finance law’s limitation on corporate spending, prompting the Journal to state, “Corporations are entitled to the same right that individuals have to spend money on political speech for or against a candidate.” Any other state of affairs, the Journal writes, constitutes censorship. The Journal criticizes President Obama for speaking out against the decision (see January 21, 2010), saying that Obama put “on his new populist facade to call it ‘a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies,’ and other ‘special interests.’ Mr. Obama didn’t mention his union friends as one of those interests, but their political spending will also be protected by the logic of this ruling. The reality is that free speech is no one’s special interest.” The Journal dismisses promises by Congressional Democrats to pass legislation or even bring forth a constitutional amendment limiting corporate donations by stating, “Liberalism’s bullying tendencies are never more on display than when its denizens are at war with the speech rights of its opponents.” The Journal concludes by advocating that the Court overturn its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision (see January 30, 1976) that placed modest limits on corporate spending, in essence advocating the complete deregulation of campaign financing. “The Court did yesterday uphold disclosure rules, so a sensible step now would be for Congress to remove all campaign-finance limits subject only to immediate disclosure on the Internet,” the Journal states. “Citizens United is in any event a bracing declaration that Congress’s long and misbegotten campaign-finance crusade has reached a constitutional dead end.” (Wall Street Journal 1/22/2010)

The Washington, DC, Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously holds that provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976) violate the First Amendment in the case of a nonprofit, unincorporated organization called SpeechNow.org. SpeechNow collects contributions from individuals, but not corporations, and attempted to collect contributions in excess of what FECA allows. In late 2007, SpeechNow asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) if its fundraising plans would require it to register as a political committee, and the FEC responded that the law would require such registration, thus placing SpeechNow under federal guidelines for operation and fundraising. In February 2008, SpeechNow challenged that ruling in court, claiming that the restrictions under FECA were unconstitutional. FECA should not restrict the amount of money individuals can donate to the organization, it argued, and thusly should not face spending requirements. It also argued that the reporting limits under FECA are unduly burdensome. The district court ruled against SpeechNow, using two Supreme Court decisions as its precedents (see January 30, 1976 and December 10, 2003), and ruled that “nominally independent” organizations such as SpeechNow are “uniquely positioned to serve as conduits for corruption both in terms of the sale of access and the circumvention of the soft money ban.” SpeechNow appealed that decision. The appeals court reverses the decision, stating that the contribution limits under FECA are unconstitutional as applied to individuals. The reporting and organizational requirements under FECA are constitutionally valid, the court rules. The appeals court uses the recent Citizens United ruling as justification for its findings on contribution limits (see January 21, 2010). (Liptak 3/28/2010; Federal Elections Commission 2012; Moneyocracy 2/2012) The FEC argued that large contributions to groups that made independent expenditures could “lead to preferential access for donors and undue influence over officeholders,” but Chief Judge David Sentelle, writing for the court, retorts that such arguments “plainly have no merit after Citizens United.” Stephen M. Hoersting, who represents SpeechNow, says the ruling is a logical and welcome extension of the Citizens United ruling, stating, “The court affirmed that groups of passionate individuals, like billionaires—and corporations and unions after Citizens United—have the right to spend without limit to independently advocate for or against federal candidates.” (Liptak 3/28/2010) Taken along with another court ruling, the SpeechNow case opens the way for the formation of so-called “super PACs,” “independent expenditure” entities that can be run by corporations or labor unions with monies directly from their treasuries, actions that have been banned for over 60 years (see 1925 and June 25, 1943). The New York Times will later define a super PAC as “a political committee whose primary purpose is to influence elections, and which can take unlimited amounts of money, outside of federal contribution limits, from rich people, unions, and corporations, pool it all together, and spend it to advocate for a candidate—as long as they are independent and not coordinated with the candidate.” Super PACs are not required by law to disclose who their donors are, how much money they have raised, and how much they spend. CNN will later write, “The high court’s decision allowed super PACs to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations, and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.” OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan organization that monitors campaign finance practices, later writes that the laws underwriting Super PACs “prevent… voters from understanding who is truly behind many political messages.” (Liptak 3/28/2010; Federal Elections Commission 2012; OpenSecrets (.org) 2012; CNN 3/26/2012; Kavanagh, Slotnik, and Schulten 5/22/2012)

Attorney Karl Crow, one of the leaders of the Themis project.Attorney Karl Crow, one of the leaders of the Themis project. [Source: Little Sis (.org)]Charles and David Koch, the oil billionaires who are behind the conservative tea party movement (see 1940 and After, 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, Late 2004, October 2008, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 2010, August 17, 2011 and October 4, 2011), begin to build a huge, nationwide database of conservative voters that they intend to use to drive conservative votes in elections, beginning with the 2012 Republican primaries and on to the November 2012 general presidential election. The database is nicknamed “Themis,” after the Greek goddess of divine law and order who imposes order on human affairs. According to The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, “the Koch brothers are close to launching a nationwide database connecting millions of Americans who share their anti-government and libertarian views, a move that will further enhance the tycoons’ political influence and that could prove significant in next year’s presidential election.” Pilkington writes that Themis will bring together “the vast network of alliances” the brothers have formed over the last 20 years. (Vogel 10/10/2011; Pilkington 11/7/2011) Patrick Glennon of In These Times writes: “Email lists, phone numbers, and other contact information from disperse sources will merge into a comprehensive and streamlined political weapon. Purportedly, the database will also include extensive information relating to occupation and income levels, useful details for targeted fundraising initiatives.” (Vogel 10/10/2011) The database begins in April 2010, and is expected to be completed and functional by the end of 2011. Few details of the project are known; development leader Karl Crow, a Washington lawyer and longtime Koch advisor, refuses to speak about it, as do media representatives of Koch Industries. A member of a Koch affiliate organization who specializes in the political uses of new technology says in November 2011 that the project is almost ready to go live: “They are doing a lot of analysis and testing. Finally they’re getting Themis off the ground.” The project is intended to, Pilkington writes, “bring together information from a plethora of right-wing groups, tea party organizations, and conservative-leaning thinktanks. Each one has valuable data on their membership—including personal email addresses and phone numbers, as well as more general information useful to political campaign strategists such as occupation, income bracket, and so on. By pooling the information, the hope is to create a data resource that is far more potent than the sum of its parts. Themis will in effect become an electoral roll of right-wing America, allowing the Koch brothers to further enhance their power base in a way that is sympathetic to, but wholly independent of, the Republican Party.” The specialist tells Pilkington, “This will take time to fully realize, but it has the potential to become a very powerful tool in 2012 and beyond.” Themis is modeled in part on a project called Catalyst, a voter list that compiled and shared data about progressive groups and campaigns (see Late 2004 and After) and helped Democrats regain momentum after the 2004 defeat of presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). (Vogel 10/10/2011; Pilkington 11/7/2011; Glennon 11/8/2011) The 2008 Obama campaign used social media outreach techniques to augment Catalyst’s database. Themis apparently incorporates many of those social-media and other interactive features in its construction. (Lachkovic 12/19/2011) Josh Hendler, the former director of technology of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), tells Pilkington that Themis could do for the GOP what Catalyst helped do for the Democrats. “This increases the Koch brothers’ reach,” he says. “It will allow them to become even greater coordinators than they are already—with this resource they become a natural center of gravity for conservatives.” Mary Boyle of the political watchdog group Common Cause says of the reclusive brothers, “What makes them unique is that they are not just campaign contributors; they are a vast political network in their own right.” Themis will only deepen the Koch brothers’ control of American right-wing politics, Pilkington observes. Politico’s Kenneth Vogel writes that the Kochs intend to spend at least $200 million in 2012 on the Republican presidential campaign and other related activities. Pilkington writes: “Their potential to sway the electorate through the sheer scale of their spending has been greatly enhanced by Citizens United, last year’s controversial ruling by the US Supreme Court that opened the floodgates to corporate donations in political campaigns. The ruling allows companies to throw unlimited sums to back their chosen candidates, without having to disclose their spending. That makes 2012 the first Citizens United presidential election, and in turn offers rich pickings to the Koch brothers.” Themis will help the Kochs “micro-target” voters and potential fundraisers. Pilkington writes that it is reasonable to assume that Koch-funded lobbying organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are part of Themis, as are Koch-funded think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation. “Between them, they have tentacles that extend to millions of voters,” Pilkington writes. Liberal reporter and blogger Lee Fang says the impact of Themis and the Koch funding on the 2012 presidential campaign will be immense: “This will be the first major election where most of the data and the organizing will be done outside the party nexus. The Kochs have the potential to outspend and out-perform the Republican Party and even the successful Republican candidate.” (Vogel 10/10/2011; Pilkington 11/7/2011; Glennon 11/8/2011)

Adam Skaggs, an attorney for the Brennan Center for Justice, writes that the controversial Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010) is going to have a huge impact on judicial elections in 2010 and beyond. The record for the costliest judicial race in US history was set in a 2004 Illinois contest between Lloyd Karmeier and Gordon Maag, competing for the bench in the state’s 5th Judicial District. Between them, they raised and spent almost $9.4 million, more than double the previous national record, and an amount Karmeier later called “obscene.” Special interests on both sides of the election became heavily involved, with Karmeier’s corporate donations from such organizations as the US Chamber of Commerce and State Farm Insurance winning out over Maag’s donations from trial lawyers. After the election, Karmeier cast the deciding vote in a case that saved State Farm $500 million. An Ohio labor official said in commenting on the often-heavy spending on judicial races, “We figured out a long time ago that it’s easier to elect seven judges than to elect one hundred and 32 legislators.” The Citizens United case, Skaggs writes, will undoubtedly lead to corporate spending in judicial races like never before. That spending, he writes, “threatens to further erode the judiciary’s independence.” Even former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has said that “Citizens United has signaled that the problem of campaign contributions in judicial elections might get considerably worse and quite soon.” Skaggs cites a number of races that will likely be targets for big corporate donors:
bullet Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald is a probable target after striking down a 2005 law that placed caps on medical malpractice claims; Skaggs predicts the same corporate interests that helped Karmeier win a judicial seat will attempt to defeat Fitzgerald.
bullet In Alabama, three seats currently held by Republicans are contested. One of these, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker, is the likely recipient of heavy corporate funding, because, as Skaggs writes, groups like the Business Council of Alabama want Parker on the bench to protect conservative interests on economic issues. That corporate spending will likely outstrip spending on Democratic candidates, which will come primarily from liberal judicial groups and the state’s Democratic Party.
A 2006 study by the New York Times showed that judges routinely decide cases involving campaign donors, and in 70 percent of those cases, find in favor of those donors. One judge in the study voted on behalf of his donors 91 percent of the time. In Nevada, judges routinely accept huge donations even when running unopposed, often from donors who have cases pending before those judges. Nevada voters will decide in the November elections whether to scrap the system of an elected judiciary and move to an appointment system. Skaggs recommends that states should adopt public financing systems for judicial elections (four states—New Mexico, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin already do so) and eliminate entirely the concept of outside interests donating to judicial campaigns. He recommends stricter disclosure rules, so that the public knows who is contributing how much to judicial candidates. And, he writes, “states should institute new disqualification regulations to ensure that, if a judge is assigned to hear the case of a major campaign supporter, he or she must step aside and let a wholly impartial judge preside.” Otherwise, he writes: “The very legitimacy of the courts depends on the public believing that judges will treat every party without bias or favor. If, in the Citizens United era, states don’t adopt public financing and strong disclosure and disqualification rules, the judiciary’s credibility will dissolve—and quickly.” (Skaggs 4/5/2010)

The exterior of the St. Regis Resort in Aspen, Colorado.The exterior of the St. Regis Resort in Aspen, Colorado. [Source: Real Aspen (.com)]The reclusive but highly influential Charles Koch, of the Koch brothers oil empire (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, and July 3-4, 2010), holds a private meeting with some 200 wealthy financial and political figures at the exclusive St. Regis Resort in Aspen, Colorado. The meeting is designed to bring the participants together to combat what Koch calls “the threats posed to American freedom and prosperity” by Democrats and the Obama administration. To that end, many of the sessions in the two-day event target methods and plans to influence and manipulate the upcoming 2010 midterm elections. The meeting is highly secretive, with participants warned not to discuss the proceedings with anyone, especially members of the media, but in August, the liberal news Web site Think Progress will obtain a copy of a September 2010 memo from Koch that contains the June 2010 event program. The various events include:
bullet a seminar on “The Bankrupting of America”;
bullet a seminar on the “regulatory assault” on environmental concerns and how to further business goals by defeating environmental regulations;
bullet a seminar on how to influence universities and colleges to “advance liberty”;
bullet a seminar on how to “micro-target” the electorate in order to win elections for conservative Republican candidates;
bullet a seminar on “The Threats to American Freedom and Prosperity” conducted by Koch himself;
bullet “Understanding the Threats We Face,” a seminar moderated by Wall Street Journal reporter Stephen Moore (see May 6, 2006), Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review, Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004), and Peter Wallinson of the far-right American Enterprise Institute (AEI);
bullet a seminar on “An Integrated Strategy to Face These Threats,” moderated by Koch’s senior assistant Richard Fink;
bullet an evening address, “Is America On the Road to Serfdom?” by former Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck;
bullet a seminar, “We’re Spending Too Much,” on how to lower government spending, conducted by Russ Roberts of the far-right libertarian Mercatus Center;
bullet a seminar, “Understanding This Year’s Electorate,” by journalist and AEI fellow Michael Barone;
bullet a follow-up seminar on how to “Fram[e] the Debate on Spending” for the elections, moderated by members of AEI and the Mercatus Center;
bullet a seminar, “Mobilizing Citizens for November,” featuring Tim Phillips, the head of AFP (see August 6, 2009) and Karl Crow, the head of Themis, the Koch-funded computer database being used in “micro-targeting” voters (see April 2010 and After);
bullet a seminar hosted by Arthur Brooks of AEI on how to frame the “fight” as one between “free enterprise and Big Government”;
bullet a seminar on how best to target participants’ philanthropic gifting;
bullet a seminar on “reforming” K-12 public and charter schools;
bullet a seminar on impacting judicial elections in several key states;
bullet a seminar on transitioning from the 2010 elections to the 2012 presidential elections and how “supporters of economic freedom” can “start planning today” for that election;
bullet a final evening address, “What’s Ahead for America?” by noted neoconservative columnist and Fox News pundit Charles Krauthammer.
The event features David Chavern, a senior official at the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the entities contributing the most funding to conservative political organizations (see August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, and October 2010). Think Progress’s Lee Fang will write: “In an election season with the most undisclosed secret corporate giving since the Watergate-era, the memo sheds light on the symbiotic relationship between extremely profitable, multi-billion dollar corporations and much of the conservative infrastructure. The memo describes the prospective corporate donors as ‘investors,’ and it makes clear that many of the Republican operatives managing shadowy, undisclosed fronts running attack ads against Democrats were involved in the Koch’s election-planning event.” Many of the “investors” listed as attending or participating in the events include executives from health care corporations; executives from fast-food and other food-industry executives who have fought against providing health insurance to their employees; an array of banking and financial executives; and a number of energy industry executives. Fred Malek, who serves as the top fundraiser for a $56 million attack ad campaign against Democrats (see Mid-October 2010), attends, as does Heather Higgins of the Independent Women’s Forum, another organization that has spent millions opposing health-care reform. Many of the election-focused seminars address how to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling that lifted restrictions on corporate election spending (see January 21, 2010). The Aspen meeting, as with earlier meetings, is managed by Kevin Gentry, a Koch Industries executive and Washington lobbyist. (Fang 8/23/2010; Koch 9/24/2010 pdf file)

The advocacy wing of the Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Foundation, founded by right-wing billionaire David Koch in 2004 (see Late 2004 and August 30, 2010), holds a weekend summit called “Texas Defending the American Dream” in Austin, Texas.
Koch-Funded, Koch Brand Not in Evidence - Neither David Koch nor his brother, Charles, attend the affair, and the name Koch is not in evidence. An advertisement for the event portrays it as a populist uprising against vested corporate power, stating: “Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests. But you can do something about it.” The ad makes no mention that the event is funded by Koch Industries, the second-largest private corporation in the US. Of Americans for Prosperity, Obama adviser David Axelrod says, “What they don’t say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens’ movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires.”
Funding and Training the Tea Parties - Koch Industries has long denied that it has any connection to tea party organizations, and has denied that either the firm or the Koch brothers have funded any tea party groups (see February 27, 2009 and April 15, 2009). David Koch has denied ever being approached by tea party representatives. But at the Austin event, event organizer Peggy Venable—an AFP employee who has worked for Koch-funded political groups since 1994—tells the crowd, “We love what the tea parties are doing, because that’s how we’re going to take back America!” She calls herself one of the earliest members of the tea party movement, telling a reporter, “I was part of the tea party before it was cool!” AFP, she says, is in business to help “educate” tea party activists on policy details and to train them for further activism so that their political energy can be channelled “more effectively.” AFP has provided tea party organizers with lists of elected Democrats to target. Of the Kochs, she says: “They’re certainly our people. David’s the chairman of our board. I’ve certainly met with them, and I’m very appreciative of what they do.”
'Victory or Death!' - Some 500 people attend the event, which features training seminars for “tea party” activists around the state and a series of speakers launching blunt attacks against President Obama and his administration. Venable warns the attendees that the Obama administration has “a socialist vision for this country.” She gives the Texas AFP “Blogger of the Year” award to a woman named Sibyl West, who recently called Obama the nation’s “cokehead in chief.” Featured speaker Janine Turner, an actress best known for her role in the TV series Northern Exposure, tells the audience: “They [Obama and the Democratic Party] don’t want our children to know about their rights. They don’t want our children to know about a God!” Former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz tells the crowd that Obama is “the most radical president ever to occupy the Oval Office,” and has a hidden agenda: “the government taking over our economy and our lives.” Defeating Obama and his “secret agenda” is, Cruz says, “the epic fight of our generation!” As the crowd gives him a standing ovation, Cruz shouts the words said by a Texan at the Alamo: “Victory or death!” (Mayer 8/30/2010)

Senate Democrats are unable to break a filibuster by Senate Republicans that is blocking passage of the DISCLOSE Act.
Act Would Mandate Disclosure of Donors - The DISCLOSE Act—formally the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act—would overturn many elements of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities (see January 21, 2010). If passed, it would have created new campaign finance disclosure requirements and made public the names of “super PAC” contributors (see March 26, 2010). Individuals, corporations, labor unions, and tax-exempt charitable organizations would, under the act, report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) each time they spend $10,000 or more on campaign-related expenditures. Additionally, all outside groups, including “super PACs,” would have to report the names of donors. Moreover, the legislation would provide for so-called “Stand By Your Ad” requirements mandating that super PACs and other outside campaign groups producing political advertisements disclose the top funders in the ad. The CEO or highest-ranking official of an organization would, under the act, have to appear in the ad and officially “approve” the message. (Open Congress 6/29/2010; OMB Watch 7/24/2012)
Unbreakable Filibuster - Even public support from President Obama fails to sway enough Republican senators to vote against the filibuster, as did changes made to the bill by sponsor Charles Schumer (D-NY) designed to assuage some of Republicans’ concerns about the bill. The bill has already passed the House, shepherded through under Democratic leadership against Republican opposition. Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate also, but Senate rules allow the minority to mount filibusters that require 60 votes to overcome, and a number of Republicans would need to break from the Republican pack to vote down the filibuster. Additionally, some conservative senators such as Ben Nelson (D-NE) have not publicly stated their support for the bill. One Republican who had previously indicated she might vote for cloture (against the filibuster), Susan Collins (R-ME), dashed Democrats’ final hopes by saying she would not vote for cloture after all. “The bill would provide a clear and unfair advantage to unions while either shutting other organizations out of the election process or subjecting them to onerous reporting requirements that would not apply to unions,” says Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley. “Senator Collins believes that it is ironic that a bill aimed at curtailing special interests in the election process provides so many carve-outs and exemptions that favor some grass-roots organizations over others. This, too, is simply unfair.” Other so-called Republican moderates such as Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Scott Brown (R-MA) have previously indicated they would not vote for cloture. Ironically, one of the “carve-outs” in the bill Schumer added was on behalf of the far-right National Rifle Association (NRA), an addition that Schumer says was made to placate Republicans. Schumer says that even if the bill does not pass now, attempts to reintroduce it will be made. The DISCLOSE Act “is one of the most important for the future of our democracy, not just for the next six months but for the next six decades,” he says. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says: “I don’t know what the final vote will be tomorrow, but I know that you—if you had a sliver of Republicans that thought special-interest giving and corporate influence in elections was… part of the problem, then this bill would pass. Now we get to see who in the Senate thinks there’s too much corporate influence and too much special-interest money that dominate our elections and who doesn’t. I don’t know how it could be any clearer than that.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) retorts: “The DISCLOSE Act seeks to protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all-out attack on the First Amendment (see January 21, 2010). In the process, the authors of the bill have decided to trade our constitutional rights away in a backroom deal that makes the Cornhusker Kickback look like a model of legislative transparency.” (Shiner 7/26/2010) The “Cornhusker Kickback” McConnell is referencing is a deal struck in late 2009 by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to win Nelson’s support for the Democrats’ health care reform package, in which Nebraska, Nelson’s state, would receive 100 percent government financing for an expansion of Medicare. (Mascaro 12/20/2009)

US Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV) falsely claims that the Democratically backed DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would have imposed some disclosure regulations on corporate and union campaign financiers (see July 26-27, 2010), was passed into law. Angle is challenging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). The previous day, Angle posted on Twitter that the DISCLOSE Act’s defeat was “a great victory for the first amendment.” But today, Angle joins conservative talk radio host Heidi Harris to claim that the act is actually in effect and she opposes it. Asked about her position on campaign finance, Angle says: “Well I think that the Supreme Court has really made their decision on this, they found that we have a First Amendment right across the board that was violated by the McCain-Feingold act (see March 27, 2002 and January 21, 2010). And that’s what they threw out, was those violations. The McCain-Feingold Act is still in place. The DISCLOSE Act is still in place. It’s just that certain provisions within that they found to be definitely violating the First Amendment. If we didn’t have the DISCLOSE Act there would be a lot of different things that people wouldn’t be able to find out. And certainly you can go to FEC.gov and see where Harry Reid is getting most of his money from special interests.” (Ralston 7/28/2010; Kleefeld 7/28/2010)

Democrats are aghast at the amount of corporate spending they expect to be used against them in the 2010 elections, according to media reports. The US Chamber of Commerce (see September 20, 2010, September 30, 2010, and October 2010) projects that it will spend $75 million this year, over double its spending of $35 million in 2008, to oppose Democrats running for federal and state office. USCoC officials say that spending could go even higher. Other organizations, such as American Crossroads, a right-wing political group headed by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove (see September 20, 2010 and February 21, 2012), are on track to raise and spend tens of millions, again to fund political activities designed to prevent Democrats from being elected. A report circulating among Democratic Congressional leaders says that some $300 million has been raised for the 2010 campaign, all coming from 15 conservative tax-exempt organizations. Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics says: “A commitment of $300 million from just 15 organizations is a huge amount, putting them in record territory for groups on the right or left. With control of Congress hanging in the balance, this kind of spending could have a major impact.” Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), says the amount of corporate funding for Republican political activities is “raising the alarm bell.” The DCCC spent $177 million in all of 2008’s Congressional races. Labor unions and other groups allied with Democrats plan heavy spending of their own, but nothing to compare to conservative corporate funding. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), for example, plans to spend $44 million on election-related spending this year. Political scientist Anthony J. Corrado Jr. says: “What we are seeing is that major businesses and industries are taking advantage of the recent court ruling and favorable political environment. They are already committing substantially more money than they have in any previous election cycles.” Corrado is referring to the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) that has overturned almost a century’s worth of campaign spending limitations. USCoC officials also point to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the ban on political issue advertising by corporations and labor unions close to an election (see June 25, 2007). The Los Angeles Times reports that the heavy corporate fundraising for Republican political interests is driven largely by corporate opposition to the Democrats’ focus on health care reform, and a bill passed in July that established stricter government monitoring and regulation of the financial system. Roger Nicholson of the International Coal Group, a mining company, recently wrote to fellow executives urging them to contribute money to defeat the “fiercely anti-coal Democrats” in Washington, specifically targeting a number of Democrats in Kentucky and West Virginia. Five of the largest health insurers, including Aetna, Cigna, and United HealthCare, are banding together to create and fund a new nonprofit group to help influence elections. The group has not yet been formed, but reports say that it will spend some $20 million to defeat Democrats. (Hamburger 8/2/2010)

Liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich writes an op-ed focusing on the billionaire Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, and October 4, 2011), the oil magnates who are the driving force behind the tea party movement. Rich writes that “even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.” Rich, using information from historian Kim Phillips-Fein’s book Invisible Hands, notes that the Kochs are the latest in a long line of behind-the-scenes corporate manipulators “who have financed the far right (see September 2010 and August 17, 2011) ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down” the Roosevelt administration (see August 23, 1934 and After). “You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal ‘socialism’ of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on [the Kennedy administration] and Medicare (see 1962 and November 1963) to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our ‘socialist’ president,” Rich writes. “Only the fat cats change—not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government ‘handouts’ to the poor, unemployed, ill, and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred (see 1940 and After), was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of ‘a takeover’ of America in which Communists would ‘infiltrate the highest offices of government in the US until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.’ That rant could be delivered as is at any tea party rally today.” Rich also focuses on FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After, May 16, 2008, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, June 26, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 19, 2009, August 24, 2010, September 2010, September 12, 2010 and August 17, 2011), one of the two “major sponsor[s]” of the tea party movement, along with Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, January 2009 and After, February 16, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 8, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, October 2, 2009, November 2009, February 15, 2010, April 15, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 20, 2010 and August 17, 2011). Both FreedomWorks and AFP are heavily funded by the Koch brothers. Rich writes: “Tea partiers may share the Kochs’ detestation of taxes, big government, and [President] Obama. But there’s a difference between mainstream conservatism and a fringe agenda that tilts completely toward big business, whether on Wall Street or in the Gulf of Mexico, while dismantling fundamental government safety nets designed to protect the unemployed, public health, workplace safety, and the subsistence of the elderly.” Rich writes that the Koch brothers’ agenda is “inexorably… morphing into the GOP agenda,” and points to Republican luminaries such as incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-MO) and tea party candidates such as Rand Paul (see March 27, 2010, May 17, 2010, October 25, 2010 and After, October 26, 2010 and November 10, 2010), Sharron Angle (see January 2010, Mid-May, 2010, Mid-June 2010, June 16, 2010 and September 18, 2010), and Joe Miller (see July 19, 2010, July 23, 2010, October 17, 2010, October 17, 2010 and October 18, 2010). “The Koch brothers must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests,” Rich concludes. (Rich 8/28/2010)

Charles and David Koch.Charles and David Koch. [Source: PRWatch (.org)]The New Yorker publishes a lengthy analysis of the Koch (pronounced “coke”) financial empire, and its long-time financial support for right-wing causes (see 1981-2010). The article, written by investigative reporter Jane Mayer, shows that Koch Industries, led by brothers David and Charles Koch, has donated over $250 million to Republican and conservative politicians and organizations since the mid-1990s. The Koch brothers are also well-known philanthropists, having given millions to New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, $100 million to the Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, $40 million to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History, and $10 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Second-Largest Private Industry in US - Koch Industries, a $100 billion conglomerate, garners most of its profits from oil refineries and associated interests; it owns the firms that manufacture Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber and paper products, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra fabric. Koch Industries is the second largest private company in the US after Cargill, and taken together, the Koch brothers’ fortune of some $35 billion places them just behind Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Wall Street financier Warren Buffett as the nation’s richest people.
Longtime Libertarians - Personally, the Koch brothers espouse a libertarian philosophy—drastic reductions in corporate and personal taxes, huge cuts in government expenditures on social services, and widespread deregulation of industry, particularly environmental. Koch Industries was recently listed in the top 10 of US air polluters, and has for years funded organizations that oppose climate change, giving even more than ExxonMobil to organizations, foundations, and think tanks that work to derail or overturn climate change legislation. Koch funds so many different organizations that oppose various initiatives of the Obama administration that Washington insiders call the Koch ideological network the “Kochtopus.” While the Koch brothers have protested being characterized as major supporters of the right-wing agenda—David Koch has complained that the “radical press” is intent on making him and his brother into “whipping boys”—Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, says: “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.” The Kochs have embraced the pure free-market ideology of economist Friedrich von Hayek, who argued that any form of centralized government would lead to totalitarianism and that only complete, unregulated capitalism could ensure freedom. Many “tea party” supporters, such as Fox News host Glenn Beck, have openly embraced von Hayek’s ideals.
Inculcated Ideals of Anti-Communist Father - Both brothers are steeped in the anti-Communist, anti-government, minority-disparaging views of their father, Koch Industries co-founder Fred Koch (see 1940 and After).
Using the 'Tea Parties' - Conservative economist Bruce Bartlett, who has worked at a Koch-funded think tank, says that the Kochs are playing on the anti-government fervor of the “tea parties” to further their pro-business, libertarian agenda. “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians,” Bartlett says. “There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the “tea parties,” Bartlett says, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power. [The Kochs are] trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.” A Republican campaign consultant who has worked for the Kochs says of the tea party movement: “The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!” The consultant says that the Kochs keep an extremely low profile, in part to avoid accusations that they are funding an “astroturf” movement (see April 15, 2009). A former Koch adviser says: “They’re smart. This right-wing, redneck stuff works for them. They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves.” Democratic political strategist Rob Stein, who has studied the conservative movement’s finances, says the Kochs are “at the epicenter of the anti-Obama movement. But it’s not just about Obama. They would have done the same to Hillary Clinton. They did the same with Bill Clinton. They are out to destroy progressivism.” Since a 2009 rally attended by David Koch (see November 2009), the brothers have all but explicitly endorsed the tea party movement, with David Koch praising it for demonstrating the “powerful visceral hostility in the body politic against the massive increase in government power, the massive efforts to socialize this country.” Echoing the sentiments of many tea party leaders, Charles Koch said in a newsletter sent out to Koch Industry employees that President Obama is comparable to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.
Strategy - Charles Koch told a reporter that “[t]o bring about social change” requires “a strategy” that is “vertically and horizontally integrated,” spanning “from idea creation to policy development to education to grassroots organizations to lobbying to litigation to political action.… We have a radical philosophy.” The Kochs launched their first “think tank,” the libertarian Cato Institute, in 1977 (see 1977-Present), which has been effective in promoting corporate tax cuts, deregulation, cuts in social spending, and in opposing governmental initiatives to combat climate change. Other Koch-funded institutes such as the Heritage Foundation and the Independent Women’s Forum have also publicly opposed efforts to combat climate change. History professor Naomi Oreskes, the author of a book, Merchants of Doubt, that chronicles attempts by American industries to manipulate public opinion on science, says that the Kochs have a vested interest in keeping the government from addressing climate change. “If the answer is to phase out fossil fuels,” she says, “a different group of people are going to be making money, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re fighting tooth and nail.” David Koch has said that though he doesn’t believe that any global warming effects have been caused by human activities, if indeed the globe is warming, it will benefit society by lengthening growing seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. Several years after founding Cato, the Kochs provided millions in funding to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, which Stein describes as “ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.” Mercatus is headed by Richard Fink, a Koch Industries lobbyist and president of several Koch-funded foundations. Mayer describes Fink as the chief political lieutenant of the Koch brothers. Mercatus was quite successful at having the Bush administration adopt a number of its deregulatory strategies, particularly environmental deregulation. Like Cato, critics of Mercatus accuse it of serving the brothers’ corporate needs while hiding behind the facade of a nonpartisan academic organization. “Ideas don’t happen on their own,” says Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a tea party advocacy group heavily funded by the Kochs (see April 14, 2009). “Throughout history, ideas need patrons.” FreedomWorks is one of many citizen activism groups founded and/or funded by the Kochs, usually masquerading as “grassroots” organizations started by “ordinary citizens” (see 1984 and After, 1997, and Late 2004).
Disrupting the Obama Administration - Since well before the 2008 presidential election, the Koch brothers have been involved in full-throated efforts to derail any policies or initiatives that would be launched by a Democratic president. In January 2008, Charles Koch wrote in the industry newsletter that America was on the verge of “the greatest loss of liberty and prosperity since the 1930s.” The Kochs have used their “astroturf” advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), to great effect against the Obama administration, launching its efforts even before the November 2008 election (see October 2008 and January 2009 and After). Conservative activist Grover Norquist says that AFP’s August 2009 anti-health care rallies were instrumental in undermining Obama’s policy initiatives. Norquist says the rallies “discouraged deal-makers,” Republicans who otherwise might have considered cooperating with Obama and Congressional Democrats, and affected corporate donors to Washington lobbyists, steering millions into the hands of Republican lobbyists. (Mayer 8/30/2010)

Research from the media analysis firm Borrell Associates and other sources shows that spending for the 2010 midterm elections will outstrip the record-breaking spending of the 2008 elections, which centered around a presidential contest. The controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) has “opened the floodgates” for corporate money to be used in electioneering and advertising, much of that money going anonymously to political parties and operations. It is unprecedented for midterm elections to involve more spending than presidential-year elections. Kip Cassino, vice president of research at Borrell Associates, says the Citizens United decision is directly responsible for the massive upswing in spending. “Unlike a lot of industries in the United States right now, which are seeing some downturns, political spending is absolutely a growth industry,” Cassino says. Corporate money is behind the surge, accounting for what he says is at least a 10 percent jump in advertising. Evan Tracey, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, says: “The unwritten charter of these [anonymously funded political] groups is to really be disruptive and try to go in there and turn a race on its head—or put a candidate on the defense. And by that nature, most of those ads that they’re gonna run this fall are gonna be negative ads.” Labor unions account for some of the surge in spending, but most of it comes from corporate donors, from conservative organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce (see September 20, 2010, September 30, 2010, and October 2010), Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, November 2009, and July 3-4, 2010), and American Crossroads, a nonprofit political group headed by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove (see September 20, 2010, February 21, 2012, Late March 2012, and Late May 2012). Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says, “While each of our campaigns has the resources they need to be competitive, we now face shadow groups putting their thumbs on the scale with undisclosed, unlimited, and unregulated donations.” However, national groups are not all of the important players in the spending surge. Tracey says: “We have a lot of little individual state-type groups that are starting to show up in some of the bigger races. And I think they’re going to play a much larger role in the fall.” One group cited in the research is a Nevada-based group called Americans for New Leadership, which has targeted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for defeat in a barrage of advertisements aired recently throughout the state. The group says it has spent $300,000 in ads attacking Reid and is prepared to spend more, but has not disclosed from whom that money comes. Senate and House races are seeing more involvement by heavily-funded groups placing ads in local markets for Republican candidates, or attacking Democrats, particularly from AFP, which has already spent some $1.5 million on House races. Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen says: “In 2004 and 2006, literally 100 percent of the groups were fully complying with the disclosure laws. Today, most groups do not disclose where they’re getting their money from.” The New York Times reports, “The situation raises the possibility that a relatively small cadre of deep-pocketed donors, unknown to the general public, is shaping the battle for Congress in the early going.” Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics observes: “Corporate interests are buying the elections? Oh no, it’s much worse than that. We don’t know who’s buying the election.” (Luo 9/13/2010; Overby 9/16/2010; Somanader 9/17/2010)

The Tea Party Patriots (TPP—see August 24, 2010), one of the most influential of national “umbrella” tea party organizations, announces the receipt of a $1 million donation for get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. The TPP refuses to disclose the name of the donor. Two thousand eight hundred local tea party groups are eligible for money from the grant, and the TPP says it will distribute all of the monies by October 4. TPP’s Mark Meckler says: “This particular fund is intended to be applied for and spent by the [November midterm] election. The people who get the grants are required to spend them by election day.” TPP policy advisor Ernie Istook, a former Republican congressman, calls the donation “fertilizer for the grassroots.” Istook continues: “If you have a lawn, you water it, you tend to it, you weed it. That’s what’s happening here. And it is unique. I can’t think of anything quite like it happening before.” The TPP has said it will not endorse particular candidates for office, unlike another “umbrella” tea party organization, Tea Party Express and that group’s affiliated PAC. TPP official Jenny Beth Martin says the money is not to be used to endorse or attack individual candidates. Instead, she says: “What we’re doing is what our 2,800 local groups on the ground have been asking us to do. We’re not taking advantage of a loophole. What we’re making sure is that we support the local organizers on the ground.” Meckler adds, “We want to make sure people are out there voting for fiscal responsibility.” However, as the elections approach, tea party groups begin speculating where exactly the money is going. The TPP consistently refuses to disclose what groups receive money, or how much is disbursed. Dee Park of the Moore Tea Citizens in Moore County, North Carolina, is one who wonders about the money. “We wrote what we thought was a terrific proposal, but they didn’t fund it,” she says. No one from the TPP has contacted Park to inform her that her proposal was turned down. Appeals from other tea party groups asking for information about the money disbursement have been ignored—though the TPP regularly sends out appeals for more donations. Rhode Island tea party organizer Marina Peterson is in a similar position to Park; she submits a proposal for five groups in her area, but never hears anything from the TPP. Asked by a reporter if she knows who is receiving grants, she replies, “Wouldn’t we all like to know?” She says she was concerned from the outset about the anonymous nature of the donation, telling the reporter: “How do we know we want to take that money if we don’t know who the person is? What if it was [liberal billionaire] George Soros?” (see January - November 2004) Peterson says that every political organization, including the TPP and local tea parties, should be upfront and transparent about their funding. She recalls asking Meckler via email about the grant, and says that “[h]e went completely on the defensive when I asked him about it.” Meckler later tells Peterson that the TPP would not release information about the grant recipients to “shield” them from any controversy associated with the donation. Two groups do admit to receiving donations. The Chico Tea Party in California received $5,000, which it says it is spending on buying advertising on highway billboards. And the Nevada County, California, Tea Party Patriots received $10,000, which it says it is spending on billboards and newspaper ads. The Nevada County organization is headed by Stan Meckler, Mark Meckler’s father. The Chico organization says 12 groups in California have received money, though it does not disclose their names. Arizona tea partiers say they have used grant money to buy radio and billboard ads, but refuse to disclose amounts. And the TPP’s Florida coordinator Everett Wilkinson says his South Florida Tea Party received funding, but refuses to disclose an amount. Reporter Stephanie Mencimer writes: “This scuffle over the secret donation is symbolic of the internal conflict within the tea party movement. There are tea party activists who believe the movement’s rhetoric about transparency and accountability. But the movement also includes leaders and others who are willing to engage in and tolerate the funny-money games of business-as-usual politics. With the elections likely to enhance the political clout of the tea party movement, this tension between principles and practices is likely to intensify. After all, can tea partiers really claim they are ‘we the people’ when they are being subsidized by secret millionaires and guided by leaders who refuse to be accountable to those very people?” (Weigel 9/21/2010; Mencimer 11/1/2010) The donation is later shown to come from Republican financier Raymon F. Thompson, a former CEO who has provided Meckler and Martin with a luxurious private jet which they are using to fly around the country (see October 28, 2010).

The reclusive but highly influential Charles Koch, of the Koch brothers oil empire (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, and August 30, 2010), pens an 18-page memo inviting some 210 wealthy American corporate and political leaders to a meeting with him and his brother David at the exclusive Rancho Las Palmas resort in Rancho Mirage, California, in January 2011. The theme is how to “combat… the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it… it is up to us to combat what is now the greatest assault on American freedom and prosperity in our lifetimes.… We must stop—and reverse—this internal assault on our founding principles.” The meeting will help plan how to use the prospective Republican gains in the November 2010 elections to “foster a renewal of American free enterprise and prosperity.” The memo references a June 2010 meeting in Aspen, Colorado, where strategies to manipulate and influence the 2010 elections were codified (see June 26-28, 2010). “In response, participants committed to an unprecedented level of support,” Koch writes. He includes the program from the June 2010 meeting. (Fang 8/23/2010; Koch 9/24/2010 pdf file)

Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, an organization devoted to stricter campaign finance reform, writes an impassioned op-ed about the deleterious effects of unchecked corporate money pouring into elections as a result of the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). Wertheimer is also angry about the success of recent Republican efforts to block passage of the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required some accountability for corporate and union donors (see July 26-27, 2010). Wertheimer begins by tracing how drastically the landscape of campaign finance has changed: In 2000, when Congress passed legislation restricting the ability of so-called “527” groups to affect federal elections, the laws passed with heavy bipartisan support (see 2000 - 2005 and June 30, 2000). Only six Republican senators, including current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), voted against the legislation. Last week, when the Senate voted down the latest iteration of the DISCLOSE Act, McConnell led the Republican efforts against the bill, and all 38 GOP senators voted against it. (The latest version of the DISCLOSE Act failed to reach the Senate floor, as Democrats were unable to break a Republican filibuster against the bill.) Wertheimer writes, “Senate Republicans went from 89 percent support for campaign finance disclosure in 2000 to 100 percent opposition to campaign finance disclosure in 2010.” Wertheimer goes on to write: “Ten years after Congress passed campaign finance disclosure for 527 groups by overwhelming bipartisan votes, the campaign finance disclosure issue hasn’t changed nor has the national consensus in the country in favor of disclosure; the votes of Senate Republicans, however, have changed. In 2000, Senator McConnell was a lonely Senate Republican voice against campaign finance disclosure. In 2010, Senator McConnell had 38 Republican Senators voting in lockstep with him to block campaign finance disclosure and to deny citizens information they have a basic right to know.” (Wertheimer 9/28/2010)

US-Bahrain Business Council logo.US-Bahrain Business Council logo. [Source: US-Bahrain Business Council]The US Chamber of Commerce (USCC), in a methodology made legal by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), uses foreign-generated funds to disseminate “attack ads” against Democrats running for office in the November midterm elections. The USCC has targeted, among others, Jack Conway (D-KY), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Governor Jerry Brown (G-CA), and Representatives Joe Sestak (D-PA) and Tom Perriello (D-VA). The USCC, a private trade association organized as a 501(c)(6) that can raise and spend unlimited funds without disclosing any of its donors, has promised to spend $75 million to prevent Democrats from winning in the upcoming elections. The USCC has, as of September 15, aired over 8,000 television ads supporting Republican candidates and attacking Democrats, according to information from the Wesleyan Media Project. The USCC has far outspent any other public or private group, including political parties. The funds for the USCC’s efforts come from its general account, which solicits foreign funding. Legal experts say that the USCC is likely skirting campaign finance law that prohibits monies from foreign corporations being spent in American elections. The USCC has been very active in recent years in raising funds from overseas sources, with such funds either going directly to the USCC or being funneled to the USCC through its foreign chapters, known as Business Councils or “AmChams.” Some of the largest donations come from the oil-rich country of Bahrain, generated by the USCC’s internal fundraising department in that nation called the “US-Bahrain Business Council” (USBBC). The USBBC is an office of the USCC and not a separate entity. The USBBC raises well over $100,000 a year from foreign businesses, funds shuttled directly to the USCC. A similar operation exists in India through the auspices of the USCC’s US-India Business Council (USIBC). The USIBC raises well over $200,000 a year for the USCC. Other such organizations exist in Egypt, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and other countries, with those nations’ laws making it difficult or impossible for the public to learn how much money is being raised and by which foreign entities. Multinational firms such as BP, Shell Oil, and Siemens are also active members of the USCC, and contribute heavily to the organization. If those firms’ monies are going to fund political activities, the Citizens United decision makes it legal to keep that fact, and the amount of money being used to fund those political activities, entirely secret. It is known that the health insurer Aetna secretly donated $20 million to the USCC to try to defeat the Affordable Care Act (ACA) last year, and News Corporation, the parent of Fox News, donated $1 million to the USCC to use in political activities (see September 30, 2010). The USCC is a strong opponent of Democrats’ efforts to persuade American businesses to hire locally rather than outsourcing jobs to countries such as China and India, and has fought Democrats who oppose free trade deals that would significantly benefit foreign entities. The USCC claims that it “has a system in place” to prevent foreign funding for its “political activities,” but refuses to give any details. (Fang 10/5/2010)

A conservative super PAC, American Action Network (AAN), launches a $19 million advertizing blitz against Democrats in 22 House districts. AAN was founded by former US Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) and former Nixon administration official Fred Malek. AAN has already pumped $5 million into races featuring Republican Senate candidates. Founded in February, the group was formed, according to Malek, to “counter what the labor unions are doing on the Democratic side.” The group is split into two parts: the Action Forum, a 501(c)(3), which allows donations to be tax-deductible but limits political activities, and the Action Network, a 501 (c)(4), in which contributions are not deductible or disclosed but the group can advocate for political causes. AAN president Rob Collins says: “This Democrat-controlled Congress has already voted for higher taxes and promises next month to raise taxes on America’s families and businesses. This is simply unacceptable and something we wanted to call attention to.” AAN is part of a larger network of conservative super PACs (see March 26, 2010), including American Crossroads, that plans to spend as much as $50 million on Congressional races. AAN shares office space with American Crossroads. (Isenstadt and Bresnahan 10/13/2010; Abramson 10/17/2010; Pazniokas 10/17/2010)
Objectionable Ads - The AAN ads airing in Connecticut draw fire after accusing Democrats Christopher Murray (D-CT) and Jim Himes (D-CT) of voting to provide free health care to illegal immigrants and Viagra to sex offenders. Murray accuses AAN of being linked to a number of Republicans in the Bush administration, and asks who is providing the money for the ads. Campaign finance law allows the donors to organizations such as AAN to remain anonymous. “This is one of the biggest TV buys this district has ever seen,” Murphy says. “And what we deserve to know is who is standing behind it. I want to know. I think that’s what the voters want as well.… These ads on TV right now, fronted by a shadowy, anonymous group of billionaire donors and multi-national corporations are a clear sign of what the difference is in this election.” An AAN spokesman refuses to discuss the finances behind the organization, saying only: “What we do is we comply with the letter of the law. That’s all we have to offer about that.” Murray calls the ad’s allegations “laughable.” Both claims have been debunked by independent fact-checking organizations, though Murray’s opponent Sam Caligiuri (R-CT) says the ad’s content is “verifiable,” and says even if the ad is questionable, Murray has told lies of his own about Caligiuri.
AAN Co-Founder Involved in Criminal Activities as Nixon Administration Official - CT Mirror notes that Malek, a Wall Street millionaire and the co-founder of AAN, was not only a member of the Nixon administration (whose crimes and excesses concerning the Watergate scandal led to a round of campaign finance reforms—see 1974 and May 11, 1976), but was also involved in a recent investment scandal. The New York Times goes further in its examination of Malek, noting that he was heavily involved in the 1972 “Townhouse operation” that raised illegal corporate cash in so-called “slush funds” and distributed the monies in key Senate races (see December 1, 1969, Early 1970, March 23, 1971, and August 18, 1974). Malek, the White House personnel chief in 1972, helped dispense illegal patronage deals to Nixon donors and served as deputy director of CREEP (the Committee to Re-Elect the President), an organization heavily involved in criminal activities. And the liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that Malek was the Nixon administration’s unofficial “Jew counter” (see July 3, 1971 and September 1971) and was part of the administration’s illegal persecution of Jews who worked in the federal government. During the Watergate investigation, Malek admitted that some of CREEP’s activities might have “bordered on the unethical.” Malek worked with American Crossroads co-founder Karl Rove during the Nixon administration, when Rove worked to re-elect Nixon as the executive director of the College Republican National Committee. Malek is a member of the Weaver Terrace Group, an informal amalgamation of Republican strategists from “independent” groups who regularly meet, trade political intelligence, and make joint fund-raising trips. The group is named after the street where Rove used to live. Former Watergate prosecutor Roger Witten says: “It creates all the appearances of dirty dealings and undue influence because our candidates are awash in funds the public is ignorant about. This is the problem that was supposedly addressed after Watergate.” (Abramson 10/17/2010; Zornick 10/18/2010)

Campaign spending by outside “independent” organizations on Congressional races currently stands at $147.5 million, a 73 percent rise from two years ago, according to information from the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute (CFI). In mid-October 2008, Congressional election spending by outside groups was at $85.3 million. In 2006, that number was $32 million. The spending dramatically favors Republicans, with groups supporting GOP candidates spending $105.5 million and groups supporting Democrats spending $42 million. According to the press, the huge spike in spending is traceable to the Citizens United decision that allows corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited funds in campaign activities (see January 21, 2010). The CFI notes that the record-breaking spending “is before the traditionally heavy-spending final weeks of the campaign.” (McClatchy News 10/18/2010)

Impelled by polls showing that Democrats may not do as badly as predicted in the upcoming November midterm elections, Republican political organizations pour vast amounts of money into tight Senate and House races in the final days, according to a Reuters analysis of data provided by the Wesleyan Media Project and from Democratic organizers. The controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) has “opened the floodgates” for corporate money to be used in electioneering and advertising, much of that money going anonymously to political parties and operations (see September 13-16, 2010 and October 2010). Much of the money is targeting three Senate races in Colorado, Kentucky, and California. Republicans are confident that they will gain control of the House of Representatives, but must gain 10 seats to control the Senate, a prospect that is not as likely. Last-minute spending surges are common in elections, but experts say they have never seen so much spending in the last days of a race. Pollster Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center is not sure the last-minute surge of spending, almost all of which is going to advertising, will have a major effect. Most voters’ minds are made up by now, Kohut says. Data shows that organizations affiliated with Republicans have outspent their Democratic rivals by more than a 3-1 ratio. In Nevada, “independent” organizations are pouring money into attack ads against Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and in support of challenger Sharron Angle (R-NV). Late campaign spending is fairly equal, according to the data, and the polls for that race are very tight. In Colorado, “tea party” favorite Ken Buck (R-CO) is losing ground to incumbent Michael Bennet (D-CO), and in response, Republican groups have funneled money into ads supporting Buck and attacking Bennet to create a 2-1 spending ratio in favor of Buck. A similar instance exists in Kentucky, where another tea party favorite, Rand Paul (R-KY), is losing ground to Jack Conway (D-KY), and Republican spending on Paul’s behalf has made for a 2-1 spending ratio in favor of Paul. In California, where popular Democrat Barbara Boxer (D-CA) once had a 2-1 spending advantage over her opponent Carly Fiorina (R-CA), pro-Fiorina groups have recently outspent pro-Boxer groups 5-1. In Pennsylvania, pro-Republican groups are heavily outspending Democrats, largely to support Republican favorite Pat Toomey (R-PA) over Joe Sestak (D-PA). In Delaware, Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R-DE), whose campaign has raised large amounts of money from out-of-state financiers, has not received the lavish funding that her Republican colleagues have gotten to defeat her opponent Chris Coons (D-DE). O’Donnell has received some $300,000 from right-wing and tea party groups. But Coons is receiving virtually no support from independent pro-Democratic groups, possibly because polls indicate he will win the election and does not need the last-minute funding support. The elections will be held on November 2. (Hosenball 10/27/2010) The results of the massive spending are mixed. The Republican winners include Paul and Toomey. The Republican losers include Angle, Buck, Fiorina and O’Donnell. (National Public Radio 11/3/2010)

In light of a flood of recent media advertisements attacking Democratic candidates paid for by corporate donations, and recent media stories revealing that the US Chamber of Commerce may be using foreign monies to pay for political attack ads against candidates it opposes (see October 2010), AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka says he now believes the country would have been better off if Congress had managed to pass the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would have forced the disclosure of the identities of corporate and union donors for campaign purposes (see July 26-27, 2010). Trumka and his labor union organization did not support the DISCLOSE Act when it was up for consideration, and Democrats were unable to break a Republican filibuster of the bill in the Senate. “That’d be good for the system, I think,” Trumka tells reporters. “Because the system is awash—there’s more money in the system than there was oil in the Gulf, quite frankly. [Trumka is referring to the recent catastrophic spill of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico by BP, a multinational oil corporation.] It’s from people that you don’t know. You eventually find out I guess, but it’s this mysterious money coming in and targeting at three, four, five times what either of the candidates are doing.” Trumka says that the union organization never opposed disclosure as an objective: “What we did was say if you’re going to do it, make sure it applies to everybody—that we were being totally disadvantaged while other people weren’t being disadvantaged.” However, three weeks ago, Trumka released a statement saying that the AFL-CIO “must reluctantly oppose [the DISCLOSE Act] because it would impose extraordinarily costly and impractical new record-keeping and reporting obligations on thousands of labor and other non-profit membership organizations with regard to routine inter-affiliate payments that bear little or no connection with public communications about federal elections.” AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman says: “What’s heartbreaking is there’s an imbalance here. So there’s not an equal playing field with the amount of money that corporate America has to protect their own interests, and protect their tax breaks, and protect their trade deals, and protect their profit-making… there are not comparable institutions or interests—moneyed-interests—on the side that represents working people.” (Beutler 10/12/2010)

Protesters in Los Angeles demonstrate against Proposition 23 outside a Tesoro refinery in Wilmington, California.Protesters in Los Angeles demonstrate against Proposition 23 outside a Tesoro refinery in Wilmington, California. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The liberal news Web site AlterNet shows that a very small number of wealthy, influential donors are driving campaign efforts to pass Proposition 23, a California ballot initiative that would suspend state legislation designed to help reduce carbon emissions and hold polluters accountable. The legislation, AB 32, is already in effect, and requires California to decrease global warming emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, beginning in 2012. Prop 23, as it is called, would suspend AB 32 until the state’s unemployment rate drops below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. Currently unemployment in California is around 12 percent. AlterNet provides data showing that AB 32 will actually create jobs developing “clean” technologies and energies, an industry sometimes called “green tech.” Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla recently said: “AB 32 created markets. Prop. 23 will kill the market and the single largest source of job growth in California in the last two years.” The funding for the advertising and other political activities pushing Prop 23 comes from two primary sources: Texas oil giant Valero Energy Corporation and Tesoro Corporation. Both companies have refineries in California that make them two of the state’s biggest polluters. The two oil companies are aided by large donations from the Koch brothers, who own oil conglomerate Koch Industries (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, and September 24, 2010). Valero has spent $5 million to bolster Prop 23 and Tesoro has spent $2 million. Flint Hill Resources, a Koch Industries subsidiary, has spent $1 million. Marathon Petroleum has spent $500,000, as has the conservative Adam Smith Foundation of Missouri. Occidental Petroleum has spent $300,000; Tower Energy Group, $200,000; CVR Energy, $150,000; and about $100,000 each has been spent by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, and World Oil Corporation. Of the $10.6 million raised so far to push Proposition 23, only 30 percent of it comes from inside California. In contrast, opponents to Proposition 23 have raised $30.6 million to defeat it, with 70 percent of that money coming from inside California. Jorge Madrid of Climate Progress recently warned: “If we allow Prop 23 to succeed, big oil refineries in the state could continue to spew greenhouse gases without strict regulation. Even worse, a victory for big oil in California could mean certain death for greenhouse gas regulation for the rest of the nation.” (Lohan 10/30/2010; Roosevelt 11/2/2010) Prop 23 will lose by a 61-39 margin, with analysts noting that the anti-proposition forces gained ground by pointing out the support for the proposition coming primarily from Texas oil interests. Even many of California’s largest oil companies either stayed neutral or opposed the initiative. The anti-proposition forces were fueled primarily by financiers such as San Francisco hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, the National Wildlife Federation and the ClimateWorks Foundation, and green-tech moguls such as Khosla and John Doerr. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) stumped in opposition to the initiative, attacking the “self-serving greed” of Valero and Tesoro. The Environmental Defense Fund’s Fred Krupp says of the defeat: “It is the largest public referendum in history on climate and clean energy policy. Almost 10 million Californians got a chance to vote and sent a clear message that they want a clean energy future. And this was in an economic downturn. There has never been anything this big. It is going to send a signal to other parts of the country and beyond.” (Roosevelt 11/2/2010)

In an interview with PBS’s Judy Woodruff, Haley Barbour, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), falsely claims that Democrats are outspending Republicans in the midterm election campaigns. The elections are tomorrow, November 2. Barbour agrees with projections that Republicans will do very well in tomorrow’s elections, probably taking back control of the US House and perhaps the US Senate as well. Barbour predicts a stronger sweep than the 1994 elections, which put Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, motivated by Americans’ “anger and even fear” at what he calls “the lurch to the left given us by [Democratic House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [President Barack] Obama.” Barbour goes on to claim that one difference between 1994 and 2010 is that “this year, we got outspent pretty heavily. The labor unions saw this coming early, and they have poured money in to try to save Democrat seats. And it hasn’t been any secret to the news media or the Democratic incumbents that this was going to be a hard year for them because the president’s policies are unpopular.” Woodruff does not challenge Barbour’s claims. (PBS 11/1/2010) In reality, Republican and Republican-supporting organizations have outspent Democrats and their supporters by a 3-1 ratio (see September 13-16, 2010, October 2010, and Around October 27, 2010). Data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics shows that while the Democratic Party does outspend the Republican Party in the 2010 elections, pro-GOP outside groups have vastly outspent labor unions and other organizations supporting Democrats. The four biggest outside groups spending money on the elections—the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Action Network (see Mid-October 2010), American Crossroads, and Crossroads GPS—all spend their money on behalf of Republicans. Together those four groups spend $99.6 million, far more than the $28.1 million spent on behalf of Democrats by the two largest labor unions. American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS intend to continue spending money to attack Obama and the Democrats even after the election. “It’s a bigger prize in 2012, and that’s changing the White House,” says American Crossroads chairman Robert Duncan. “We’ve planted the flag for permanence, and we believe that we will play a major role for 2012.” American Crossroads and other such groups, on both Republican and Democratic sides, intend to continue fundraising in the wake of the midterm elections and begin campaigning almost immediately for the 2012 presidential elections. Privately, some Democratic strategists say they are not sure how they will answer the challenge posed by Republican-supporting “independent” groups and the huge amounts of cash they raise from wealthy corporate donors. Obama’s senior political advisor David Axelrod says that special interests “have driven a huge truck filled with undisclosed cash through a legal loophole to try and buy this election… is it any surprise that this same, stealthy crowd will try to move on to the White House next? Whatever the outcome Tuesday, this issue is not going away.” (Rutenberg 10/31/2010; Zwick 11/1/2010; Somanader 11/2/2010)

A group of Democratic donors, shaken from the defeat the party suffered in the November midterm elections, meets in a Washington hotel to discuss how to counter the huge influx of corporate spending that helped defeat dozens of Democrats and give control of the US House of Representatives back to Republicans. Outside conservative groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Action Network (see Mid-October 2010), and American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS outspent Democratic groups by more than a two to one ratio. The donors are split on whether to try to emulate their opponents by raising as much money as possible from wealthy corporations and donors, or continuing down their traditional path of funding their campaign efforts via labor unions and organizations such as the Sierra Club. If they decide to pursue corporate cash, some argue, they will be viewed as hypocrites in light of Democrats’ almost-uniform opposition to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which “opened the floodgates” for unlimited corporate and labor donations (see January 21, 2010). One of the fundamental problems, Democrats note, is that while unions are allowed to contribute unlimited funds just as corporations do, unions, which traditionally support Democrats, are far less wealthy than their corporate counterparts. And despite record-breaking fundraising by the Obama presidential campaign in 2008, most corporations donate to Republicans. The donors are not expected to come up with simple answers as they begin to strategize for 2012, where Republicans are expected to raise and spend an unprecedented half-billion dollars trying to defeat President Obama. Moreover, the White House has sent decidedly mixed messages on the subject. During the 2008 race, the Obama campaign instructed an independent progressive “527” PAC, the Fund for America, to shut down its operations after it began releasing attack ads against Obama’s opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). The Obama campaign did not want independent organizations conducting their own operations, but wanted full control of the campaign message. And campaign leaders said they wanted to win with small individual contributions from ordinary citizens, not with massive corporate donations. The White House’s opposition to such outside funding continued through 2010, and as a result, corporate donations to Democratic-supporting groups were far outstripped by Republican donations. Since then, Obama’s top political advisor David Axelrod has indicated the White House would support liberal donors’ independent efforts to counter Republican political donations, but many Democratic donors still believe the Obama administration is not fully behind those efforts. A Democratic strategist who refuses to be identified says: “By and large, the political people in the Obama firmament really have disdain for outside groups. They think they whine and snivel and make all these demands and don’t produce very much.” Some liberal donors and organizations are ignoring the resistance from the White House and making their own plans, such as David Brock, the founder of Media Matters for America (MMFA), who is considering forming his own 527 (see 2000 - 2005) for 2012. Another Democratic activist, Joan Fitz-Gerald of the umbrella group America Votes, says Democrats cannot depend on the courts or Congress to rein in corporate spending, noting that Congressional Democrats failed to get the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance reform measure, to the floor of the Senate for a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). Fitz-Gerald says Democrats must adapt to the new political landscape or risk another trouncing in 2012. However, she recommends working through existing progressive organizations more than using hastily formed PACs and 527s funded by one or two wealthy sources. Unions and environmental groups have large, citizen-based funding sources, whereas Republican organizations are often funded by a small group of wealthy donors who bankroll numerous such organizations. Those organizations, she says, lack credibility with voters. The traditional grassroots-based organizations, she says, “are trusted messengers, whether they’re a union that someone belongs to or a group that people have been a member of for many years. At some point the American people, as they see these ads pushing this right-wing agenda, they’re going to ask: ‘Who are these people? What’s the goal of American Crossroads?’” But the funding garnered by the right made the difference in the 2010 elections, Democratic donors agree. Mike Palamuso of the League of Conservation Voters recalls, “For every $500,000 we spent, it felt like American Crossroads spent another $5 million.” Many agree with Democratic political strategist Harold Ickes, who says: “Is small money better? You bet. But we’re in a f_cking fight. And if you’re in a fistfight, then you’re in a fistfight, and you use all legal means available.” (Kroll 11/15/2010)

Tim Phillips (L) and David Koch, together at an Americans for Prosperity event.Tim Phillips (L) and David Koch, together at an Americans for Prosperity event. [Source: Americans for Prosperity]Oil billionaire and conservative activist David Koch (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, and September 24, 2010) attends the 112th Congress’s swearing-in ceremony, accompanied by Tim Phillips, the head of the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009) and a number of current and former Koch Industries lobbyists, including Nancy Pfotenhauer. The event marks the ascendance of Republicans to the majority of the House, and the selection of John Boehner (R-OH) as speaker of the House. After the ceremony, Koch asks Frank Guinta (R-NH), a freshman Republican and “tea party” member elected in part by lavish AFP spending on his behalf, if he will attend a party that Koch is throwing for Republican Congressional members. Guinta affirms that he will attend. Lee Fang, a reporter for Think Progress who observes the Koch-Guinta conversation, speaks to Koch after the two conclude their discussion. Fang identifies himself as a Think Progress reporter and asks Koch what he expects from the Boehner-led Congress; Koch replies, “Well, cut the hell out of spending, balance the budget, reduce regulations, and, uh, support business.” Phillips immediately intervenes, identifying Fang to Koch as “a good blogger on the left, we’re glad to have him—” but Fang continues interviewing Koch. During the relatively brief interview, Phillips repeatedly attempts to push Fang’s cameraman Scott Keyes away from Koch, and shouts into Keyes’s camera, in an apparent attempt to disrupt the interview. However, Koch is cooperative with being interviewed. Koch is apparently proud of the work being done by AFP and says, “We’re going to do more too in the next couple of years.” Fang asks Koch if he is proud of the tea party movement, and Koch replies: “Yeah. There are some extremists there, but the rank and file are just normal people like us. And I admire them. It’s probably the best grassroots uprising since 1776 in my opinion.” Koch is hesitant to answer questions about “climate change,” agreeing only that “[c]limate does fluctuate,” but refusing to answer questions about the effect of carbon pollution on the climate. Instead, he says that any attempts to regulate carbon emissions will “really damage the economy.” Fang concludes by asking about the Citizens United decision that allows unlimited corporate spending on elections (see January 21, 2010). According to Fang, Koch looks uncomfortable discussing the subject and is quite reticent. Koch refuses to answer when Fang asks him about a recent meeting he sponsored with former Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck “and several other conservatives” (see June 26-28, 2010). While Phillips continues to interrupt and chide Fang for asking about the Citizens United decision, Koch refuses to answer Fang’s question, “Could you tell the public what you discussed at that meeting?” (Fang 1/5/2011; Fang 1/6/2011; Fang 1/7/2011; Fang 1/10/2011)

House Republicans rush a bill to the floor for a vote to eliminate all public funding of the presidential election. The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama, would eliminate one of the few remaining public funding methodologies for federal elections, and, critics say, give wealthy corporate and individual donors even more influence over elections. Public financing of presidential elections was made law by the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) and upheld by the Supreme Court (see January 30, 1976). The bill comes to a vote almost exactly a year after the Supreme Court allowed corporations and labor unions to make unlimited donations to political organizations (see January 21, 2010). The bill, HR 359, was sponsored by Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) in June 2009 and cosponsored by 17 other House members, all Republicans. It would eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund and the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account. The Republican House leadership did not hold hearings on the bill, nor allow it to be debated in committee. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) calls the bill “a sneak attack on the system,” and notes that the Republicans had pledged to observe “transparency and openness,” but instead are pushing through such a transformative bill without allowing debate. The bill passes the House on a 239-160 vote, with the Republican majority overriding the Democratic minority. Ten Democrats vote for the bill and one Republican votes against it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already introduced his version of the bill in the Senate, though Senate Democrats say the bill has no chance of passing; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says through a spokesperson that the bill will never be brought up for a vote. (Kroll 1/24/2011; Raw Story 1/25/2011; Walsh 1/26/2011; Overby 1/27/2011; Salant 1/27/2011)
Repair or Eliminate? - Presidential candidates who accept public funding must agree not to accept private donations in the fall campaign. Every presidential candidate from 1976 to 2008 has accepted public funding. In 2000, George W. Bush (R-TX) did not take public financing for his primary campaign, and in subsequent years no presidential nominee has taken such funding. In 2008, Barack Obama (D-IL) declined to take public financing for his general election, the first presidential nominee to do so. Republicans claim the elimination of the public funding program would save the government between $520 and $617 million over the next 10 years. Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says the public financing system needs to be updated. It was created in 1976, she notes, and does not reflect the needs of 21st-century candidates. Lawmakers from both parties have attempted, without success to introduce legislation to update the system. McConnell says that Americans do not believe in the PECF, citing declining public participation. The program is funded by a $3 check-off on individual tax returns; in 1980, almost 29 percent of tax returns carried the check-off, while in 2007 only 8.3 percent of tax returns checked off the donation. “In a time of exploding deficits and record debt, the last thing the American people want right now is to provide what amounts to welfare for politicians,” McConnell says. House Democrats have introduced legislation that would modify and update the PECF instead of end it. One of that legislation’s sponsors, David Price (D-NC), says, “Dare we forget what Watergate was all about?” (Price is referring to the post-Watergate origins of the PECF.) “President Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, fueled by huge quantities of corporate cash, paid for criminal acts and otherwise subverted the American electoral system. Let’s not return to the darkest days of our democracy.” (Kroll 1/24/2011; Walsh 1/26/2011; Overby 1/27/2011; Salant 1/27/2011)
Obama Administration Opposes Bill - The Obama administration strongly opposes the bill, saying that the public financing system should be improved rather than eliminated. In a statement, the White House says: “The presidential election public financing system was enacted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal to free the nation’s elections from the influence of corporations and other wealthy special interests. Rather than candidates having to rely on raising large sums of private money in order to run, the system provides qualifying presidential candidates with the option of accepting matching funds in the primary and a public grant in the general election.… H.R. 359 would kill the system, not strengthen it. Its effect would be to expand the power of corporations and special interests in the nation’s elections; to force many candidates into an endless cycle of fundraising at the expense of engagement with voters on the issues; and to place a premium on access to large donor or special interest support, narrowing the field of otherwise worthy candidates.” (Raw Story 1/25/2011)
Divided Response from Lawmakers - Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) says after the bill passes that voting it into effect “should be a no-brainer.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Congress “should come together to ensure that the American people are heard, that they are heard and that they are not drowned out by special interest dollars.” Republicans such as Aaron Schock (R-IL) call Democrats and the Obama administration “hypocrites” because in 2008, Obama turned down public financing. Schock says, “It was President Obama who killed it and made a mockery of public financing of president campaigns with his arrogant pressing of self advantage.” David Price (D-NC) makes an angry rejoinder, saying: “Talk about having it both ways. [Schock] comes onto this floor to condemn President Obama for opting out of the system, and then he proposes to abolish the system so that everybody has to opt out.” Cole also condemns Obama for not taking public financing in 2008, and says he believes public financing of elections should be illegal, but goes on to say that he supports Republicans who take public financing because it is a legal option. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) says: “Special interest money is having a corrosive effect on our democracy, eating away at the people’s confidence in their government and their elected representatives. The one beacon of light in this system is the public financing of presidential campaigns. It is, I would remind everyone, a voluntary system.” “This is an attempt to finish the job that the Supreme Court started with the Citizens United decision,” says Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance legislation. “It would bust one of the last dams protecting our election system from an uncontrolled flood of special-interest money.” (Walsh 1/26/2011; Overby 1/27/2011; Salant 1/27/2011)
Campaign Finance Reform Advocates Critical of Bill - David Arkush of the citizens advocacy group Public Citizen says in a statement, “A vote for HR 359 is a great way to tell the American people that you want to give corporations more power over our government rather than make democracy work for ordinary Americans.” Craig Holman of Public Citizen says of the bill: “Make no mistake about it: The Republican leadership’s legislation to eliminate public financing is an attack not just on the presidential public financing system, but also an attack on congressional public financing proposals. To ensure that the public’s voice can be heard against the corporate onslaught, we need to expand public financing of elections, not kill it.” Campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 calls the bill “a gross abuse of the legislative process.” (Kroll 1/24/2011; Raw Story 1/25/2011) The nonpartisan Public Finance Action Fund, which advocates for public financing of state and federal elections, says in a statement: “These efforts are not about saving taxpayer money, they are about giving corporate donors even more access than they enjoy today. We hope these measures don’t advance any further.” (Walsh 1/26/2011)
Bill Dies in Senate - The bill will, as expected, not pass the Senate, which is under Democratic control. A similar bill will be introduced in December 2011 (see December 1, 2011), again pass the House, and die in the Senate. (Abrams 12/1/2011)

The progressive magazine Mother Jones reports on Congressional Democrats’ plans to curb the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, which allows unlimited contributions to campaign organizations by corporate and union donors (see January 21, 2010). Last year, Senate Republicans refused to allow a campaign finance reform bill, the DISCLOSE Act, to come to the floor for a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). Now Democratic leaders say they are considering filing challenges to the nonprofit tax statuses of many of the groups that were so influential in the 2010 elections. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) tells a Mother Jones reporter about the plan. According to Van Hollen, two of the groups they plan to target are Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network (AAN—see Mid-October 2010), headed by former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN). Together, the two groups spent over $43 million supporting conservative candidates and targeting Democrats, accounting for some 23 percent of all outside conservative spending between them. According to Van Hollen, “People are looking at different legal strategies through the courts because there’s emerging evidence that these groups have abused the rules.” Representative David Price (D-NC) agrees. “I think there are ample goals for challenging the way those groups have acted,” he says. Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio says in return, “Van Hollen is irresponsibly making claims on zero evidence whatsoever and this is extremely irresponsible for an elected official holding high office.” No one from AAN is willing to respond to the Mother Jones reporting. Both Crossroads GPS and AAN, like many other such groups, are organized under the IRS’s 501(c)4 tax status—tax-exempt, not-for-profit groups whose purpose under the IRS code is “primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” (see 2000 - 2005). The law allows such groups to engage in political advocacy, such as running ads for or against candidates, but such “electioneering” activities must not be those groups’ “primary activity.” As far as is known, Crossroads GPS and AAN have no other purpose except electioneering. 501(c) groups do not have to register as political action committees (PACs) and are allowed to conduct their business with very little outside scrutiny. However, if the Federal Election Commission or the IRS determine a group has violated the rules, that group would be forced to register as a PAC and disclose the sources of its funding. If the Democrats challenge the status of these groups, they would be following in the footsteps of private organizations. A coalition of public advocacy groups has filed complaints against Crossroads GPS and another 501(c)4 group, American Future Fund (AFF—see October 12, 2010), claiming that their primary functions are, according to the Crossroads GPS complaint, to “influence the 2010 federal elections and to elect Republicans to office.” The complaints are still pending. In September 2010, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) asked the IRS to examine several 501(c) groups to “ensure that political campaign activity” wasn’t their primary activity (see September 28, 2010). (Kroll 1/28/2011)

The government watchdog and campaign finance advocacy group Common Cause asks the Supreme Court to explain why Justice Clarence Thomas did not completely disclose the nature of his participation in a 2008 retreat hosted by Charles and David Koch, the influential oil billionaires and conservative advocates (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, and October 4, 2011). According to a Court spokesperson, Thomas made a “brief drop-by” at a four-day event in Palm Springs, California, held in January 2008, and gave a talk. But disclosure reports filed by Thomas show that he was reimbursed an undisclosed amount for four days of “transportation, meals, and accommodations” over the weekend of the retreat. The reimbursement came from the Federalist Society, an influential conservative legal group. Today Common Cause sends a letter to the Court asking for “further clarification” as to why the two statements are at odds. Common Cause official Arn Pearson says, “I don’t think the explanation they’ve given is credible.” If Thomas’s visit was a “four-day, all-expenses paid trip in sunny Palm Springs,” Thomas should have reported it as a gift under federal law. The Court, the Federalist Society, and Koch Industries all refuse to comment on the issue. Common Cause has said that because of Thomas’s past appearances at the Koch retreats, and the conservative political work done by his wife Virginia Thomas (see November 2009 - November 2010 and February 4, 2011), he should have recused himself from the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). Common Cause notes that both Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia have appeared at Koch-hosted retreats. Both Thomas and Scalia voted as part of the 5-4 majority that decided the case. Political analysts say the Koch brothers have been some of the main beneficiaries of the decision. (Lichtblau 2/14/2011)

A lawsuit by two anonymous plaintiffs is filed challenging the foreign-contribution provision of the campaign finance laws, a provision that was not overturned by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010). The lawsuit is on behalf of a Canadian citizen who claims he wants to support President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and a dual Israeli-Canadian citizen who wants to contribute to Obama’s opponent Mitt Romney and to the campaign of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). The Israeli-Canadian citizen says they want to help prevent what they call a “government-takeover of the health care system in the United States,” according to the suit. The filing says both plaintiffs are legally authorized to live and work in the United States, but are not permanent residents; one is a young attorney with a moderately successful practice and the other earns a modest salary as a medical resident at a New York hospital. The lawsuit asks that legal residents, as well as citizens and US-registered entities, be allowed to make donations. While the lawsuit appears to be bipartisan in nature, the lawyers representing the anonymous plaintiffs are from a top-flight law firm, Jones Day, which usually represents Republican and wealthy corporate clients. Think Progress’s Ian Millhiser notes that the firm’s clients “include some of the biggest corporate beneficiaries of the Citizens United decision—including Koch Industries and the US Chamber of Commerce.” The lawyers are Warren Postman and Yaakov Roth, both of whom are former Supreme Court clerks and thusly do not come cheap—in 2005, Jones Day charged as much as $370 an hour for services provided by lawyers with similar levels of experience. Millhiser writes: “To be clear, a court decision in favor of Jones Day’s clients would not necessarily allow BP or the Dubai Sovereign Wealth Fund to immediately start buying US elections. The lawsuit only asks the court to allow lawful residents make campaign contributions. Nevertheless, such a decision would be a significant crack in the wall protecting American democracy from foreign money. There are any number of foreign corporations who would love to see that happen.” (Vogel 3/18/2011; Millhiser 3/18/2011) The court will deny the lawsuit (see August 8, 2011).

Chris Van Hollen, in an undated appearance on Fox News.Chris Van Hollen, in an undated appearance on Fox News. [Source: Associated Press / Politico]Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and other prominent Democrats file a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking that entity to force the disclosure of political campaign donor information. In 2007, after a Supreme Court ruling (see June 25, 2007), the FEC drastically rewrote its disclosure requirements, creating what Van Hollen calls a “major loophole” that many 501(c)4 entities funded by corporate or labor union donations are using to operate “under a veil of anonymity.” Van Hollen and his colleagues say they want to force wealthy corporations and individuals to disclose who they are and how much they donate to political organizations. Currently, the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) allows such donors to remain anonymous, and the organizations that receive their donations to conceal the amounts they are receiving. Van Hollen cites the 2002 Bipartisan Candidate Reform Act (BCRA—see March 27, 2002) as applying in this instance. In the brief he submits for the lawsuit, Van Hollen writes: “The US Chamber of Commerce, a Section 501(c) corporation, spent $32.9 million in electioneering communications in the 2010 Congressional elections, and disclosed none of its contributors; American Action Network (AAN—see Mid-October 2010), a Section 501(c) corporation, spent $20.4 million in electioneering communications in the 2010 Congressional elections, and disclosed none of its contributors; Americans for Job Security, a Section 501(c) corporation, spent $4.6 million in electioneering communication in the 2010 Congressional elections, and disclosed none of its contributors.” The lawsuit comes almost simultaneously with news that the White House is considering issuing an executive order that would require federal contractors to reveal their donations (see April 20, 2011). Democrats admit that even as they push the lawsuit forward, and President Obama publicly criticizes the practice of secret donations, they, too, are raising undisclosed donations for the various 2012 campaigns. Experts note that in most cases, Democrats’ efforts to raise undisclosed donations are far smaller than efforts by Republicans, and the amounts they are receiving are, so far, much smaller. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, who is leading Van Hollen’s legal team, acknowledges that the lawsuit will not alter campaign finance policy before the 2012 elections, though he says it is possible that the lawsuit could receive a favorable decision and force disclosure while appeals are pending.
Similarities to DISCLOSE Act - Both the lawsuit and the executive order are similar to sections of the DISCLOSE Act, a legislative package drafted by Van Hollen and other Congressional Democrats that was blocked by Senate Republicans from coming to a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). USCOC spokesperson Blair Latoff says the lawsuit and the order comprise a “desperate attempt by the White House and House Democrats to resurrect the corpse of the DISCLOSE Act.” (Law professor Steven D. Schwinn will refute Latoff’s accusation, writing that Van Hollen’s lawsuit in no way seeks to force the DISCLOSE Act into law via the courts.) Like the failed legislation, the lawsuit and the proposed executive order would work to curtail the effects of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision, which allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities. The lawsuit argues that the concealment of donor identities contradicts both the law and the Court’s ruling, citing the following language in the majority ruling: “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable.”
Seeks Change in FEC Regulations - The lawsuit specifically challenges an FEC regulation adopted in 2007 that contravened language in the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (see March 27, 2002) that required disclosure of donations of $1,000 or more if the donations were made for the purpose of furthering “electioneering communications.” Another petition filed by Van Hollen’s group asks the FEC to revise a regulation that “improperly allowed nonprofit groups to keep secret the donors” whose funds were being used to pay for so-called independent expenditures in federal elections. (van Hollen 4/21/2011 pdf file; Hamburger 4/21/2011; Lichtblau 4/21/2011; Steven D. Schwinn 4/25/2011; Fang 4/27/2011)
'Sign of Weakness' - Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC commissioner and the head of the Center for Competitive Politics, a conservative advocacy group, says of the lawsuit: “This is a sign of weakness by a group that’s afraid they’re going to lose, and lose big. Again and again, you see evidence that their real purpose is to try to shut down their political opposition.” Smith and other conservatives say Democrats want to “chill” free speech. (Lichtblau 4/21/2011)
FEC Will Refuse to Consider Accompanying Petition - In December 2011, the FEC will refuse to consider an accompanying petition on a 3-3 vote. (Commission 12/16/2011; Commission 12/16/2011) The vote is along partisan lines, with the three Democrats on the commission voting to consider the petition and the three Republicans voting against. The law prohibits the FEC from having a majority of commissioners from either party. (Israel 1/21/2012)
Judge Will Rule in Favor of Plaintiff - In March 2012, a district judge will rule in favor of Van Hollen in the lawsuit (see March 30, 2012).

Long-shot Republican presidential candidate Buddy Roemer (R-LA), a former governor of Louisiana, gives an interview to the liberal news Web site Think Progress in which he blasts the current system of campaign finance. Roemer is campaigning on a promise to reduce the influence of the wealthy on the government, and refuses to accept over $100 in contributions from any one source. He also forces the disclosure of the identities of his donors. After speaking at a tea party rally in New Hampshire, Roemer speaks to Think Progress reporter Lee Fang. Roemer is highly critical of large corporate donors and the trade organizations that represent them, and decries the failure of the DISCLOSE Act to pass Congress (see July 26-27, 2010). “It’s disastrous, it’s dysfunctional, to their shame,” he says. Large corporations such as General Electric using their influence to avoid paying taxes is “what’s wrong with America.” Roemer adds: “Right now, too often the political debate has become about the money and not about the issues. And those who have the money have a vested interest in the results and you never know who they are.… I have full disclosure and I challenge my opponents to do the same.” Fang notes that some of the largest corporate donors and “bundlers” (groups like the US Chamber of Commerce, which “bundle” donations from corporations and individuals and funnel them to political organizations) support Roemer’s fellow Republican candidates, and are the primary reason why the DISCLOSE Act failed to pass. “They lobbied both Democrats and Republicans to kill the bill in the Senate,” Fang says. Roemer says Congress and the campaign financial system are both “dysfunctional,” and adds Democratic-supporting labor unions to the list of organizations that are corrupting politics. “The guys with the bucks want unfettered regulation. They want to run America.… The reason the tax code is four thousand pages long and paid no taxes last year and made five billion dollars? It’s [campaign] checks. That’s whats wrong with the American system. It’s not free anymore. It’s bought.” Roemer says the only way he knows to challenge the system is by example. “You know I’ve got to run against the system,” he says. “It’s corrupt. And the only way I know how to do it… is by example. I’m going to show that a grassroots campaign can capture New Hampshire, South Carolina. I’m going to whip ‘em, on my own terms.” The Republican Party does not support Roemer’s campaign, and is blocking Roemer from participating in primary debates. (Fang 5/4/2011)

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog organization, finds that independent organizations supporting Republicans and Democrats are spending unprecedented amounts of money on supporting, or more often attacking, candidates for office. The huge rise in spending comes as a direct result of the Citizens United decision that allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign donations (see January 21, 2010). While organizations are spending huge amounts of money on both sides of the political divide, spending for conservative candidates outweighs spending on liberal candidates by an 8-1 margin. CRP’s analysis finds that the increased spending helped Republicans retake the US House of Representatives in 2010, and is having a long-term effect on the nation’s campaign and election systems. (MacColl 5/5/2011; Jilani 5/6/2011)
Most Democratic Spending Comes from Unions - Labor unions gave over $17.3 million in independent expenditures opposing Republican candidates. The union contributing the most: the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), with over $7 million. The National Education Association (NEA) formed a “super PAC” (see March 26, 2010) that spent $3.3 million on election activities. Super PACs must disclose their donors and the amounts donated (see 2000 - 2005), but an array of groups under the 501(c) tax laws do not have to disclose that information (see September 28, 2010).
Corporations Spend Lavishly for Republicans - While corporations donated some money to Democratic causes, most of their money went to Republicans. Corporations gave over $15 million to super PACs such as American Crossroads, which supports an array of conservative candidates. CRP notes that conservative groups that do not have to disclose their donors spent $121 million, and corporations and wealthy individuals were the likely sources of almost all of that money.
Secret Donations on the Rise - In the 2006 elections, the percentage of spending from groups that do not disclose their donors was 1 percent. In 2010, it was 47 percent. “Nonprofit” organizations that can legally hide their donors and donations increased their spending from zero percent in 2006 to 42 percent in 2010. For the first time in over 20 years, outside interest groups outspent party committees, by $105 million. The amount of independent expenditure and electioneering communication spending by outside groups has gone up 400 percent since 2006. And 72 percent of political advertising spending by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006. (MacColl 5/5/2011)

Lawyer James Bopp Jr. forms a super PAC, Republican Super PAC Inc., in order to make unlimited financial contributions towards “independent” expenditures in support of Republican candidates in the November 2012 elections. Bopp is joined by Roger Villere, the chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party. Bopp is known for arguing high-profile cases against abortion rights (see November 1980 and After and Mid-2004 and After) and campaign finance regulations (see December 10, 2003 and Mid-2004 and After). He was the lawyer who first worked with the lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United, whose lawsuit gave the Supreme Court the opportunity to greatly deregulate campaign finance law (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, and January 21, 2010). According to an email from Bopp and Villere, the Republican Super PAC will coordinate with other independent groups “to bridge gaps in the independent campaigns supporting Republican candidates.… The best way to neutralize President Obama’s unprecedented $1 billion political war chest and the political spending by labor unions and wealthy Democrats is to build a super fund-raising infrastructure for independent expenditure spending.” (Willis 5/16/2011) The majority of the money raised and spent on behalf of candidates by super PACs has gone to support Republicans, and not President Obama or Democratic candidates (see January 21-22, 2010, March 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, September 28, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, (May 4, 2011), and May 5, 2011).

In response to reported discussions by the Obama administration on the possible issuance of an executive order forcing government contractors to disclose their political contributions (see April 20, 2011), Republicans in the House and Senate introduce legislation that would block such an order. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) already successfully added a rider to a defense authorization bill that would block the order. Cole says he hopes that the White House will rethink the proposed executive order in light of the opposition from Congressional Republicans. “I am hoping they’re having second thoughts,” he tells a reporter. “This is the executive branch trying to legislate and use a very powerful weapon to do it. And not just legislate, but it is the executive branch trying to intimidate, in my opinion.” In the House, Representatives Cole, Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Sam Graves (R-MO) are sponsoring legislation against the order, while in the Senate, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are introducing similar legislation. The bills prohibit federal agencies from collecting political information from government contractors as a condition for receiving a government contract. Cole says though his amendment is in the defense bill, he wants to ensure that government contractors are able to keep their political expenditures out of the public eye. “This is one of those things you attack from as many angles and avenues as you possibly can, because it is so important,” he says. “This will get less scrutiny in that process, and it’s a lot easier for Democrats in the Senate to avoid or to kill. A bill is a big statement.” Senate Democrats are likely to vote down the bills. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, an advocacy group that stands for stricter campaign finance laws, says the Republican bills are “continuation[s] of abandonment of campaign finance disclosure by House Republicans, which began last year.” Wertheimer is referring to the DISCLOSE Act, legislation that would have forced outside political groups to disclose their donors, but was blocked by Republicans from coming to a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). Conservative donor organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce (see January 21-22, 2010, July 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, October 2010, November 1, 2010, and February 10, 2011) support the Republican legislation. The Republican-led House Administration Committee has scheduled a hearing on the draft order. (Bogardus 5/26/2011)

A mysterious company that donated $1 million to a political action committee (PAC) favoring presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) dissolves just months after its formation, leading some to speculate that its only purpose was to make political donations. The company, W Spann LLC, was formed on March 15, 2011 by Boston lawyer Cameron Casey, who specializes in estate tax planning—“wealth transfer strategies”—for “high net worth individuals,” according to corporate records and the lawyer’s biography on her firm’s Web site. Casey filed a “certificate of formation” with the Delaware Secretary of State’s office, but provided no information about the firm. The only address listed was that of a Wilmington, Delaware, registered agent service, Corporation Service Company, which provides such services for many companies. That firm refuses to discuss its clients. Spann’s address was listed as 590 Madison Avenue, New York City, a midtown Manhattan office building, but the building’s management firm, Minskoff Equities, shows no records of any such tenant. On April 28, W Spann LLC donated $1 million to Restore Our Future, a “super PAC” (see 2000 - 2005 and June 30, 2000) aligned with the Romney campaign (see June 23, 2011). Casey dissolves the company today, two weeks before Restore Our Future makes its first campaign filing of the year reporting the donation, by filing a “certificate of cancellation.” Lawrence Noble, the former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), says, “I don’t see how you can do this,” when asked about the donation. If the only purpose of Spann’s formation was to contribute to the pro-Romney group, “There is a real issue of it being just a subterfuge” and that could raise a “serious” legal issue, Noble says. At least, “[w]hat you have here is a roadmap for how people can hide their identities” when making political contributions. Casey will refuse to discuss the matter with the press, and her employer, the law firm Ropes & Gray, will say through a spokesman that it cannot comment. (Ropes & Gray has as a longtime client Bain Capital, the firm formerly headed by Romney. The law firm has its offices at 590 Madison.) Restore Our Future campaign treasurer Charles Spies, a former Romney campaign official, will also refuse to answer questions about Spann. He will say, “Restore Our Future has fully complied with, and will continue to comply with, all FEC disclosure requirements.” A Romney campaign official will later add, “Mitt Romney follows both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law in all circumstances.” Bain Capital spokesperson Alex Stanton says of W Spann: “Bain Capital has many employees who actively participate in civic affairs, and they individually support candidates from both parties. The firm takes no position on any candidate, and the entity in question is not affiliated with Bain Capital or any of our employees.” Critics say the Spann story shows how easily disclosure requirements are being avoided in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). “This is sham disclosure. It’s a barrier to disclosure,” says Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute. It is another example of how American political campaigns have gone “back to the future” and to the “pre-Watergate days” (of 1972) when Richard Nixon was raising unlimited amounts of money without disclosure, Malbin says. (Isikoff 8/4/2011)

Law professor John Yoo, who during his tenure at the Justice Department wrote memos defending torture and the right of the executive branch to conduct its business in secret (see March 1996, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 4, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, November 2, 2001, November 5, 2001, and November 6-10, 2001), co-authors an article for the far-right American Enterprise Institute that attacks the Obama administration for considering the idea of an executive order to require government contractors to disclose their political contributions (see April 20, 2011 and May 26, 2011). The article, by Yoo and lawyer David W. Marston, is entitled “Overruling Citizens United with Chicago-Style Politics,” a reference to some of the unsavory and often-illegal political machinations undertaken by Chicago Democrats. The article repeatedly compares the Obama administration to the Nixon administration’s attempts to “use the available federal machinery to screw [their] political enemies,” as Yoo and Marston quote from a 1971 Nixon White House memo. Yoo and Marston say that the Obama administration, in an effort to recoup its losses from the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010]), “is making an unprecedented assault on free speech” by considering the executive order and by pushing the DISCLOSE Act (see July 26-27, 2010). (Yoo and Marston claim that the DISCLOSE Act, if passed into law, “would have forced all those doing business with the government to give up their ability to participate in the political process, as is their right under the First Amendment, aside from just voting on Election Day.”) They write: “Under the guise of ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability,’ the order curtails constitutionally protected speech rights and opens the door for retaliation against those not supporting the administration politically,” and go on to observe that in their opinion, this “assault on free speech” (see January 21, 2010 and January 22, 2010) is being joined by “the media [and] defenders of free speech.” Yoo and Marston claim that the Founding Fathers intended for corporations and other entities to be able to involve themselves in politics entirely anonymously, citing the example of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison publishing the Federalist Papers under the nom de plume “Publius.” Indeed, Yoo and Marston write, “disclosure of political contributions may be a prelude to the thuggish suppression of political speech by harassment and intimidation,” and they cite the instances of boycotts, vandalism, and death threats against people in California who donated money in support of Proposition 8, which declared gay marriage illegal. “Mandated disclosure of financial support for a political viewpoint can become the springboard for lawless retaliation against citizens for holding unpopular views,” the authors write. “Disclosure” and “transparency,” the “wonder drugs du jour,” are already “being used to silence core First Amendment speech rights and to threaten America’s long protection of anonymous political speech,” they contend, and claim that “thugs” are attempting to use violence and intimidation to nullify the Citizens United decision, force the issuance of the Obama executive order, and push the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to expand disclosure requirements. Only allowing financial donors to remain secret, the authors say, protects their rights to free speech and political involvement. “[D]isclosure invites retaliation,” they argue; only secrecy can protect free speech. The authors even cite a case brought on behalf of the NAACP, in which the organization was allowed to keep its membership lists secret for fear of attacks on its members or their families by white supremacists. (Yoo and Marston 7/20/2011) Ian Millhiser, a legal expert for the liberal news Web site Think Progress, angrily rebuts Yoo and Marston’s claims. Millhiser, referencing Yoo’s opinions issued during his stint in the Bush administration, writes, “If there is anyone in the universe who should think twice before criticizing a government lawyer for enabling a president to break the law, it is John Yoo.” He goes on to criticize Yoo’s legal thinking in the article, noting that the Citizens United ruling held that “disclosure could be justified based on a governmental interest in ‘provid[ing] the electorate with information’ about the sources of election-related spending.” Millhiser writes: “President Obama’s proposed executive order provides the electorate with information about the sources of election-related spending. So Yoo’s entire argument can be rebutted in exactly two sentences.” After rebutting other portions of Yoo and Marston’s arguments, Millhiser concludes, “Yoo’s defense of corporate America’s power to secretly buy elections is weak even by his own tragically incompetent standards.” (Millhiser 7/22/2011)

A dozen wealthy donors have contributed over half of the money collected by so-called “super PACs” in the first half of 2011, according to an analysis by USA Today. Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization.
Majority of Donors Republican Contributors - The majority of those donors are contributing to Republican/conservative organizations, and overall, Republican organizations are outraising Democratic organizations by a 2-1 margin. American Crossroads, the organization formed by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove, has collected $2 million from billionaire Jerry Perenchio, another million from billionaire Robert B. Rowling, and $500,000 from Texas real estate billionaire Bob Perry. The super PAC supporting the Obama reelection campaign, Priorities USA Action, founded by former Obama spokesperson Bill Burton, has collected $2 million from Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, and $500,000 each from media owner Fred Eychaner and from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA), Restore Our Future (see June 23, 2011), has received million-dollar donations from hedge fund manager John Paulson, Utah firms Eli Publishing and F8 LLC, and the shadowy W Spann LLC (see July 12, 2011). It has also received half a million each from Perry, financiers Louis Moore Bacon and Paul Edgerly, Edgerly’s wife Sandra Edgerly, New Balance Athletic Shoes executive James S. Davis, J.W. Marriott of the hotel chain Marriott International, and Richard Marriott of Host Hotels and Resorts. Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center says: “The super PACs are for the wealthy, by the wealthy, and of the wealthy. You’re setting up a dynamic where the candidates could become bit players in their own campaigns,” particularly in less-expensive races for the House of Representatives. Katzenberg says his donation to the Obama-supporting super PAC was because of the increasing dominance of “Republican extremists” in national elections: “The stakes are too high for us to simply allow the extremism of a small but well-funded right wing minority to go unchallenged.” Charles Spies, the treasurer of Restore Our Future and Romney’s former general counsel, refuses to discuss donors, but says, “Donors recognize Mitt Romney is the most experienced and qualified candidate to challenge President Obama’s record of out-of-control, big government spending.” One donation drawing scrutiny is a $193,000 donation to the presidential campaign of Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) from a group called Americans for Rick Perry. The primary funder of that group is Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who gave $100,000 to the group 10 days after Perry signed legislation allowing Simmons’s company to accept low-level radioactive waste from other states at its West Texas facility. A Perry spokesman denies any coordination between Simmons and his campaign, and says Perry has not even decided whether to run for president. Simmons helped fund the 2004 group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which launched a powerful campaign that smeared then-presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) and his Vietnam War record. American Crossroads has reported raising $3.9 million during the first six months of 2011. Its affiliate, Crossroads GPS, has spent $19 million on anti-Democrat advertising so far. That group does not have to report its donors or the amounts it receives. (Schouten and Schnaars 8/4/2011)
'Recipe for Corruption - Legal expert Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress comments: “It’s tough to imagine a surer recipe for corruption. Although super PAC’s are prohibited from giving money directly to candidates—one of the few remaining campaign finance laws that wasn’t eviscerated by Citizens United and similar cases (see January 21, 2010)—it’s not like a presidential candidate isn’t perfectly capable of finding out which billionaires funded the shadowy groups that supported their campaign. Moreover, if just a handful of people are responsible for the bulk of these donations, a newly elected president will have no problem figuring out who to lavish favors on once they enter the White House.” (Millhiser 8/4/2011)

The campaign of presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA), the former governor of Massachusetts, acknowleges the influence of the Koch brothers (see July 3-4, 2010 and August 30, 2010) on Republican politics and the “tea party” movement. According to an internal campaign memo, the Koch brothers, particularly David Koch, are the “financial engine of the tea party” even though Koch “denies being directly involved.” The memo explicates the attempts that Romney and the campaign have taken to secure the support of the Koch brothers, including a January 2011 meeting between Romney and David Koch at an elite club in Manhattan, and an August 28 meeting that was canceled because of Hurricane Irene. David Koch publicly endorsed Romney for president in 2008, and one of Romney’s first major campaign fundraisers for the 2012 race was held at Koch’s mansion in the Hamptons. Political strategists acknowledge the success the Koch brothers have had in getting dozens of far-right candidates elected to Congress in 2010 and creating a network of tea party members who can help Romney secure the 2012 presidential nomination. Strategists have also noted Romney’s lack of support among many tea party members and organizations, and the likelihood that Romney will fail to capture the 2012 Republican presidential nomination without tea party support. “In many national surveys, Romney has had difficulty breaking 25 percent in support and that’s because [tea party] conservatives are suspicious of him and doubt his commitment to their issues,” says the Brookings Institution’s Darrell West. “He’s courting the tea party because he needs them to win.” But that support is far from certain. Judson Phillips, the co-founder of Tea Party Nation, says: “Our vote is split up among so many candidates—none of whom are Romney. Romney’s problem with a lot of tea party voters, myself included, is at this point I don’t know what he believes and I don’t care—because even if he tells me, ‘When I get to the White House I’m going to be fiscally conservative,’ he will probably change his mind, depending on which way the political winds are blowing.” Romney has a reputation as a “flip-flopper” who has changed his mind on a number of key issues, and a closet moderate who once supported abortion rights, the 2008 government bank bailouts, gay rights, and gun control. (Peterson 11/2/2011; Fang 11/3/2011)

A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice shows that just three “independent” corporate political organizations outspent the US labor movement in judicial elections for 2009-10. The report, entitled “The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2009-10,” shows that three corporate interest groups—the Ohio Chamber of Commerce (Partnership for America’s Future), the Business Council of Alabama, and the Illinois Civil Justice League (JustPAC) outspent the US labor movement 13-1 in trying to influence state Supreme Court elections. Together, the three groups spent $3,554,445 on activities involving judicial elections. In total, organized labor groups spent $261,4230. Labor unions have always contended that they could not spend nearly as much on election activities as corporations. (Skaggs et al. 10/2011 pdf file; Millhiser 10/27/2011)

An unofficial logo for the Cain presidential campaign.An unofficial logo for the Cain presidential campaign. [Source: Draft Cain (.org)]Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain (R-GA), who is battling allegations that he sexually harassed two former employees, is further shaken by reports that his campaign may have accepted illegal corporate donations. The apparently-defunct corporation, Prosperity USA, was run by Wisconsin political operatives Mark Block and Linda Hansen, who now serve as Cain’s chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, respectively. The corporation, which incorporated itself as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization under federal tax law, helped get Cain’s campaign up and running by paying for tens of thousands of dollars in expenses, including computers, chartered flights, and travel to several states. Such payouts are possible violations of federal tax and campaign law. According to documents obtained by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Prosperity USA claims it was owed about $40,000 by the Cain campaign for a variety of items in February and March. It is unclear whether the Cain campaign has reimbursed Prosperity USA. Cain began taking donations for his presidential bid on January 1, 2011, but records indicate Prosperity USA may have been spending money on behalf of him well before that date. The records have been verified as authentic by sources close to Prosperity USA. Cain’s federal election filings make no mention of monies owed to Prosperity USA, and the figures in the documents do not match payments made by the Cain Campaign. Other payouts include a $100,000 fee to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a conservative black organization; Cain spoke at the organization’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. dinner in mid-January, an event hosted by controversial conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. CORE is heavily involved in tea party events. Apparently Cain was not paid for the appearance, inasmuch as his personal financial disclosure forms do not show any honorariums for speeches. (Bice 10/30/2011; USA 10/31/2011 pdf file)
Apparent Violations of Tax, Campaign Law - Election law experts say the transactions raise many questions about Priorities USA and its connection to the Cain campaign. A Washington, DC, lawyer who advises many Republican candidates and conservative groups on campaign issues, and refuses to be publicly identified, says, “If the records accurately reflect what occurred, this is way out of bounds.” She says it is a violation of tax law for Prosperity USA to advance money to the Cain campaign for the items invoiced, and the expenditures also seem to violate federal campaign regulations. “I just don’t see how they can justify this,” she says. “It’s a total mess.” Wisconsin campaign attorney Michael Maistelman, a Democrat who has worked for candidates from both parties, agrees, saying, “The number of questionable and possibly illegal transactions conducted on behalf of Herman Cain is staggering.” Think Progress legal expert Ian Millhiser writes that “if Prosperity USA effectively donated money to the Cain campaign by fronting money to them and agreeing not to be paid back, that is a violation of federal election law,” even if the Cain campaign eventually pays the money back. Block and Hansen have refused to comment on the issue. In 1997, Block, then advising the campaign of former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox, settled allegations of election-law violations by agreeing to pay a $15,000 fine and to stay out of Wisconsin politics for three years. (Bice 10/30/2011; Millhiser 10/31/2011) Election lawyer Lawrence H. Norton, who formerly served as a general counsel for the Federal Election Commission (FEC), later says, “If they are supporting his campaign, whether directly or indirectly, they are violating the law.” (Confessore 11/3/2011)
Connections to Koch-Funded Political Organization - In recent years, Block has run the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004), a nonprofit conservative lobbying and political action group co-founded by the conservative Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011). AFP played a key role in organizing the tea party movement. Block met Cain through AFP, and encouraged him to run for president. Block has incorporated a number of offshoot organizations and corporations from AFP, most of which bore the word “prosperity” in their names. AFP officials insist that Block’s organizations are legally separate from theirs. Documents show that when Block left AFP at the beginning of 2011, he left behind tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid invoices.
History of Involvement with Cain Campaign - Block’s largest group was the now-defunct Wisconsin Prosperity Network (WPN), envisioned as an umbrella organization that would spend over $6 million a year underwriting other conservative political organizations. Hansen was the group’s executive director. WPN was also set up as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. Under the law, neither WPN nor Prosperity USA can have direct political involvement with any candidate or candidate organization. Sources familiar with the situation say the two organizations were closely linked, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from Wisconsin conservatives. One supporter, who still advocates for Cain and thusly refuses to have his name publicly disclosed, says he and many others are very upset with the groups for failing to use the money they raised for their intended purposes. The supporter names Hansen as being particularly responsible for the groups’ money usage. By February 2011, both groups were deeply in debt, with WPN showing a net loss of $62,000 and Prosperity USA showing net losses of $110,000. Prosperity USA’s biggest debt was an almost-$40,000 debit to “FOH,” which records show means “Friends of Herman Cain,” the name of Cain’s presidential operation. The debt includes almost $15,000 for what is called an “Atlanta invoice”; $17,000 for chartered flight service; $5,000 for travel and meetings in Iowa, Las Vegas, Dallas, Houston, and Louisiana; and $3,700 for iPads purchased for the Cain campaign. Other small-ticket items for travel and expenses by Block are listed as “not billed to FOH but due from them.” Other expenses include a September 2010 bill for $5,000 for costs incurred by Cain’s speech to the conservative Right Nation rally in Chicago, which records show Cain attended at the request of AFP; the Cain campaign later used a segment from that speech in a campaign ad. Prosperity USA also paid for a trip by Block to Washington, DC, to meet with billionaire oil magnate and conservative financier David Koch. Singer Krista Branch, who recorded “I Am America,” the unofficial anthem of the tea party movement, was supposed to be paid $3,000 by Prosperity USA; Cain has since adopted the song as his campaign theme. Branch’s husband, Michael, is a Cain campaign and fundraising consultant. The records also show $150,000 in loans from individuals who are not identified. Sources say Hansen paid much of that loan money to CORE earlier in the year. Michael Dean, the attorney for both Prosperity USA and WPN, resigned his position with WPN in the summer of 2011, and contacted the IRS about the organization’s tax-exempt status. And WPN is a listed litigant in a case pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
'Outside Counsel' Will Review Allegations - The Cain campaign will respond by saying that an “outside” lawyer will review the allegations. “As with any suggestions of this type, we have asked outside counsel to investigate the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s suggestions and may comment, if appropriate, when that review is completed,” says campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon. Gordon refuses to identify the “outside counsel,” or give a time frame as to when the review will be complete. (Bice 10/30/2011; Confessore 11/3/2011)

’We Are Ohio’ logo.’We Are Ohio’ logo. [Source: ProgressOhio (.org)]Ohio Senate Bill 5, known as the Ohio Collective Bargaining Limit Repeal, is defeated by a voter referendum. The bill would enable severe limitations on collective bargaining for public employees in the state, and make it difficult for those employees to strike and collectively bargain for wages, health insurance, and pensions, and would have increased employee contributions for pensions and health insurance. The hard-fought campaign pitted Governor John Kasich (R-OH) and Ohio Republicans against the state’s teachers, firefighters, police officers, and unions. The bargaining limit repeal was supported by farmers and a number of independent corporate organizations, including Citizens United, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business; it was opposed by labor unions, Democrats, and some independent organizations, including the bipartisan political action committee We Are Ohio, which helped launch the referendum. Over $50 million was spent on the campaign by outside parties and both political parties. Ohio Democrats and labor leaders call the repeal a win for progressives and worker rights, and the first step in recapturing the state government, which has been dominated by Republicans since the 2010 elections. Doug Stern, a firefighter who joined We Are Ohio, says: “Hey, I’m a Republican, but I’m telling you, Republican firefighters and police officers aren’t going to be voting Republican around here for a while. We’ll see what happens in 2012, but our guys have a long memory. We’re angry and disgusted.” Supporters, relying on large infusions of cash from corporate and other interests, relied largely on media advertising to support the repeal, while opponents staged mass protests and organized grassroots volunteers who they say will continue to work to defeat Republican interests. One $100,000 television ad paid for by Citizens United depicted schoolchildren while a voiceover told viewers that the bill allows schools to “replace” bad teachers, and added, “We parents and educators deserve the right to run our own schools.” Citizens United president David Bossie (see May 1998) told a reporter that his organization “decided to get in and play a role right at the end to educate the voting public and try to persuade them that this is the right way to go.” We Are Ohio called such ads “desperate attempt[s] by another shadowy out-of-state group that refuses to disclose the source of its money” (see January 21, 2010). Kasich repeatedly argued that the harsh measures against public employees and labor unions were necessary to balance the state’s budget. One senior state Republican says that Kasich “snatch[ed] defeat from the jaws of victory” by alienating labor-friendly independents in the state. (Levinthal 11/2/2011; Think Progress 11/3/2011; Thrush 11/8/2011)

According to a Washington Post analysis, 10 percent of US billionaires have given to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA), who seems to be securing enough primary wins to be named the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. Romney himself is a former venture capitalist worth at least $250 million. Forty-two of the US’s 412 billionaires have donated to Romney’s campaign and third-party “super PACs” (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, and November 23, 2011). President Obama has 30 billionaires on his donor list, or something over 7 percent. Romney opponents Rick Perry (R-TX) and Jon Huntsman (R-UT) have 20 and 12, respectively. The Washington Post reports: “Very wealthy donors are likely to play a greater role in this election cycle in the wake of recent court decisions that have loosened rules for campaign contributions (see January 21, 2010). That will only heighten one of the dominant narratives of the 2012 campaign: the nation’s rising income inequality and the outsize political influence of the super-wealthy.” Donors can only give $5,000 directly to candidates’ campaigns, but under the Citizens United ruling, they can give unlimited amounts to super PACs that run independent ads on behalf of, or in opposition to, candidates. “The only limit on the resources is the willingness of the donors to give,” says government professor Anthony Corrado, a former Democratic official. “It doesn’t take long to transfer $500,000 from one account to another.” Obama had a head start in raising campaign funds going into October 2010, largely because the Republican candidates were spending money against one another in primary battles. But now that Romney seems more and more assured as the Republican nominee, Republican donors are expected to focus on donating to his campaign and super PACs, and are expected to catch up to and surpass Obama and the Democrats in short order (see August 2, 2010, September 20, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, May 5, 2011, and August 4, 2011). In 2008, Obama distanced his campaign from third-party donors, and donations from those individuals and interests were relatively down. But, perhaps recognizing the advantage Republicans have in raising money from the wealthy, Obama no longer objects to those donations. Romney’s largest donor so far is hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson, who has given $1 million to Romney’s super PAC Restore Our Future (see June 23, 2011). Think Progress’s Travis Waldron notes that Paulson made millions by shorting the housing market before the mortgage collapse that sparked the global financial crisis and drove the US economy into a recession. Other billionaires supporting Romney include Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, California real estate developer Donald Bren, and developer and publisher Sam Zell. Several billionaires who used to support Romney’s primary opponent Newt Gingrich (R-GA), including casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Amway founder Richard DeVos, are expected to begin giving generously to the Romney campaign or to his super PAC. Obama’s richest donor is Len Blavatnik, a Russian-American industrialist who has also donated to Romney. Other billionaires supporting Obama include insurance magnate Peter Lewis, former Google executive Eric Schmidt, and venture capitalist John Doerr. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt downplays the billionaire contributions, saying, “Our campaign is fueled by donations from more than 1 million Americans, 98 percent of which were in amounts of $250 or less.” Corrado says that as the November elections approach, spending will only increase. “One of the things about large investors in campaigns is that they’re very interested in getting results,” he says. “And it is much easier to get a large effect in a race if you can give to directly advocate for and against a candidate.” (Farnam 12/1/2011; Waldron 12/6/2011)

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) criticizes the influence of super PACs and third-party organizations in political campaigns, calling the “new entities” a “disaster” and claiming that campaign finance laws have “made a mockery of our political campaign season.” Romney was the first to form a presidential super PAC, Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011), and that organization has been extraordinarily successful in raising money to use for Romney’s benefit (see January 31, 2012, February 6, 2012, March 11, 2012, May 21, 2012, and Late May 2012). In an appearance on MSNBC, Romney says: “This is a strange thing in these campaign finance laws. They set up these new entities, which I think is a disaster, by the way. Campaign finance law has made a mockery of our political campaign season.… We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs.” Republicans have advocated for unlimited direct contributions (see April 27, 2011, May 26, 2011 and After, January 10, 2012, January 21, 2012, and January 31, 2012) to candidates’ campaigns. Such direct contributions are currently illegal. Asked if he would ask ROF to stop running an ad that drew criticism from its target, Romney’s primary challenger Newt Gingrich (R-GA), he answers: “It’s illegal, as you probably know. Super PACs have to be entirely separate from a campaign and a candidate. I’m not allowed to communicate with a super PAC in any way, shape, or form. If we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the big house.” Gingrich has recently said that the idea of super PACs running entirely independently of the campaigns they work to assist is “baloney,” stating: “They ought to take this junk [negative ads] off the air. And don’t hide behind some baloney about, this ‘super PAC that I actually have no control over that happens to be run by five of my former staff.’ That’s just baloney.” ROF was created by, and is staffed by, many former aides and colleagues of Romney’s. Gingrich has named a former aide, Rick Tyler, to work with his super PAC, Winning Our Future. (Madison 12/11/2011)

The logo of InfoCision, the telemarketing firm that received much of the ASWF monies.The logo of InfoCision, the telemarketing firm that received much of the ASWF monies. [Source: InfoCision]Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) has apparently exploited a loophole in campaign finance law that has allowed him to build what McClatchy News calls “a political money machine that raised $54 million over five years,” according to McClatchy reports. Gingrich has used “a supposedly independent political committee that collected unlimited donations” to “finance… a coast-to-coast shadow campaign that raised his profile and provided a launch pad for his presidential run.” Critics call the ASWF issue another aftereffect of the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010).
$54 Million over 5 Years - The Gingrich-supporting PAC, “American Solutions for Winning the Future” (ASWF) was closed down in July 2011. Organized as a so-called “527 group” (see 2000 - 2005 and June 30, 2000), the tax-exempt, “nonprofit” organization raised $28.2 million in the two-year period ending December 31, 2010, the last period for which McClatchy has data. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that ASWF raised almost double the amount garnered by the next closest 527. The organization raised some $54 million throughout its existence, from 2006 to July 2011. McClatchy has learned some of the details behind ASWF and is now revealing them to the public. The organization provided at least $8 million to pay for the chartered luxury jets that Gingrich used to fly back and forth around the nation for public appearances and campaigning for president. The jet charters occurred during the 2008 and 2012 presidential primaries.
Largely Financed by Billionaire, Corporate Donations - ASWF has accepted enormous cash donations from billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino owner, who has emerged as Gingrich’s primary benefactor. Adelson has given $7.65 million to ASWF, including a million-dollar startup contribution in 2006. According to an Adelson spokesperson, “he and Speaker Gingrich go back a number of years.” Adelson is a prominent supporter and financier of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and like Gingrich holds far-right, aggressively territorial views about Israel. Gingrich has made provocative statements about Israel and the Palestinian people over the years, denying that the Palestinians are a separate people and declaring his support for Israel’s forced-settlement plans that have displaced many Palestinians. A Gingrich spokesman says Adelson and others merely gave to the organization because they agree with Gingrich’s views. Charlotte, North Carolina, real estate developer Fred Godley gave ASWF $1.1 million in 2007 and another $100,000 in 2009. Energy firms donated heavily to ASWF: Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal producer, and its chief lobbyist Fred Palmer gave ASWF $825,000. Arch Coal, the US’s second-largest coal company, gave $100,000. Oil and gas firm Devon Energy gave $400,000, as did American Electric Power Company and its CEO Michael Morris. Plains Exploration Company gave $200,000. The late Cincinnati billionaire Carl Lindner gave $690,000. Dallas real estate firm Crow Holdings gave $600,000. Minnesota broadcasting mogul Stanley Hubbard gave $385,000. Wisconsin businessman Terry Kohler gave $328,082. California businessman Fred Sacher gave $275,000. NASCAR president James France gave $264,000. Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus gave $250,000. Another Las Vegas casino owner, the late Frank Fertitta Jr., gave $250,000, along with his sons; together the three of them co-owned a casino and the Ultimate Fighting Championship sports league. Former CarMax and Circuit City chief Richard Sharp gave $150,000. Stock brokerage titan Charles Schwab gave $150,000. Cincinnati Reds owner Robert Castellini gave $146,000. Political science professor Larry Sabato says that in light of such enormous contributions, “there’s no way that any politician is going to deny you much of anything that you want.”
New Super PACs Supplanting ASWF - In place of ASWF, two new pro-Gingrich super PACs have formed to support Gingrich’s attempt to close the gap between himself and frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) in the Republican primary.
'Diabolical Scheme' to 'Circumvent' Campaign Finance Law - Campaign expert Lawrence Jacobs calls Gingrich’s use of ASWF “clever,” and adds, “Looking back, and now seeing Gingrich as the frontrunner… it’s an ingenious, diabolical scheme to circumvent what’s left of the campaign finance regime.” Jacobs says of the organization: “The money wasn’t used literally to finance a campaign for a particular office. It was used for a general, over-time campaign to keep Gingrich alive politically—an enormously luxurious campaign operation to sustain his political viability for the right time to jump into the presidential race. It’s no accident that he’s popped in in 2012.” Jacobs says ASWF operated “right on the line” of legality. Sabato says ASWF played a key role in resuscitating Gingrich’s flagging political career. His term as speaker of the House ended in scandal and resignation, and his high-profile divorces and profligate personal and campaign spending had led many to assume that Gingrich’s political career was over. But Sabato says Gingrich used ASWF to create what he calls a new kind of informal candidacy, one that shows the inherent weakness of campaign finance laws that are supposed to ensure “nobody could give so much money that they would become too influential, too powerful.” ASWF was always nominally independent, as required by law, but in 2009 Gingrich ousted its board of directors and took the title of general chairman. Gingrich never formed a formal exploratory committee before declaring his candidacy for president. McClatchy observes, “None of his Republican presidential rivals, nor any other federal candidate for that matter, is known to have operated such a committee before formally declaring his or her candidacy.” Gingrich spokesperson R.C. Hammon says Gingrich did not begin considering a presidential campaign until April 2011, and all of his committee activities were “legitimate.” Hammond says: “The purpose of American Solutions was to advance an agenda of free enterprise and tri-partisan solutions. Those were the activities he was undertaking.” ASWF is just one of a network of political entities that Gingrich has created over the last 10 years. He has managed to enrich himself by charging lucrative fees for speeches, consulting for undisclosed health care industry firms, and selling historical documentaries and books. After the group was formed in the fall of 2006, Gingrich sent a letter to potential backers calling it a unique organization “designed to rise above traditional gridlocked partisanship” and to develop “breakthrough solutions to the most important issues facing this country.” Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman who served on ASWF’s board for two years, says the group “certainly helped build his path back into political prominence.” He adds, “They basically sent Newt around the country promoting American Solutions.” Weber is now supporting Romney for the presidency. He says that ASWF had “not gotten really up to speed in terms of programming” when he received a call, apparently in 2008, advising him that the board was being abolished. Gingrich then took over as the group’s general chairman.
Relatively Little Spent on Campaign Initiatives, Most Spent on Raising More Money - ASWF proposed a number of campaign and advertising initiatives that would appeal to conservative donors, including:
bullet a “Drill Now!” movement aimed at increasing US oil exploration;
bullet attempts to rally opposition to President Obama’s health care reform efforts;
bullet a campaign to fight climate change legislation that would call for reduced carbon emissions by industrial concerns.
But of $37.9 million raised from 2006 through 2009, the committee spent just $7.2 million on programs, according to its filings with the Internal Revenue Service. Most of the ASWF money was spent on telemarketers and direct-mail appeals to develop a loyal pool of wealthy contributors. InfoCision, an Ohio telemarketing firm that specializes in building lists of “small” donors, was paid some $30 million over the course of the organization’s existence, exhausting much of the money contributed. $17 million of that money was used to finance Gingrich’s travel. (Gordon 12/19/2011; Waldron 12/19/2011)

Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) tells MSNBC reporter Chuck Todd that wealthy donors should be able to give unlimited amounts directly to candidates in lieu of donating to “independent” organizations such as super PACs (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, and November 23, 2011). The US history of campaign finance law (see 1883, 1896, December 5, 1905, 1907, June 25, 1910, 1925, 1935, 1940, February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, January 30, 1976, January 8, 1980, March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003), including the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), has always put stringent limitations on what donors can contribute directly to candidates. Asked if he thinks the Citizens United decision was a poor one, Romney responds: “Well, I think the Supreme Court decision was following their interpretation of the campaign finance laws that were written by Congress. My own view is now we tried a lot of efforts to try and restrict what can be given to campaigns, we’d be a lot wiser to say you can give what you’d like to a campaign. They must report it immediately and the creation of these independent expenditure committees that have to be separate from the candidate, that’s just a bad idea.” Ian Millhiser, a senior legal analyst for the liberal news Web site Think Progress, responds: “It’s not entirely clear from this interview that Romney understands what happened in Citizens United. That decision emphatically did not follow any ‘interpretation of campaign finance laws that were written by Congress.’ Rather, Citizens United threw out a 63-year-old federal ban on corporate money in politics.… [I]t was not a case of judges following the law. More importantly, however, Romney’s proposal to allow wealthy donors to give candidates whatever they’d ‘like to a campaign’ is simply an invitation to corruption (see October 17, 2011). Under Romney’s proposed rule, there is nothing preventing a single billionaire from bankrolling a candidate’s entire campaign—and then expecting that candidate to do whatever the wealthy donor wants once the candidate is elected to office. Romney’s unlimited donations proposal would be a bonanza for Romney himself and the army of Wall Street bankers and billionaire donors who support him, but it is very difficult to distinguish it from legalized bribery.” Millhiser notes that Romney had a different view on the subject in 1994, saying then that when you allow special interest groups to buy and sell candidates, “that kind of relationship has an influence on the way that [those candidates are] going to vote.” (Millhiser 12/21/2011)

The Montana Supreme Court rules 5-2 in the case of Western Tradition Partnership v. Bullock that a century-old law prohibits corporate spending in state and federal elections conducted within the state. The ruling seems to challenge the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010). The case stems from a challenge by a “social welfare organization,” Western Tradition Partnership (WTP, which changed its name to American Tradition Partnership after the original lawsuit was filed), joined by two other corporate entities, to Montana’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act (CPA). The law banned corporate spending in elections, after two out-of-state copper industry magnates attempted to “buy” the Montana legislature by pouring money into the 1894 state elections. The law declares that “corporations may not make… an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.” The Montana Supreme Court finds that the CPA is needed to ensure the integrity of Montana’s elections, and to make sure that citizens and not corporations are running the state. However, the Court acknowledges that its ruling conflicts with the Citizens United decision, though it says that the Citizens United decision allows for restrictions on corporate political speech if the government can demonstrate that the restrictions are as minimal as possible to achieve a compelling governmental interest. The Montana Court rules that because of Montana’s history of corporate vote-buying and the narrow restrictions of the CPA, the law should stand. It also notes that Western Tradition Partnership argued in its original suit that disclosure laws, as opposed to outright bans, would serve the public interest and guard against corruption; however, the organization is currently involved in another lawsuit in which it argues that those same disclosure laws are unconstitutional restrictions of the freedom of speech. (Western Tradition Partnership v. Bullock et al 12/30/2011 pdf file; Murphy 1/4/2012; Vicini 6/25/2012; Randall 6/25/2012; Weiner 6/25/2012; OMB Watch 7/10/2012) Even one of the dissenters, Justice James C. Nelson, disagrees with the Citizens United characterizations that corporations are legally people, writing: “Corporations are not persons. Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people—human beings—to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creatures of government. Worse still, while corporations and human beings share many of the same rights under the law, they clearly are not bound equally to the same codes of good conduct, decency, and morality, and they are not held equally accountable for their sins. Indeed, it is truly ironic that the death penalty and hell are reserved only to natural persons.” WTP’s director Donald Ferguson says after the decision that the case hinges on freedom of speech (see January 21, 2010): “The current state law says that if you own a business and you would like to use the resources of the business to speak out about how you see the law, you essentially have to ask prior permission from the state. Under the current regime, the state regulatory agencies and the newspapers basically have a monopoly on information. We’re simply trying to put more free speech in motion.” (Murphy 1/4/2012; Sacks 1/4/2012)
Legal Scholars Anticipate Montana Ruling to be Overturned - Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center calls the Montana high court’s ruling “an antidote to the crabbed view of corruption” displayed in Citizens United. Ryan, like many others, anticipates the US Supreme Court will overturn today’s ruling. (Sacks 1/4/2012) One of those others is law professor Richard Hasen, who writes: “[I]f the Court were being honest in Citizens United, it would have said something like: ‘We don’t care whether or not independent spending can or cannot corrupt; the First Amendment trumps this risk of corruption.’ But the Court didn’t say that, because it would have faced even greater criticism than it already has. So it dressed up its value judgment (no corruption ‘implied in law’) as a factual statement. The Montana Supreme Court called SCOTUS [the US Supreme Court] on this. And when SCOTUS reverses, the disingenuousness of this aspect of CU will be on full display for all.” Hasen is referring to the Court’s finding in Citizens United that independent spending in elections does not legally imply corruption. (Rick Hasen 1/1/2012)
Appeal to Supreme Court - Attorneys for WTP and the other corporate plaintiffs will appeal to the US Supreme Court on the grounds that Montana is bound by the Citizens United decision and that the decision applies to state as well as federal elections. Attorney James Bopp, in filing the appeal, will say: “If Montana can ban core political speech because of Montana’s unique characteristics, free speech will be seriously harmed. Speakers will be silenced because of corruption by others over a century ago.” The US Supreme Court will quickly issue a stay of that decision. (Vicini 6/25/2012; Randall 6/25/2012) When the case reaches the US Supreme Court, the name of the plaintiff will change into “American Tradition Partnership,” and the Court’s documentation will reflect that change. The Court will overrule the Montana decision (see June 25, 2012). After the decision, American Tradition Partnership’s Web site will disappear, but the liberal accountability organization SourceWatch will describe the organization’s parent, the American Tradition Institute, as described in the group’s mission statement: “a public policy research and educational foundation… founded in 2009 to help lead the national discussion about environmental issues, including air and water quality and regulation, responsible land use, natural resource management, energy development, property rights, and free-market principles of stewardship.” ATI and its affiliates are pro-development and against expanded environmental regulation, according to SourceWatch’s documentation, made up of “a broader network of groups with close ties to energy interests that have long fought greenhouse gas regulation.” (SourceWatch 2012)

2012 Iowa caucuses logo.2012 Iowa caucuses logo. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]As Republican voters in Iowa go to cast their votes for the party’s presidential nominee in statewide caucuses, spending by the various candidates in the state is at an all-time high, topping $16 million. Broken down by candidate, the spending on candidate advertising, voter drives, and other political activities is as follows:
bullet Governor Rick Perry (R-TX): $4.3 million from his campaign. Perry’s super PAC, Make Us Great Again, has spent $1.6 million.
bullet Representative Ron Paul (R-TX): $2.8 million from his campaign.
bullet Former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA): $1.5 million from his campaign. His super PAC, Restore Our Future (see June 23, 2011 and January 3, 2012), has spent $2.8 million.
bullet Former Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA): $980,000 from his campaign. His super PAC, Winning Our Future (see December 19, 2011), has spent $264,000.
bullet Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA): $30,000 from his campaign. His super PAC, the Red White and Blue Fund, has spent $530,000.
bullet Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN): $180,000 from her campaign.
The super PAC expenditures in Iowa primary activities—at least $6 million—far outstrip the $1.5 million spent by outside groups in Iowa in 2004 and the $3.4 million spent in 2008. Spending in upcoming primaries in other states is predicted to be even higher. (Todd and Gregory 1/3/2012; Seitz-Wald 1/3/2012) The day before the primaries, the New York Times writes a blistering op-ed, “The Slush Funds of Iowa,” decrying the “unrelenting arctic blast of campaign ads” featuring “constant negativity” from the various campaigns. The Times calls the super PACs behind most of the ads “essentially septic tanks into which wealthy individuals and corporations can drop unlimited amounts of money, which is then processed into ads that are theoretically made independently of the candidates.” The Times says that regardless of the pretense of independence both the super PACs and the candidates maintain, “the PACs are, in fact, a vital part of the campaigns’ strategy.” The editorial cites an earlier Times report that cited Romney as an example, comparing the upbeat, family-oriented ads aired in Iowa by the Romney campaign with the relentless negative ads aired by his PAC, and saying that Romney “has effectively outsourced his negative advertising to a group that has raised millions of dollars from his donors to inundate his opponents with attacks.” The editorial notes, “Mr. Romney’s name is never mentioned [in the negative ads], and few [Iowa] viewers will realize that the ad’s producers are all close associates of his who worked on his campaign four years ago.” (New York Times 1/2/2012)

Dahlia Lithwick, the senior legal correspondent for Slate, muses on the likelihood that the US Supreme Court will overturn a recent decision by the Montana Supreme Court that upheld the state’s limits on corporate election spending (see December 30, 2011 and After). The Montana high court’s opinion directly contradicts the 2010 Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). Lithwick notes that some Republican primary candidates are learning to their sorrow just how effective corporate spending can be when it is turned against them, citing Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who was targeted by almost $5 million of super PAC spending on negative ads against him in the recent Iowa caucuses (see January 3, 2012). Much of that came from a super PAC supporting Gingrich’s rival Mitt Romney (R-MA). Lithwick also cites a recent column by liberal columnist Ruth Marcus “explaining all the ways in which the super PACs are both coordinating with campaigns and evading federal disclosure requirements” (see January 3, 2012). Marcus wrote that the Citizens United decision set the stage for just the kind of negative, coordinated attacks seen in Iowa, and allowed the political system to be overwhelmed by corporate-funded entities that are not publicly accountable (see January 4, 2012). The probability for historic levels of corruption was overwhelming, Lithwick writes, and entirely foreseeable (see October 17, 2011). Lithwick notes conservative legal scholar Eugene Volokh as saying the Montana high court’s decision “practically begs to be overturned at the Supreme Court.” But the Montana high court, citing specific evidence showing the potential for corruption in the plaintiff’s actions (including a fundraising brochure that promised donors “no politician, no bureaucrat, and no radical environmentalist will ever know you made” any donations), found that the limits on corporate electoral spending are necessary to keep corruption at bay. Lithwick concludes, “I think what we just saw in Iowa and Montana proves again that corporations aren’t really people, money isn’t really speech, and that saying so isn’t just a way of speaking truth to power.” (Lithwick 1/4/2012)

Sheldon Adelson at a celebration of the opening of his Sands Cotai Central casino in Macau, April 2012.Sheldon Adelson at a celebration of the opening of his Sands Cotai Central casino in Macau, April 2012. [Source: Aaron Tam / AFP / Getty Images / ProPublica]Casino owner Sheldon Adelson, one of America’s wealthiest individuals, gives $5 million to a super PAC acting on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Adelson’s fortune comes from casinos he owns in Las Vegas and Asia. Adelson has let it be known that he intends to donate much more during the campaign season, both in the primaries and in the general election, when a Republican will challenge President Obama for the presidency. The Washington Post calls Adelson’s donation “the latest in an avalanche of campaign cash flooding the presidential season to independent groups known as super PACs.” Adelson donates the money to Winning Our Future, a super PAC whose predecessor, American Solutions for Winning the Future (ASWF), is plagued with allegations of misconduct and illicit involvement by Gingrich (see December 19, 2011). ASWF was also a benefactor of Adelson’s donations, both monetary and in Adelson’s permission for Gingrich to use his personal aircraft. According to a person close to Adelson, the billionaire is willing to spend at least $5 million more, either on Gingrich or the Republican nominee for president. The source adds that Adelson wants to keep Gingrich competitive in the primary race at least through the January 21 South Carolina primary. If Gingrich does well in South Carolina, as he is predicted to, the source says Gingrich’s super PAC may well receive another hefty donation. In December 2011, Adelson denied saying he planned on donating $20 million to the organization. Adelson and his wife Miriam have known Gingrich since the mid-1990s, when Adelson was locked in disputes with labor unions and government regulators over his construction of the massive Venetian casino in Las Vegas. Like Gingrich, Adelson is extremely conservative on the subject of Israel. Gingrich, buoyed with super PAC donations in recent weeks, did well in the Iowa caucuses (see January 3, 2012) against frontrunner Mitt Romney, whose own super PAC, Restore Our Future, has a stable of wealthy donors keeping pro-Romney and anti-Gingrich ads on the airwaves (see June 23, 2011 and January 3, 2012). Reportedly, Romney’s supporters begged Adelson not to make his contribution to Gingrich, and instead to let Gingrich’s campaign wither without Adelson’s support. Gingrich’s campaign intends to use much of the donation for airtime in South Carolina, and to air portions of a film documenting Romney’s time as CEO of Bain Capital, a private equity firm that oversaw the bankruptcy and dissolution of numerous small businesses and corporations. Gingrich claims Adelson is acting entirely on his own, saying, “If he wants to counterbalance Romney’s millionaires, I have no objection to him counterbalancing Romney’s millionaires.” (Grimaldi 1/7/2012; Confessore and Lipton 1/9/2012) Slate columnist Will Oremus observes: “There’s no question that Gingrich has been paid for by Sheldon Adelson. It’s up to voters to decide whether he’s been bought.” (Oremus 1/27/2012)

The Republican National Committee (RNC) files a court brief calling the federal ban on direct corporate donations to candidates unconstitutional, and demanding it be overturned. Such direct donations are one of the few restrictions remaining on wealthy candidates wishing to influence elections after the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010). The brief is in essence an appeal of a 2011 decision refusing to allow such direct donations (see May 26, 2011 and After). The RNC case echoes a request from Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) that he be allowed to form and direct his own super PAC (see November 23, 2011), and recent remarks by Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) calling for donors to be allowed to contribute unlimited amounts to candidates (see December 21, 2011). The RNC brief claims: “Most corporations are not large entities waiting to flood the political system with contributions to curry influence. Most corporations are small businesses. As the Court noted in Citizens United, ‘more than 75 percent of corporations whose income is taxed under federal law have less than $1 million in receipts per year,’ while ‘96 percent of the 3 million businesses that belong to the US Chamber of Commerce have fewer than 100 employees.’ While the concept of corporate contributions evokes images of organizations like Exxon or Halliburton, with large numbers of shareholders and large corporate treasuries, the reality is that most corporations in the United States are small businesses more akin to a neighborhood store. Yet § 441b does not distinguish between these different types of entities; under § 441b, a corporation is a corporation. As such, it is over-inclusive.” Think Progress legal analyst Ian Millhiser says the RNC is attempting to refocus the discussion about corporate contributions onto “mom and pop stores” and away from large, wealthy corporations willing to donate millions to candidates’ campaigns. If the court finds in favor of the RNC, Millhiser writes: “it will effectively destroy any limits on the amount of money wealthy individuals or corporation[s] can give to candidates. In most states, all that is necessary to form a new corporation is to file the right paperwork in the appropriate government office. Moreover, nothing prevents one corporation from owning another corporation. For this reason, a Wall Street tycoon who wanted to give as much as a billion dollars to fund a campaign could do so simply by creating a series of shell corporations that exist for the sole purpose of evading the ban on massive dollar donations to candidates” (see October 30, 2011). (United States of America v. Danielcytk and Biagi 1/10/2012 pdf file; Millhiser 1/11/2012) The RNC made a similar attempt in 2010, in the aftermath of Citizens United; the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of its rejection. (Liptak 5/3/2010; Tom Goldstein 5/14/2012) Over 100 years of US jurisprudence and legislation has consistently barred corporations from making such unlimited donations (see 1883, 1896, December 5, 1905, 1907, June 25, 1910, 1925, 1935, 1940, March 11, 1957, February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, January 30, 1976, January 8, 1980, March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003). Shortly after the Citizens United ruling, RNC lawyer James Bopp Jr. confirmed that this case, like the Citizens United case and others (see Mid-2004 and After), was part of a long-term strategy to completely dismantle campaign finance law (see January 25, 2010).

Bradley A. Smith, the chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) and a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) during the second Bush administration, writes that the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and the subsequent flood of corporate money into the political campaign continuum (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, March 26, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, June 23, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 23, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, and January 10, 2012) are good for American politics. (Smith 1/13/2012) According to a 2008 press report, Smith co-founded the CCP in 2006 in order to roll back campaign finance regulations, claiming that virtually any regulation is bad for politics. Smith has refused to reveal the financial sponsors that gave him the “seed money” to start the organization. Smith helped win the landmark SpeechNow case (see March 26, 2010) that allowed for the creation of “super PACs,” the organizations that are primarily responsible for flooding the campaign with corporate money. According to law professor Richard Hasen, Smith and the CCP have worked diligently to bring cases like the SpeechNow case to the Supreme Court so that the conservative-dominated Court can “knock them out of the park.” (Cummings 8/12/2008) Smith now writes: “Super PACs are not an evil tolerated under the First Amendment—they are what the First Amendment is all about. A super PAC, after all, is simply a group of citizens pooling resources to speak out about politics.” He claims that super PACs merely “leveled the playing field” after Democrats and Democratic-supporting organizations consistently outfunded Republican campaigns during elections. Super PACs have kept the presidential campaigns of candidates such as Rick Santorum (R-GA—see February 16-17, 2012) and Newt Gingrich (see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012) alive. Smith predicts that Democrats will easily outspend Republicans again once the presidential primary campaign concludes (see Around October 27, 2010), November 1, 2010 and May 5, 2011), but says, “Super PACs, however, will help level the field.” Smith claims that super PACs “disclose all of their expenditures and all of their donors,” and claims that any information to the contrary is wrong, as it is “confusing super PACs with traditional nonprofits such as the NAACP or the Sierra Club.” He concludes: “Super PACs are helping to shatter the old, established order, create more competition, and break the hold of special interests lobbyists—big business actually joined the ‘reform’ community in opposing super PACs in court. Are super PACs harming politics? Of course not. How odd that anyone would think that more political speech was bad for democracy.” (Smith 1/13/2012) The Citizens United decision specifically allows for donors to super PACs to remain anonymous, despite Smith’s claims to the contrary (see January 27-29, 2010, July 26, 2010, July 26-27, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, Mid-October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, April 20, 2011, April 21, 2011 and After, July 12, 2011, and November 18, 2011). Republicans have fought to preserve that anonymity (see July 26-27, 2010, May 26, 2011, July 15, 2011, and July 20, 2011). Smith is correct in saying that traditional nonprofit groups must disclose their donors, though many are apparently failing to do so (see October 12, 2010).

Former Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), now a supporter of Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA), tells a reporter from the liberal news Web site Think Progress that the 2010 Citizens United decision allowing donors to contribute unlimited amounts of money to independent groups supporting individual candidates (see January 21, 2010) is “leveling the playing field” in politics. Reporters Scott Keyes and Travis Waldron call Pawlenty’s comment “a turn of phrase that would give George Orwell satisfaction.” Since the decision, a relatively small number of wealthy corporations and individuals have transformed US politics with their multi-million dollar donations (see January 21-22, 2010, March 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, September 28, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, October 30, 2011, December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, and January 6, 2012). But Pawlenty seemingly believes that campaign finance laws are still too restrictive, and says he believes that donors should be able to make unlimited donations directly to candidates (see December 21, 2011 and January 10, 2012) instead of making those donations to third-party groups. Pawlenty refuses to say the Citizens United decision will help Romney defeat President Obama in the November general election, and instead says that the decision helps “free speech” (see January 21, 2010 and January 22, 2010). Pawlenty continues: “Every time they try to contain speech, it pops up somewhere else. This is just me talking personally, I’m not speaking for Mitt’s position on this. The better position is to allow full and free speech in whatever form, but have instant disclosure.” Keyes asks, “You’re talking completely unlimited donations?” and Pawlenty responds: “We have that now, it’s just a question of where the money gets pushed to the third party groups. This leveling the playing field to some extent because in the past, unions in particular (see June 25, 1943 and June 23, 1947) and other interest groups had an advantage in the old system. Now the playing field’s being leveled a little bit.” He clarifies: “Right now, with super PACs and third party groups, there’s essentially unlimited giving to various aligned super PACs and groups. The point is, the United States Supreme Court has spoken. They have said we’re going to have free speech as it relates to political contributions. The First Amendment should be respected and protected, but I think we should also have full disclosure.” Keyes and Waldron write that billionaire corporate owners such as the Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011) have pledged staggering amounts of money to defeat Obama in the November elections, and conclude, “This massive influx of unregulated campaign spending will almost certainly be the new normal as wealthy individuals and corporations find new ways to influence elections, helped in large part by the now-two year old Citizens United decision.” (Keyes and Waldron 1/21/2012)

Nevada casino owner and billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has already given an unprecedented $5 million to a super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see January 6, 2012), has his wife Miriam donate another $5 million to Gingrich’s super PAC, Winning Our Future. That organization spent over $6 million on “independent expenditures” in the recent South Carolina primary, mostly on attack ads against primary opponent Mitt Romney (R-MA). Winning Our Future outspent all other Republican super PACs involved in that primary, whose expenditures totaled some $5.3 million. The new $5 million contribution will likely go to Gingrich’s campaign efforts in Florida, which is seen as a “must-win” state for Gingrich. Other groups have already spent some $6.4 million in Florida. Think Progress reporter Josh Israel writes: “[T]his contribution will allow the pro-Gingrich super PAC to instantly achieve almost immediate parity.… At this pace, the Adelson family could outspend Gingrich’s competition by themselves.” The Adelson funds come from a joint account; Sheldon Adelson signed the first check and Miriam Adelson signs the second. (Hamburger 1/23/2012; Israel 1/23/2012)

Republican candidates and campaign financiers are beginning to advocate for unlimited donations by wealthy contributors directly to presidential campaigns, using language that is remarkably similar to one another, says Think Progress reporter Scott Keyes. While most Americans disagree with letting so much unregulated and unaccountable money into politics (see January 23, 2012), advocates of direct donations apparently believe that current campaign finance laws, even after the Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010), are still too restrictive. Keyes writes, “The language used by different high-ranking Republicans is so similar that it suggests a certain level of message-coordination on the subject.” He notes a recent statement by Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA—see December 21, 2011), a similar statement by former Republican presidential candidate and current Romney supporter Tim Pawlenty (R-MN—see January 21, 2012), and a January 27 statement by Republican financier Fred Malek (see Mid-October 2010), who told him, “I would favor unlimited contributions to candidates with full disclosure.” Keyes writes that although Romney, Pawlenty, and Malek couple their calls for direct donations with calls for disclosure and transparency, Republicans have consistently voted against measures that would actually bring transparency to campaign finance (see July 26-27, 2010). (Keyes 1/31/2012) The Republican National Committee (RNC) has a lawsuit pending that would legalize unlimited donations directly to candidates (see January 10, 2012).

The Obama campaign reverses its previous policy and begins asking major contributors to donate to a super PAC, Priorities USA, that supports President Obama’s re-election. Previously, the Obama campaign, and Obama himself, had been reluctant to ask for donations for the PAC. Since 2010, Democrats have been worried about the effect of the Republican super PACs on the presidential campaign as well as Congressional and even state and local races, but have been divided on how to respond to the flood of money in support of their Republican opponents (see August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 24, 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, Mid-November 2010, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, and January 6, 2012). Obama campaign spokesman Jim Messina says that Republican-supporting super PACs are collectively expected to spend “half a billion dollars, above and beyond what the Republican nominee and party are expected to commit to try to defeat the president. With so much at stake, we can’t allow for two sets of rules in this election whereby the Republican nominee is the beneficiary of unlimited spending and Democrats unilaterally disarm.… We’re not going to fight this fight with one hand tied behind our back.” Messina also says that Obama is strongly against such campaign finance practices, and supports strong action “by constitutional amendment, if necessary” to once again restrict campaign donations from the wealthy. (In January 2012, Politico reported that Obama was completely opposed to the idea of super PACs, including his own—see January 18, 2012.) Joe Pounder of the Republican National Committee issues a statement harshly critical of the decision, which reads in part, “Yet again, Barack Obama has proven he will literally do anything to win an election, including changing positions on the type of campaign spending he called nothing short of ‘a threat to our democracy.’” So far, super PACs supporting Republican candidates have raised over $50 million, putting the Obama campaign at a distinct disadvantage. New York Democratic fundraiser Robert Zimmerman observes: “It’s hard to pass the plate for super PAC money while Democratic leaders have been preaching about the sins of it. But the reality is, it is essential in 2012.” Campaign and White House officials will appear at fundraisers for Priorities USA, though neither the president nor the first lady will make such appearances. Super PACs, created by the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and a lower court decision in the wake of that ruling (see March 26, 2010), have come to dominate US election activities, particularly in the area of television, radio, and print advertising. Shortly after the Citizens United decision, Obama criticized it during his State of the Union address, saying: “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems” (see January 27-29, 2010). However, Congress has been unable to rein in the super PACs, with the most visible effort, Congressional Democrats’ DISCLOSE Act, being successfully filibustered by Senate Republicans (see July 26-27, 2010). CBS News political expert John Dickerson says the Obama campaign has no choice but to emulate the Republicans: “What the Obama camp saw is these fundraising numbers from last year. The Republicans were able to raise so much money. They also saw what Romney was able to do to Newt Gingrich in Florida, just absolutely bury him under ads, and they started to worry about what this was going to mean for the president in the general election.” Dickerson says that with the public perception of Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA) being so negative, the ads in support of Romney will undoubtedly be quite negative against Obama. Dickerson expects the Obama campaign to retaliate in kind, saying: “Some of the things that Romney had to do to combat those [primary] attacks, he had to get a little bit more negative, seem a little bit more unpleasant as a candidate.… That’s another reason why [Obama] had to make this decision on super PACs: that this is going to be ugly, it’s going to be on the airwaves, and they need to be able to compete.” (Zeleny and Rutenberg 2/6/2012; CBS News 2/7/2012) The Obama campaign’s announcement comes on the same day as news that the Romney campaign has benefited from $1.22 million in funding from oil, gas, and coal corporations (see February 6, 2012).

Saul Anuzis, the chair of Michigan’s Republican Party between 2005 and 2009, and a prime contender to chair the Republican National Committee in 2010 (see November 12, 2010), tells a reporter that he is confident the rise of super PACs and the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) will help the Republicans defeat President Obama in November. “Absolutely, there’s no doubt about it,” he says. “Without those financial resources to compete against an incumbent president who has all the resources to raise money, you could never win.” Data shows that Republican super PAC spending has topped Democratic super PAC spending by a ratio of 7.5 to 1. Many of those Republican super PACs are bankrolled by a very small number of billionaires, such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (see December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, and January 23, 2012), who contributed $11 million in January 2012 to the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA). A relatively small number of wealthy energy interests have also contributed heavily to Republican candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA—see February 6, 2012). (Keyes and Waldron 2/10/2012)

The decision of the Montana Supreme Court to uphold Montana’s ban on corporate donations to political campaigns (see December 30, 2011 and After), which directly contradicts the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), is being appealed to the US Supreme Court. The plaintiffs, American Tradition Partnership (ATP) and the other two corporate entities that joined ATP in the original lawsuit, ask Justice Anthony Kennedy to issue a stay on the Montana high court verdict while the Supreme Court considers the appeal. In their application for a stay, the plaintiffs write: “The Montana Supreme Court held the ban constitutional despite the holding in [the Citizens United decision] that ‘[n]o sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporations.’ Immediate relief is needed to prevent irreparable harm to the corporations’ First Amendment free-speech right. Montana’s primary elections are on June 5, making it vital that planning begin now for independent expenditures before the election.” The application also asks Kennedy to refer the matter to the Court, have it treated as a petition for review, and then summarily reverse the Montana Supreme Court. James Bopp, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, writes, “The lower court’s refusal to follow Citizens United is such an obvious, blatant disregard of its duty to follow this Court’s decisions that summary reversal is proper.” In a statement, Bopp adds: “Unequivocally, Citizens United means that corporate independent expenditure bans are invalid under the United States Constitution. The Montana Supreme Court has shirked its responsibility to follow that decisions and the United States Supreme Court should reverse their ruling.” The other two parties involved as plaintiffs are the Montana Shooting Sports Association and Champion Painting Inc. At least five justices vote to issue the stay, though an official decision to accept the case on appeal is still pending, and the Court has not spoken on the subject of summary reversal. Two justices who dissented from the Citizens United case, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, agree that the Montana Supreme Court’s decision should be reviewed, but in a statement attached to the stay order, add: “Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.’ A petition for certiorari will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway. Because lower courts are bound to follow this Court’s decisions until they are withdrawn or modified, however, I vote to grant the stay.” The stay allows Montana corporations to donate without restriction to super PACs operated on behalf of electoral candidates. (Coyle 2/10/2012; Denniston 2/17/2012; US Supreme Court 2/17/2012 pdf file) The US Supreme Court will strike down the Montana ruling (see June 25, 2012).

Bradley A. Smith, the chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) and a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) during the George W. Bush administration, writes a second editorial for US News and World Report defending “super PACs,” the “independent” political entities responsible for infusing millions of dollars into the political campaign system. Smith wrote an editorial in January 2012 defending super PACs, claiming they are the direct outgrowth of First Amendment free-speech rights and are actually good for the campaign system (see January 13, 2012). However, as in his first editorial, Smith makes a number of false claims to bolster his arguments. Such organizations were created in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) and the following SpeechNow.org decision (see March 26, 2010). He notes, correctly, that until 1974 there were no federal restrictions on super PACs, apparently referring to that year’s amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act (see 1974), though he fails to note that such organizations did not exist until after the SpeechNow decision. He claims that “[t]here is no evidence that super PACs have led to a greater percentage of negative ads” than in earlier presidential campaigns, though he cites no evidence to that effect. He also claims, as he did in the first editorial, that it is false to claim super PACs “spend ‘secret’ money. This is just not true. By law, super PACs are required to disclose their donors. There are groups that have never had to disclose their donors, non-profits such as the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, the NAACP, and the NRA. If you want more disclosure, super PACs are a step forward.” Unfortunately, the Citizens United decision specifically allows donors to super PACs to remain anonymous, despite Smith’s claims to the contrary (see January 27-29, 2010, July 26, 2010, July 26-27, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, Mid-October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, April 20, 2011, April 21, 2011 and After, July 12, 2011, and November 18, 2011). Republicans have fought to preserve that anonymity (see July 26-27, 2010, May 26, 2011, July 15, 2011, and July 20, 2011). As in the first editorial, Smith is correct in saying that traditional nonprofit groups must disclose their donors, though many are apparently failing to do so (see October 12, 2010). He also claims that super PACs increase competition—“level the playing field,” as he wrote in the first editorial—by allowing Republican candidates to equal the spending of their Democratic opponents. In reality, Republicans have outstripped Democrats in outside, super PAC spending since the Citizens United decision (see Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, and May 5, 2011). Smith bolsters his claim by citing direct campaign spending as offsetting “independent” super PAC spending, such as in the 2010 US House race involving incumbent Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who won re-election even after a $500,000 super PAC-driven effort on behalf of his challenger. DeFazio, Smith claims, “outspent his opponent by a sizable margin and won. Still, for the first time in years he had to campaign hard for his constituents’ support. That’s a good thing.” He cites the presidential campaigns of Republican contenders Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012) and Rick Santorum (R-PA—see February 16-17, 2012), which have relied on the contributions of a very few extraordinarily wealthy contributors to keep their candidacies alive against the frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA), whose own super PAC funding is extraordinary (see June 23, 2011). And, he writes, super PAC spending “improves voter knowledge of candidates and issues. Indeed, political ads are frequently a better source of information for voters than news coverage.” The most important benefit of the two Court decisions and the subsequent influx of corporate money into the US election continuum (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, March 26, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, June 23, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 23, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 10, 2012, and January 23, 2012), he writes, “is that they get government out of the business of regulating political speech. Who would say that you can’t spend your own time and money to state your own political beliefs? Vindicating that fundamental First Amendment right is good for democracy.” (Smith 2/17/2012)

Almost a quarter of the millions donated to super PACs so far during the campaign season comes from just five donors, a USA Today analysis shows. Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization. In August 2011, a USA Today analysis showed that a dozen wealthy individuals and corporations contributed over half of the money given to super PACs (see August 4, 2011). Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has called the influence of the supposedly independent organizations corrosively corrupting and extraordinarily dangerous, and correctly predicted that their influence would increase as the campaign season wears on (see January 3, 2012). Four of those donors are:
bullet Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons, who financed the 2004 “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign that vilified presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), has given $12 million to the Republican super PAC “American Crossroads” and $2.2 million to super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates;
bullet Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who with his wife Miriam has given $10 million to “Winning the Future,” the super PAC supporting Republican candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012), and who says he is willing to donate up to $100 million more to keep Gingrich in the race (see February 21, 2012);
bullet Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who has given $2.6 million to “Endorse Liberty,” a super PAC backing Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and his presidential campaign;
bullet Houston real estate developer Bob Perry, who has given $3.6 million to super PACs, including $2.5 million to American Crossroads. Perry formerly backed Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) and former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) in the presidential primaries, but has now shifted his allegiance to frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA).
Republican organizations have vastly outraised their Democratic counterparts, though so far much of the money spent by Republican organizations has been to attack Republican presidential candidates during the primary campaigns. Indeed, some political observers say that Romney would have secured the nomination long ago if not for the billionaires supporting other Republican candidates. “Without the flow of super PAC money, the Republican race would be over,” says campaign finance expert Anthony Corrado. “Super PACs have become a vehicle for a very small number of millionaires and billionaires who are willing to spend large sums in pursuit of their political agenda.” Political scientist Cal Jillson says of the billionaires contributing these huge sums: “They are extremely wealthy people who put their resources behind their vision of the appropriate relationship between the government and the private sector. That vision is low taxes, small government, and personal responsibility.” The super PAC working on behalf of President Obama, “Priorities USA,” collected $2 million in late 2011 from Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, but since then has raised relatively paltry amounts in comparison to its Republican counterparts. It raised a mere $59,000 in January 2012, most of that made up of a $50,000 contribution from John Rogers, CEO of Arial Investments and a close friend of Obama. (Schouten, Korte, and Schnaars 2/21/2012) The USA Today analysis is congruent with a recent analysis by Robert Reich, the former Treasury Secretary under President Clinton (see February 21, 2012).

Author and political science professor Richard Hasen provides data showing that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) is directly responsible for a huge rise in corporate “outside” spending on behalf of political campaigns. Recent arguments in defense of the decision have said that “super PACs,” the “independent” political entities that take corporate, labor union, and individual donations for the purpose of making television ads in support of, or opposition to, a particular candidate or party (see March 26, 2010, June 23, 2011, November 23, 2011, January 4, 2012, January 4, 2012, and February 20, 2012) were not created by the Court’s decision, and therefore Citizens United cannot be held responsible for the enormous surge in spending since the decision was rendered. The arguments equate older “527” organizations (see 2000 - 2005, March 2000 and After, and June 30, 2000) and the enormous donations made on their behalf (see January - November 2004) with the activities of super PACs after the Citizens United decision. “The purpose of the drumbeat appears to be to insulate the Supreme Court from further criticism of the Frankenstein’s monster they’ve created,” Hasen writes. He shows that the two types of organizations—527s and super PACs—are quite different. “It is true that before Citizens United people could spend unlimited sums on independent advertising directly supporting or opposing candidates,” Hasen explains. “But that money had to be spent by the individual directly. It could not be given to a political action committee, which had an individual contribution cap of $5,000 and could not take corporate or union funding. In many cases, wealthy individuals did not want to spend their own money on advertising, which would say, ‘Paid for by Sheldon Adelson’ or ‘Paid for by George Soros,’ so fewer of these ads were made. The only way to avoid having your name plastered across every ad was to give to the 527s, which claimed they could take unlimited money from individuals (including, sometimes, corporate and labor union money) on grounds that they were not PACs under the FEC’s definition of PACs. These organizations were somewhat successful, but a legal cloud always hung over them.” After Citizens United, courts and the Federal Election Commission ruled that super PACs could collect unlimited sums from corporations, unions, and individuals for unlimited independent spending. Hasen writes: “The theory was that, per Citizens United, if independent spending cannot corrupt, then contributions to fund independent spending cannot corrupt either. (I am quite critical of this theory about corruption, but that’s besides the point here.) So what was once of questionable legality before the court’s decision was fully blessed after Citizens United.” Using data from the Center for Responsive Politics and its OpenSecrets (.org) Web site, Hasen compares spending during presidential election years.
bullet 1992: Wealthy individuals, organizations, and corporations are allowed to spend unlimited sums (see January 30, 1976). Outside spending in that campaign, up through early March 1992, was about $1.5 million.
bullet 2000: The law remains essentially unchanged. By March 2000, outside spending was around $2.6 million.
bullet 2004: With the advent of “527” groups, by March 2004, outside spending rose to $14 million.
bullet 2008: Under similar conditions as 2004, by March 2008, outside spending rose to $37.5 million.
bullet 2012: In the first presidential campaign year after the Citizens United decision, spending as of early March 2012 is over $88 million.
2012 outside spending is at 234 percent of 2008 spending, and 628 percent of 2004 outside spending. Hasen writes, “If this was not caused by Citizens United, we have a mighty big coincidence on our hands.” Hasen expects outside spending to rise dramatically once the Republican primary is concluded and the presumptive Republican nominee begins campaigning against President Obama. “Wait until the super PACs and other organizations start raising their unlimited sums for the general election,” Hasen warns. “Further, lots of groups are now using 501(c) organizations rather than super PACs for their campaign spending, in an effort to hide their donors.” Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that during the 2010 midterm elections, spending from groups that used the law to hide their donors rose from 1 percent in 2006 to 47 percent. Moreover, “501(c) non-profit spending increased from 0 percent of total spending by outside groups in 2006 to 42 percent in 2010.” And 72 percent “of political advertising spending by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006.” The record-breaking spending in the 2008 presidential election—$301 million—was eclipsed in the first post-Citizens United election, the 2010 midterms, when corporate and other outside spending topped out at $304.6 million. Hasen writes: “It was an incredible number for a midterm election season. Why did that happen? Citizens United was decided early in 2010.” (Hasen 3/9/2012)

The liberal news Web site Think Progress cites the two-year anniversary of the SpeechNow.org v. Federal Elections Commission ruling (see March 26, 2010), which allowed the creation of “super PACs,” or “independent expenditure” organizations. Think Progress writes, “Combined with the unlimited corporate expenditures enabled by the Supreme Court’s earlier Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), this case brought the campaign finance system to where it is now: more than $80 million spent already this cycle by super PACs and more than two-thirds of their funding coming from just 46 rich donors.” $67 million of the $80 million spent so far comes from 46 extraordinarily wealthy citizens. Almost all of them are owners and/or senior executives of oil and energy companies, hoteliers, and financial executives. Almost all are white and male. And almost all of them contribute to conservative and Republican-supporting groups (see February 21, 2012). John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity says, “We’re looking at a singularly weird phenomenon.” The super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA), himself a former financial services CEO, is primarily funded by Wall Street executives, mostly private equity and hedge fund executives. One major Romney contributor, hedge fund manager John Paulson, has contributed $1 million. Paulson made enormous profits in 2008 by investing funds in ventures based on the mortgage industry collapse. Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics says, “The financial sector is one where there’s a lot of money, and it’s a sector with which Romney is very familiar, so it’s not surprising that it would be a big source of contributions.” Other Republican candidates such as Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Ron Paul (R-TX) also garner big contributions from billionaires. Gingrich is primarily funded by casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who makes much of his money in Las Vegas and China’s Macau. Paul has the backing of billionaire Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and Santorum is primarily supported by billionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012)—arguably all three candidates’ campaigns are being supported by single donors who decide whether their campaigns will continue by virtue of granting or withholding donations. Attorney Paul S. Ryan of Campaign Legal Center says: “We’ve had a small group of donors maintain the viability of certain candidates. It’s an Alice in Wonderland situation. It defies logic.… American elections are funded by a very narrow range of special interests, and that has the effect of making our democracy look a lot more like a plutocracy.” Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says it is sometimes difficult to discern the motivations behind billionaires’ funding of certain candidates, but billionaire Harold Simmons, who made his fortune in leveraged buyouts and corporate takeovers, says he is funding conservative super PACs because President Obama is a “socialist.” The Wall Street Journal has noted that Simmons and others like him would profit greatly if their industries were less regulated by government agencies. If Republicans do well in the November elections, Simmons told the Journal that “we can block that crap [regulations].” Conservative super PACs are far outstripping the super PAC backing the Obama re-election campaign as well as other Democrats running for office. Mann says, “The pool of billionaires who can throw tens of millions into the game—and are inclined to do so—is concentrated on the right.” Obama has so far been reluctant to get involved in his super PAC’s fundraising activities, but recent statements by his campaign indicate that White House aides will try to help Priorities USA Action, the Obama super PAC, raise more money in the near future. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina says the Obama campaign is in danger of being overwhelmed by the fundraising from conservative billionaires. CNN states that the most notable effect of super PAC funding might not be on the presidential race, but on “downticket” races for Congress. Much smaller outlays of super PAC money can have extraordinary impacts on such races. Dunbar says, “An individual donor and a super PAC could go off to some district in Kentucky and just completely destroy some candidate because he doesn’t favor what’s good for your business.” (Think Progress 3/26/2012; CNN 3/26/2012; Stone 6/16/2012)

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the co-author of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA—see March 27, 2002), criticizes the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that gutted the BCRA and allows corporations and labor unions to make unlimited contributions to election and campaign activities (see January 21, 2010). In a panel discussion, McCain calls the ruling “a combination of arrogance, naivete, and stupidity, the likes of which I have never seen.” He goes on to predict scandals as a result of the ruling enabling unlimited corporate contributions and a lack of disclosure surrounding those contributions (see October 2010, June 23, 2011, October 30, 2011, and December 19, 2011), saying: “I promise you this. I promise you there will be huge scandals… because there’s too much money washing around, too much of it… we don’t know who, who contributed it, and there is too much corruption associated with that kind of money. There will be major scandals.” Asked if he intends to give up on passing campaign reform legislation, he answers: “No. But I’ve got to wait until we think that can pass legislation. And I’m not sure right now, frankly, that we could get it passed.” The next day, Josh Israel of the liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that McCain is somewhat responsible for the inability of Congress to pass meaningful campaign finance legislation. He refused to vote for the Democratically-sponsored DISCLOSE Act (see July 26-27, 2010), decrying it as “a bailout for the unions.” Had McCain voted with Senate Democrats to end the Senate Republican filibuster against the DISCLOSE Act, the bill could have been brought to the floor for an up or down vote. Israel calls McCain’s “grumbling” about campaign finance regulation “little more than grandstanding.” (Israel 3/28/2012)

American Energy Alliance logo.American Energy Alliance logo. [Source: NJI Media]The press learns that a recent $3.6 million television ad campaign attacking President Obama on gasoline prices was funded by the oil billionaires Charles and David Koch (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011 and February 14, 2011). The ad campaign was launched by the American Energy Alliance (AEA), the political arm of the Institute for Energy Research. Both organizations are heavily funded by the Koch brothers and their donor network, though information about their finances is sketchy, as the groups do not have to disclose their donor rolls to the public. The two groups are run by Tom Pyle, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. Pyle regularly attends what news Web site Politico calls “the mega-donor summits organized by the Koch brothers.” Koch-funded organizations intend to spend well over $200 million on behalf of conservative groups before the November elections. The AEA ad claims that the Obama administration is responsible for the recent surge in gasoline prices. Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesman Brad Woodhouse says that the Koch brothers are “funding yet another shadowy outside group to defend the interests of Big Oil and protect their own tax breaks and profits with [Republican presumptive presidential nominee] Mitt Romney being the ultimate beneficiary.” The DNC and the Obama campaign have targeted the Koch brothers in previous statements, calling them some of the “secretive oil billionaires” funding the Romney campaign. AEA spokesman Benjamin Cole accuses the DNC and the Obama campaign of playing “shadowy” politics intended “to delay, deny, and deceive the American public about the president’s record on energy prices.” The AEA ad is not connected to the Romney campaign, Cole says, and adds that the ad campaign is not intended to benefit Romney, stating, “[W]e have been public and unashamed of criticizing Mitt Romney or any candidate for office, Republican or Democrat, that doesn’t support free market energy solutions.” Cole refuses to confirm that the Koch brothers are financing the ad campaign, instead saying: “People ask if Koch is behind this ad. There is only one person behind this ad and it is President Barack Obama.” The Koch brothers are becoming increasingly involved in the 2012 presidential campaign, sending representatives like Marc Short to network with former Bush advisor Karl Rove, who runs the super PAC American Crossroads and its sibling Crossroads GPS. (Vogel 3/29/2012)

The Washington Post reports that an anonymous donor gave the political advocacy organization Crossroads GPS $10 million to run television ads attacking President Obama and Democratic policies, part of the almost $77 million in secret donations the group has received. It also received another $10 million from an anonymous donor to use during the 2010 midterm elections. The Post says the donations are emblematic of “the money race that is defining the 2012 presidential campaign.” According to data provided by the Center for Public Integrity, $76.8 million of the money raised in 2010 and 2011—62 percent—was secretly contributed to Crossroads GPS. The money came from fewer than 100 individual donors, which works out as an average donation of over $750,000; 90 percent of its donors gave over $1 million in individual donations. Crossroads GPS is a conservative nonprofit 501(c)(4) group co-founded by former Bush administration political advisor Karl Rove. The information about the donations comes from draft tax returns that provide a limited insight into the donations received by the group. Under the law (see January 21, 2010 and March 26, 2010), Crossroads GPS is not required to identify its donors. The Post says it is possible both donations came from the same source, but it has no way to confirm that supposition.
Explanations and Criticisms - Crossroads GPS is the sister organization of American Crossroads, the super PAC also co-founded by Rove. The two groups share the same president (Steven Law), the same spokesperson, the same staffers, and the same mailing address. Together, they have raised $100 million for the 2012 election cycle and have already run millions of dollars of television ads. Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio says that the organization “advocates for free markets, free trade, limited government, and personal responsibility.” The group’s donors are “individuals and businesses that support our vision of lower taxes and smaller government. We believe President Obama’s tax and regulatory policies are strangling economic growth through excessive regulation and government spending that is crowding out private investment.” Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for transparency in government and politics, says that the two groups are “certainly not a grassroots movement.… These donors can have a very disproportionate effect on politics, and the fact that we don’t know who they are and what kind of favors they will ask for is very troubling.” Allison speculates that some of the anonymous Crossroads GPS donors may be large public corporations, which according to the Post have “for the most part… not donated to super PACs or other groups that disclose donors.” American Crossroads is required to disclose its donors, which include Texas billionaire Harold Simmons ($12 million) and Texas home builder Bob Perry ($2.5 million). The Republican Jewish Coalition has identified itself on its tax returns as a donor to Crossroads GPS, having given $4 million to the organization. (Crossroads GPS donated back $250,000.) Sunlight and other critics have questioned Crossroads GPS’s status as a nonprofit “social welfare” group. Under IRS regulations, such groups cannot have as their primary purpose influencing elections, but they can spend up to half their money on political campaigning. The group has asked the IRS to grant it tax-exempt status. Critics have asked the IRS to revoke the group’s nonprofit status, saying that it is patently a political organization. A complaint filed by the Campaign Law Center and Democracy 21 in December 2011 said in part, “We are deeply concerned about the failure of the IRS to take any public steps to show that the agency is prepared to enforce the tax laws.” Crossroads GPS claims it has spent $17 million on direct election activities and $27 million on “grassroots issue advocacy,” including a $16 million expenditure in the summer of 2011 on ads pushing against tax increases during debate on raising the debt ceiling (see August 5, 2011). It has also given some $16 million to a network of conservative advocacy groups, including $4 million to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), $3.7 million to the National Federation of Independent Business, and $2 million to the National Right to Life Committee. According to Crossroads GPS, all of its donation recipients are instructed to use the funds “only for exempt purposes and not for political expenditures.” In 2010, ATR spent $4 million—almost exactly the amount it received from Crossroads GPS—on political ads in 2010. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) says that even if ATR did not spend the Crossroads GPS money on ads, the donation allowed it to divert $4 million of its own money to election ads. “It’s the same amount—does that seem likely to be a coincidence to you?” she asks a reporter. An ATR spokesperson says the Crossroads GPS donation was “in support of our work fighting tax hikes.” (Farnam 4/13/2012; iWatch News 4/20/2012; Israel 4/20/2012)
High Compensation - Steven Law, the former deputy secretary of labor under President Bush and the former general counsel for the US Chamber of Commerce who serves as the president of both organizations, pulled down $1.1 million in salaries and bonuses for the two groups. Collegio explains the high compensation to a reporter, saying: “Crossroads is a serious organization. Free market conservative donors know that hiring top CEO talent requires real compensation.” (iWatch News 4/20/2012)

USA Today, using data provided by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), reports that much of the unprecedentedly high political contributions in the 2012 presidential campaigns comes from anonymous donors. The report also shows that eight out of the top 10 donors give to Republican and/or conservative super PACs. The pattern is similar to that described in earlier reports, such as an August 2011 report that found a dozen wealthy donors made up the majority of super PAC donations, and most of those donors contributed to Republican or conservative organizations (see August 4, 2011), and a February 2012 analysis that found a quarter of the donations flowing into the super PACs came from just five wealthy donors, four of whom are Republican contributors (see February 21, 2012). The latest data shows that eight out of 10 of the top super PAC donors are either individuals or corporations who donate to Republican causes. One of the remaining two donors, the Cooperative of American Physicians, supports a single Democratic candidate and a range of Republicans. The other is a teachers’ union, the National Education Association. The top three donors—casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons and his wife Annette, and Houston real-estate mogul Bob Perry—have between them contributed over $45 million, more than four times the donations coming from the “bottom” six donors. Much of the money collected by nonprofit political advocacy organizations remains undocumented; for example, 80 percent of the donations collected by the Republican-aligned American Crossroads super PAC and its 501(c)4 sister organization Crossroads GPS is from anonymous donors (see April 13-20, 2012). The groups plan on spending at least $300 million during the campaign. FreedomWorks for America, the super PAC arm of the “astroturf” lobbying organization FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), garnered about a third of its contributions from anonymous donors who gave to the organization’s nonprofit arm. Law professor and campaign finance expert Richard Hasen says, “We have a dysfunctional system for financing our elections,” when anonymous donations can fund political activity. “It’s bad for our democracy when people refuse to be held accountable.” Russ Walker, the national political director of FreedomWorks for America, says simply, “Everything we are doing is within the law.” (Schouten and Schnaars 4/22/2012; Millhiser 4/23/2012)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the US Chamber of Commerce file amicus curiae briefs with the US Supreme Court urging it to reverse the Montana Supreme Court’s support for Montana’s ban on corporate financing of political campaigns (see December 30, 2011 and After). The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) has already filed such a brief. Former officials of the ACLU, along with advocacy groups such as Free Speech for People, have filed an amicus brief asking the Court to review the decision. Many observers have predicted the Court will overturn the Montana high court’s ruling (see January 4, 2012) because it seems to conflict with the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010), but a summary reversal—in essence, a decision without allowing the two sides to present arguments—would be somewhat unusual. Four justices are required to accept the case for review, while five must vote for summary judgment. The Court issued a stay on the Montana court’s decision soon after its issuance (see February 10-17, 2012). The case is American Tradition Partnership, et al., v. Bullock. CU lawyers have asked the Court to protect the ruling it issued in the case bearing its name, accusing the Montana court of “constitutional mischief” and advising the Court to “reaffirm its position as the final arbiter of the Constitution’s meaning” by summarily reversing the Montana court’s decision. On the other side, the ACLU officials and other briefs have urged the Court to review its Citizens United decision, saying the ruling is “in serious doubt” because of “massive” spending in the 2012 federal campaigns “by corporations and wealthy elites.” The Free Speech for People brief focuses on the issue of spending by “independent” outside groups and individuals since the Citizens United decision (see January 21-22, 2010, March 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, September 28, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, October 30, 2011, December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 10, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, and March 26, 2012), and says the massive spending undercuts the rationale for the decision: “In view of the increasingly dominant role of corporate and private independent expenditures in our electoral politics, this Court should grant certiorari and reexamine whether its long-standing precedent permitting regulations designed to prevent the use of wealth from drowning out other voices provides an additional basis for upholding restrictions on independent expenditures.” The Free Speech for People brief also argues that the Court should use the American Tradition Partnership case to rule that corporations are not entitled to the protections of the First Amendment free speech clause or other provisions in the Bill of Rights. CU lawyers have argued that the Citizens United decision is not the issue, but the Montana high court’s decision to uphold its state ban on unlimited corporate spending because of what the CU brief calls “Montana’s supposedly unique history, geography, politics, and economy.” The CU brief continued, “The Montana Supreme Court’s state-specific analysis makes this case an exceedingly poor vehicle to reexamine the broader constitutional questions settled in Citizens United.” The US Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United should bind Montana as well as the other 49 states, the CU brief argued, saying that “state courts—like federal courts—have an unwavering obligation to uphold the Constitution of the United States and follow this Court’s decisions until they are withdrawn or modified.… They are not freed from that constitutional obligation where the decision of this Court is controversial or unpopular, where it was rendered by a divided Court, or where state officials disagree with the decisions as a matter of policy.” Instead, the brief claimed, Montana’s high court has promulgated “a transparent attempt to circumvent the application of this Court’s precedent to a state statute that is materially indistinguishable from the federal prohibition on corporate independent expenditures struck down by this Court in Citizens United. Such constitutional mischief should proceed no further.” The liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that Senator McConnell, who files a brief urging summary reversal today, has argued against campaign finance reform for a decade, and was one of the plaintiffs in an unsuccessful 2002 lawsuit attempting to reverse a legislative ban on corporate donations (see December 10, 2003). And, it notes, the US Chamber of Commerce is one of the biggest donors in the 2012 elections. (Lyle Denniston 5/1/2012; Millhiser 5/2/2012) The Supreme Court will indeed overrule the Montana high court’s decision (see June 25, 2012).

A screenshot from an ad attacking Mitt Romney, sponsored by a super PAC on behalf of Newt Gingrich.A screenshot from an ad attacking Mitt Romney, sponsored by a super PAC on behalf of Newt Gingrich. [Source: Think Progress]The Wesleyan Media Project (WMP), a nonpartisan political analysis group working out of Connecticut’s Wesleyan University, finds that negative political advertising has become the mainstay of political broadcast advertising in the 2012 presidential campaign. Only about 8 percent of ads in the 2008 presidential campaign could be considered negative, the WMP writes, but in 2012, 70 percent of ads are negative. (The WMP defines negative as “mentioning an opponent.”) Erika Franklin Fowler, the WMP’s co-director, says: “One reason the campaign has been so negative is the skyrocketing involvement of interest groups, who have increased their activity by 1,100 percent over four years ago. But we cannot attribute the negativity solely to outside groups. Even the candidates’ own campaigns have taken a dramatic negative turn.” Interest-group advertising, i.e. ads financed by “independent” third-party organizations that support one candidate or another, were 75 percent positive in 2008, but only 14 percent positive in 2012. In 2008, ads financed directly by candidate campaigns were 9 percent negative, but this year are 53 percent negative.
Huge Spike in Third-Party Advertising from 2008 - Almost two-thirds of the ads aired in 2012 are paid for by “third party” organizations such as super PACs and “nonprofit” groups. Super PACs alone have financed 60 percent of the ads during this cycle; that figure for 2008 was 8 percent. The WMP writes: “An estimated $112M [million] has been spent to date on 207,000 ads compared to $190M spent on just under 300,000 ads in 2008. Much of this decline in spending and ad volume is due to the lack of a nomination contest on the Democratic side this year.” The project refers to the Republican presidential primary, which is featuring massive spending on behalf of candidates by third-party organizations. “Such levels of outside group involvement in a presidential primary campaign are unprecedented,” according to co-director Travis Ridout. “This is truly historic. To see 60 percent of all ads in the race to-date sponsored by non-candidates is eye-popping.” One of the most prominent organizations, the nonprofit Crossroads GPS (see April 13-20, 2012), has already aired some 17,000 ads, mostly attacking President Obama. Those ads are joined by commercials paid for by another conservative advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, and November 2009), which has aired some 7,000 ads. The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) have combined to air some 20,342 ads. WMP data shows that 33,420 anti-Obama, pro-Republican spots have aired as opposed to 25,516 anti-Republican, pro-Obama ads.
Most Ads Paid for by Anonymous Donations - Unlike the majority of the ads that aired in the primary election, most of the ads airing for the general election have “come from groups that do not need to disclose their donors,” according to WMP co-founder Michael M. Franz. “That’s a lot of money and airtime backed by undisclosed sources.” Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Jon Huntsman (R-UT), Mitt Romney (R-MA), and Rick Santorum (R-PA) were very reliant on super PAC advertising, with Ron Paul (R-TX) less so. About 20 percent of ads aired on Obama’s behalf have come from his super PAC, Priorities USA Action, though the DNC has aired a number of ads on behalf of Obama. Priorities USA Action is answering negative ads from Crossroads GPS with its own advertising, mainly in “battleground” states such as Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, and Nevada. Ridout says: “Early general election spending reveals that both parties are focused on markets in the same key battleground states. The past couple of weeks, Obama and his super PAC have been on the air in a few more markets than Crossroads GPS, but both sides have focused their advertising in markets in Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, and Ohio.” Groups such as the conservative Club for Growth, the American Action Network (AAN—see Mid-October 2010), and AFP are airing ads in Senate races in Florida, Indiana, and Nebraska. And some $6 million in advertising has flooded Wisconsin and its gubernatorial recall election involving Governor Scott Walker (R-WI). Walker and the super PAC supporting him, Right Direction Wisconsin PAC (an arm of the Republican Governors’ Association), have outspent their Democratic opponents; of the 17,000 ads aired in Wisconsin about the recall election, 10,000 have either been pro-Walker or negative ads attacking the recall and Walker’s challengers. Franz says: “Wisconsinites have been inundated with advertising surrounding the gubernatorial recall election. Walker and his allies hold a substantial advantage to date in the air war in all markets except Madison, and the incumbent governor’s ads have been more positive than his competitors’ ads.” The liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that the 2010 Citizens United decision is largely responsible for the increased spending by third-party groups (see January 21, 2010). (Fowler 5/2/2012; Strasser 5/3/2012)

Writing for the Atlantic Wire, John Hudson notes the angry draft dissent penned by retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter in the process of the Citizens United decision that accused Chief Justice John Roberts “of engineering the outcome of the” case, as revealed in a New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin (see May 14, 2012). Hudson says that while many people would be interested in Souter’s unpublished dissent, they will not be able to read it any time soon. Souter has donated all of his Court documents to the New Hampshire Historical Society, where they will remain closed for 50 years. Law professor Richard Hasen makes a similar observation on his Election Law Blog. He also notes that Toobin’s account verifies much of his previous speculation as to why the Court chose to re-argue the case rather than issue an opinion after the first set of arguments (see March 15, 2009, June 29, 2009, and September 9, 2009)—Roberts and the other conservatives wanted to establish a clear guideline in the arguments for overturning campaign finance law. Hasen writes, “Perhaps one day in my lifetime some justice’s papers (but not Justice Souter’s) will reveal Justice Souter’s draft dissent.” (Hudson 5/14/2012; Rick Hasen 5/14/2012) Two days later, Hasen writes a column urging Souter, or another justice such as the also-retired John Paul Stevens, to release Souter’s draft dissent, even as he concedes such an event is unlikely to happen. Hasen says that Souter’s dissent may cast light on the pending Supreme Court decision over the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to “thumb… its nose at Citizens United by holding that Montana could bar corporate money from elections, given the state’s history of corruption” (see April 30, 2012). Hasen says although it is all but certain the Court will reverse the Montana high court’s decision, “Justice Souter was one of the Court’s most passionate and articulate thinkers about campaign finance, and his dissent in Citizens United likely makes a top-notch argument for the constitutionality of corporate spending limits—an argument that’s directly relevant to the Montana case. Airing his dissent could help arguments against Citizens United we already have, in the published dissent of Justice Stevens, which is somewhat meandering and ineffective—not one of his best. Souter’s retirement is no reason for him to keep quiet.… Justice Souter cares deeply about campaign finance—why not make this his continuing cause?” Hasen continues: “The Souter opinion also might reveal just how far the conservative justices on the Supreme Court were willing to go to reach out and grab Citizens United. The Court is decidedly not a place in which justice-umpires simply call balls and strikes, and Souter could remind us of that in the run-up to June’s rulings on health care reform and Arizona’s immigration law. Better to have a clear understanding of how ideology plays into some of the Court’s decisions than to preserve an illusion of pure lawyerly analysis.” Hasen concludes that releasing the dissent “isn’t about airing the Court’s dirty laundry. It’s about telling the truth about how the Court handed down Citizens United and making the best argument for why it should be overturned—and that would be a real public service.” (Hasen 5/16/2012)

Ed Whelan of the conservative National Review is highly critical of a recent article by the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin about the internal decision-making process behind the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010 and May 14, 2012). Elements of Toobin’s narrative have already been questioned by law professors Thomas Goldstein and Jonathan Adler (see May 14, 2012), though both professors are generally supportive of the article and recommend it for reading. In his first article, Whelan writes that the evidence “doesn’t support his thesis,” and promises a followup article that addresses “some of Toobin’s wild distortions about” the decision, including what he calls Toobin’s “baseless libel” against Chief Justice John Roberts, referencing Toobin’s implication that Roberts engineered the sweeping campaign finance reform of the decision in order to aid Republican candidates. Whelan interprets Toobin’s evidence to say that it shows Justice Anthony Kennedy, not Roberts, enlarged the scope of the Citizens United decision; however, Whelan believes neither interpretation. Some of Toobin’s interpretation of events hinges on a draft dissent penned by Justice David Souter that was withdrawn after Roberts agreed to let the case be re-argued (see June 29, 2009 and September 9, 2009). Whelan implies that he doubts the existence of such a dissent, an implication that cannot be disproven, as Souter sealed his Court records after his retirement (see May 14-16, 2012). If the dissent does exist, Whelan doubts that Toobin has read it. He concludes by casting aspersions on Toobin’s assertion that Roberts engineered the results of the decision “without leaving his own fingerprints.” Roberts cast the deciding vote in the 5-4 split, Whelan notes, and adds that Roberts did not entirely escape criticism for the ruling after it was issued. (Whelan 5/15/2012)
Part Two - The next day, Whelan publishes the second part of the article, and condemns Toobin for asserting that Roberts crafted the decision with the intention of helping Republican candidates in upcoming elections. He calls the assertion “scurrilous,” and says Toobin presents “not an iota of evidence” for the claim. Whelan then writes that no evidence exists to show that the decision has helped Republican candidates more than Democrats (see November 1, 2010 and January 21, 2012), apparently ignoring two years’ worth of evidence showing that in the wake of decisions, outside funding of Republican candidates has swamped Democrats’ efforts to retain parity (see August 2, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, October 30, 2010, Mid-November 2010, January 26, 2011 and After, March 2011, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 8, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 6, 2012, January 23, 2012, February 6, 2012, February 9, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 9, 2012, March 26, 2012, Late March 2012, April 13-20, 2012, April 22, 2012, and May 2, 2012). He cites an article by Weekly Standard contributor Andrew Ferguson that denies the “rich and powerful” donate more to Republicans than Democrats, where the only “evidence” Ferguson cited was his assertion that “Democrats are the party of what Democrats used to call the superrich. Only Democrats seem not to realize this.” (Whelan 5/16/2012)
Final Thoughts - Whelan’s final article on the subject approvingly cites an equally negative critique of the Toobin article from Weekly Standard writer Adam White (see May 17, 2012), and insults law professor Richard Hasen’s perspective on the matter (see May 14-16, 2012); after noting that Hasen is a “[l]aw professor and election-law expert,” Whelan advises Hasen to read White’s column more closely. He also derides the idea that the Souter dissent is “secret,” noting that it would have been circulated among the other eight justices, and Justice John Paul Stevens would have had it available to him for his own published dissent. He then quotes Hasen’s critique of Stevens’s “somewhat meandering and ineffective” dissent, turns the phrasing around to insult Souter’s writing style, and says that Souter’s dissent may “reflect… too much of Souter’s draft dissent.” In attacking Hasen’s request for Souter to release the dissent, he contradicts himself by noting that the dissent is “confidential case information” that should remain out of public view. (Whelan 5/17/2012)

Columnist Adam White, writing for the conservative Weekly Standard, lambasts a recent article by the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin about the internal decision-making process behind the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010 and May 14, 2012). Most publications describe the decision as allowing corporations and labor unions to spend money freely in campaigns, but White defines it differently, calling it an affirmation of “a corporation’s First Amendment right to spend money on independent speech on political issues, even when that speech criticizes candidates for office” (see January 21, 2010, January 22, 2010, and February 2, 2010). Law professors Tom Goldstein and Jonathan Adler have found some “spin” in Toobin’s account of events (see May 14, 2012), and law professor Richard Hasen has asked that a draft dissent highly critical of the decision and its methodology be made public to shed light on Toobin’s narrative (see May 14-16, 2012). However, White goes significantly further than any of the professors in tarring Toobin’s article, and in some instances Toobin himself. White writes flatly that everyone outside of “Toobin’s base,” presumably meaning liberals who comprise “Chief Justice [John] Roberts’s critics,” is “skeptical” of the article, and cites Goldstein and National Review columnist Ed Whelan (see May 15-17, 2012) as examples of those presumed skeptics who have “poured cold water” on the story. According to White, Toobin “front-load[ed] his story with easily disprovable mischaracterizations of the case” that [e]ven a cursory review of the case’s briefs, and contemporary news coverage, disproves Toobin’s thesis” of Roberts using a narrowly drawn case to revamp and invalidate most of US campaign finance law. White writes that Toobin’s characterization of the narrow focus of the case is wrong: “The First Amendment stakes were well known, and much discussed, in the run-up to oral argument.” He cites the New York Times editorial published at the time of the first arguments, in March 2009 (see March 23, 2009), warning that if the Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, “it would create an enormous loophole in the law and allow corporate money to flood into partisan politics in ways it has not in many decades. It also would seriously erode the disclosure rules for campaign contributions.” He also notes that respected court reporter Lyle Denniston warned before the oral arguments that the Citizens United case threatened to deliver “a sweeping rejection of Congressional authority to regulate campaign spending by corporations.” Toobin himself made some of the same arguments on CNN the day of the arguments, White notes. He calls Toobin’s version of events in the article a “clumsy fictionalization of the case” designed to vilify Roberts. He also questions Toobin’s characterization of the first arguments from Citizens United (CU) lawyer Theodore Olson, going considerably further than either Goldstein or Adler in accusing Toobin of fundamentally misrepresenting Olson’s original, narrowly focused case. According to White, Olson’s opening argument claimed that the restriction being challenged by CU was “unconstitutional as applied to the distribution of Citizens United’s documentary film through video on demand… [it] plainly exceeds Congress’s sharply limited authority to abridge the freedom of speech.” White claims that Olson cited First Amendment grounds in a portion of the arguments not reported by Toobin, and quotes from Olson’s argument; that quote describes Olson’s citation of the 2007 case Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL—see Mid-2004 and After and June 25, 2007), which indeed used First Amendment grounds for its successful positioning, and quotes Olson as saying the WRTL decision “errs on the side of permitting the speech, not prohibiting the speech.” White accuses Toobin of deliberately misrepresenting Olson’s argument to “advanc[e] his own anti-Roberts narrative.” White is unable to check the accuracy of Toobin’s behind-the-scenes narrative, as Toobin’s sources are not revealed in the article, but White is “skeptical,” writing, “Given Toobin’s inability of accurately handling straightforward, easily confirmable facts, why should anyone take at face value Toobin’s description of the justices’ private discussions, and their draft opinions—especially when Toobin only describes, never quotes, those deliberations or draft opinions?” Like Adler, Toobin questions the ethics of the person or persons at the Court who “leaked” the story to Toobin. (White 5/17/2012)

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia join a brief filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asking the US Supreme Court to reaffirm Montana’s ban on corporate spending. The brief is in response to an upcoming Court hearing on the Montana Supreme Court’s upholding of the Montana ban, which contradicts the 2010 Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010, December 30, 2011 and After, January 4, 2012, February 10-17, 2012, and April 30, 2012). The brief is signed by Schneiderman, a Democrat, and 22 other attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans. In the brief, Schneiderman writes, “The Montana law at issue here, like many other state laws regulating corporate campaign expenditures in state and local elections, is sharply different from the federal law struck down in Citizens United, and the Court need not revise its ruling in Citizens United in order to sustain the challenged Montana law.” Referring to briefs asking the Court to reverse the Montana high court ruling without a review, Schneiderman writes, “Even if the challenged Montana law were identical to the federal statute struck down in Citizens United—and, as shown below, it is far from identical—disposing of this case on the merits would require a fully considered analysis that takes these constitutional distinctions into account.” The states with Democratic attorneys general include Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. States with Republican attorneys general include Idaho, Utah, and Washington. (Rivoli 5/21/2012; Millhiser 5/21/2012)

Senate races are seeing the impact of huge “independent” expenditures that resulted from the 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), and as in so many other instances, Republicans are reaping most of the benefits of these expenditures (see August 2, 2010, April 5, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, October 2010, Mid-October 2010, October 18, 2010, Around October 27, 2010, October 30, 2010, Mid-November 2010, January 26, 2011 and After, March 2011, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, November 8, 2011, December 1, 2011, January 6, 2012, January 23, 2012, February 6, 2012, February 9, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 9, 2012, March 26, 2012, Late March 2012, April 13-20, 2012, April 22, 2012, and May 2, 2012). Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and former Governor Tim Kaine (D-VA) are being outspent by more than a 3-1 ratio by their Republican opponents and the third-party groups that support those opponents. Brown and his allies have spent some $2.5 million on television advertising, but are being challenged by an $8 million expenditure by such groups as American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. Brown says: “These individuals, these billionaires, realize that small numbers of people can have a huge impact. It’s very one-sided. This outside money is bad for the system.” Kaine and his supporters have spent $385,000, but face a $1.9 million expenditure by such groups as the US Chamber of Commerce. Crossroads GPS is airing a series of ads accusing Kaine of having a “reckless” spending record as governor, including turning a $1 billion surplus into an almost-$4 billion shortfall, an assertion fact-checking organizations have declared to be false. In turn, Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio upped the claim, telling a reporter that Kaine had left office with a $3 trillion shortfall. The Virginia Constitution requires the state to maintain a balanced budget, and factcheckers have said that Kaine balanced budgets during his term. Missouri Republicans are enjoying a $7 million-$2 million disparity in their challenge to Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). In Florida, US Representative Connie Mack (R-FL) and his supporters have run almost 6,500 television ads against Senate incumbent Bill Nelson (D-FL) with no response from Nelson’s campaign. One Mack ad accused Nelson of supporting a tax-funded program to research the effects of cocaine on monkeys, a claim factcheckers have found to be false. Another Mack ad attempts to link Nelson to the Obama administration’s health care reform legislation, which Republicans have dubbed “Obamacare,” and says 20 million people will lose medical coverage because of the reform, a claim factcheckers have found to be false. The re-election campaign of President Obama is hoarding resources, expecting to have to combat an onslaught of spending by Republican contender Mitt Romney (R-MA) and his supporters (see Late May 2012), and is thusly contributing little to Congressional races. Advertising executive Ken Goldstein says: “There’s so much oxygen being sucked up by the Obama campaign. Democrats are also not going to have the same kind of money that Republican outside groups are going to have.” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina confirms that the Obama campaign is not prepared to contribute large sums to Congressional contenders, saying: “Our top priority and focus is to secure the electoral votes necessary to re-elect the president. There’s no doubt that Democratic campaigns face a challenging new political landscape with special interests giving unlimited amounts to super PACs.” Scott Reed, a US Chamber of Commerce official who worked on the 1996 Bob Dole presidential campaign, says the sharp disparity in spending will not matter at the end of the campaigns: “It comes out in the wash at the end of the day in the sense that Obama is a ferocious fundraiser-in-chief. There’s no question the pro-business and pro-growth groups are spending early and more aggressively than ever because they recognize the stakes of the election are so high.” (Przybyla 5/29/2012)

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens lambasts the Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), in which he strongly dissented (see May 14, 2012). Stevens has criticized the decision in earlier statements. He continues that trend in a speech given to the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas. He agrees with President Obama’s warning that “foreign entities” could bankroll US elections (see January 27-29, 2010 and October 2010), and challenges the Court to prove that such concerns are “not true,” as Justice Samuel Alito famously mouthed during Obama’s speech at the time by reconciling the Court’s finding that the First Amendment “generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on the speaker’s identity” with its subsequent decision to uphold a ban on campaign spending by non-citizens in Bluman v. Federal Election Commission (see August 8, 2011). Alito’s reaction to Obama’s warning “persuade[s] me that that in due course it will be necessary for the Court to issue an opinion explicitly crafting an exception that will create a crack in the foundation of the Citizens United majority opinion,” Stevens says. In doing so, “it will be necessary to explain why the First Amendment provides greater protection to the campaign speech of some non-voters than to that of other non-voters.” Stevens is referring to corporations and labor unions as “non-voters,” as is the Canadian citizen who filed the Bluman lawsuit. The Bluman case, Stevens says, “unquestionably provided the Court with an appropriate opportunity to explain why the president had misinterpreted the Court’s opinion in Citizens United. [T]he Court instead took the surprising action of simply affirming the district court without comment and without dissent.” Stevens says the two cases pose a legal conundrum—“notwithstanding the broad language used by the majority in Citizens United, it is now settled, albeit unexplained, that the identity of some speakers may provide a legally acceptable basis for restricting speech.” At some point, Stevens says, the Court will have to grapple with the effects of the decision. “I think it is likely that when the Court begins to spell out which categories of non-voters should receive the same protections as the not-for-profit Citizens United advocacy group, it will not only exclude terrorist organizations and foreign agents, but also all corporations owned or controlled by non-citizens, and possibly even those in which non-citizens have a substantial interest. Where that line will actually be drawn will depend on an exercise of judgment by the majority of members of the Court, rather than on any proposition of law identified in the Citizens United majority opinion.” Stevens does not explicitly reference the upcoming Court case where it will have to rule on Montana’s ban on corporate spending (see December 30, 2011 and After, January 4, 2012, February 10-17, 2012, and April 30, 2012), but he says the Court was wrong to overturn a precedent that allows states to bar corporate spending from outside their borders. For states such as Montana with those laws in effect, “those corporate non-voters were comparable to the non-voting foreign corporations that concerned President Obama when he criticized the Citizens United majority opinion.” He says, “If the First Amendment does not protect the right of a graduate of Harvard Law School to spend his own money to support the candidate of his choice simply because his Canadian citizenship deprives him of the right to participate in our elections, the fact that corporations may be owned or controlled by Canadians—indeed, in my judgment, the fact that corporations have no right to vote—should give Congress the power to exclude them from direct participation in the electoral process.” (Sacks 5/30/2012; Stevens 5/30/2012 pdf file)

Politico reports that Republican super PACs and other outside groups are coordinating under the leadership of what it calls “a loose network of prominent conservatives, including former Bush political advisor Karl Rove, the oil billionaire Koch brothers, and Tom Donohue of the US Chamber of Commerce,” to spend an unprecedented $1 billion between now and November to help Republicans win control of the White House and Congress. The plans include what Politico calls “previously undisclosed plans for newly aggressive spending by the Koch brothers” (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, February 14, 2011, February 29, 2012, and Late March 2012) to organize funding for county-by-county operations in key states, using tools such as the voter database Themis (see April 2010 and After) to build “sophisticated, county-by-county operations in key states.” The Kochs’ organizations have upped their spending plans to $400 million. Just the Kochs’ spending will outstrip the $370 million spent by the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign, and the $1 billion will exceed the $750 million spent by the 2008 Barack Obama campaign. The “independent” super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future (ROF—see June 23, 2011 and January 31, 2012), plans on spending $100 million on the campaign to unseat Obama. American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the two Rove-led groups coordinating much of the Republican spending efforts, plan to spend $300 million on efforts to elect Romney and other Republicans (see February 21, 2012). The raised millions will go to, among other things, television, radio, and Web advertising; voter turnout efforts; mail and telephone appeals; and absentee- and early-balloting drives. The $1 billion is entirely “outside” spending. Romney and the Republican National Committee (RNC) intend to raise some $800 million on their own. According to Politico: “The Republican financial plans are unlike anything seen before in American politics. If the GOP groups hit their targets, they likely could outspend their liberal adversaries by at least two-to-one, according to officials involved in the budgeting for outside groups on the right and left.… The consequences of the conservative resurgence in fundraising are profound. If it holds, Romney and his allies will likely outraise and outspend Obama this fall, a once-unthinkable proposition. The surge has increased the urgency of the Democrats’ thus-far futile efforts to blunt the effects of a pair of 2010 federal court rulings—including the Supreme Court’s seminal Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010)—that opened the floodgates for limitless spending, and prompted Obama to flip-flop on his resistance to super PACs on the left.” The super PAC supporting Obama’s re-election, Priorities USA Action, has not raised anywhere near the amount of money being garnered by Rove and the Koch brothers, partly because of Obama’s initial reluctance to have such groups operating on his behalf (see January 18, 2012). US labor unions may be able to raise some $200 to $400 million on behalf of Obama and other Democrats. The AFL-CIO’s Michael Podhorzer says his organization does not intend to try to match the Republican donor groups, but instead will spend most of its money reaching out to union members and other workers: “Progressives can’t match all the money going into the system right now because of Citizens United, so we have to have a program that empowers the worker movement.” Politico notes that billionaire Sheldon Adelson single-handedly kept the Newt Gingrich (R-GA) primary challenge afloat (see December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, January 6, 2012, January 23, 2012, February 21, 2012, February 21, 2012, March 26, 2012, April 22, 2012, and May 2, 2012), and billionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012) was the key funder for Republican primary challenger Rick Santorum (R-PA). Outside money helped “tea party” challengers defeat incumbents like Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) in the 2012 primaries (see February 21, 2012). “Republicans have taken one big lesson away from campaigns conducted to date in 2011 and 2012,” Politico states: “outside money can be the difference-maker in elections.” (Allen and VandeHei 5/30/2012)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accuses President Obama and Congressional Democrats of subverting the constitutional guarantees of free speech by trying to restrict political campaign contributions, and says Democrats are using “mob” tactics against their critics. McConnell, speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, says that the White House has shown “an alarming willingness itself to use the powers of government to silence” political speech of groups with which it disagrees. “It is critically important for all conservatives—and indeed all Americans—to stand up and unite in defense of the freedom to organize around the causes we believe in, and against any effort that would constrain our ability to do so,” he says. McConnell is referring to Democrats’ push for the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance bill that would force disclosure of the identities of campaign donors that was defeated by a Republican filibuster in 2010 (see July 26-27, 2010) and is being brought up again. The DISCLOSE Act would affect both corporations and unions. Corporate spending in elections tends to favor Republicans, while union spending tends to favor Democrats. McConnell says the act would require “government-compelled disclosure of contributions to all grass-roots groups, which is far more dangerous than its proponents are willing to admit. This is nothing less than an effort by the government itself to expose its critics to harassment and intimidation, either by government authorities or through third-party allies.… The courts have said that Congress doesn’t have the authority to muzzle political speech. So the president himself will seek to go around it by attempting to change the First Amendment.” McConnell cites the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as one government agency “persecuting” Republican-allied groups, saying, “Earlier this year, dozens of tea party-affiliated groups across the country learned what it was like to draw the attention of the speech police when they received a lengthy questionnaire from the IRS demanding attendance lists, meeting transcripts, and donor information.” The IRS has denied targeting groups based on their political views. IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman says the information requirements stemmed from the tea party groups’ applications for nonprofit status, which triggered automatic IRS review procedures. “There’s many safeguards built in so this has nothing to do with election cycles and politics,” Shulman said before a House Appropriations subcommittee. “This notion that we’re targeting anyone is off.” McConnell says of Obama, “Not only did his campaign publish a list of eight private citizens it regards as enemies—an actual old-school enemies list—it recently doubled down on the effort when some began to call these thuggish tactics into question.” McConnell is referring to an Obama campaign “truth team” document that publicized information about eight wealthy Republican donors. “The tactics I’m describing extend well beyond the campaign headquarters in Chicago. To an extent not seen since the Nixon administration, they extend deep into the administration itself.” McConnell cites the example of Idaho businessman Frank VanderSloot, the national finance co-chair of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, who was “smeared” as being “a bitter opponent” of gay rights by the Obama campaign. (Hunter 6/15/2012; Weissman 6/15/2012) VanderSloot is an outspoken opponent of gay rights, though he has hotly denied advocating such positions and often threatens lawsuits against those reporting his positions (see February 17-21, 2012). (Greenwald 2/17/2012; Bodnar 3/1/2012) The New York Times calls McConnell’s remarks “incendiary.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a campaign-finance reform advocacy group, says McConnell “doesn’t have a constitutional or policy leg to stand on.” Democrats note that McConnell has failed to criticize organized efforts by the Romney campaign to heckle and disrupt campaign press conferences, nor has he criticized tea party efforts to disrupt and shout down Democrats during town hall meetings around the country. Wertheimer says McConnell is using his fiery rhetoric to, in the Times’s phrasing, “run interference for the secret donors pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the US Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads.” Obama campaign spokesperson Ben LaBolt says, “Senator McConnell has been running a cover-up operation for the special interest donors attempting to buy the election for the GOP in order to promote their agendas over the national interest.” (Hunter 6/15/2012; Weissman 6/15/2012)

The US Supreme Court, without hearing arguments, strikes down a century-old Montana ban on corporate spending in elections (see December 30, 2011 and After), effectively reaffirming its Citizens United decision to allow unlimited, untraceable corporate spending on elections (see January 21, 2010). Some observers expected the Court to temper its original finding in the Citizens United decision, but such is not the outcome. The case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, originates in Montana’s 19th-century ban on corporate spending in elections. In December 2011, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the law (see December 30, 2011 and After), finding that the Citizens United ruling allowed for restrictions on corporate political speech if the government could demonstrate that the restrictions were as minimal as possible to achieve a compelling governmental interest. Today, the US Supreme Court rules 5-4 that the Montana Supreme Court’s argument is invalid, saying there is “no serious doubt” that the Citizens United ruling supersedes Montana state law. Two dissenting Justices, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer, argued for the case to be presented to the Court, viewing the case as “an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.” However, the Court’s conservative majority strikes down the Montana Supreme Court’s decision and invalidates the CPA. Breyer writes in his dissent, “Even if I were to accept Citizens United, this Court’s legal conclusion should not bar the Montana Supreme Court’s finding, made on the record before it, that independent expenditures by corporations did in fact lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption in Montana.” The next recourse for Montana citizens is Ballot Initiative I-166, which would establish that corporations are not people in Montana and would call on Montana’s Congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. (American Tradition Partnership, Inc., FKA Western Tradition Partnership, Inc., et al v. Steve Bullock, Attorney General Of Montana, et al 6/25/2012 pdf file; SCOTUSBlog 6/25/2012; Vicini 6/25/2012; Randall 6/25/2012; OMB Watch 7/10/2012) Democratic campaign lawyer Marc Elias says of the decision: “To the extent that there was any doubt from the original Citizens United decision broadly applies to state and local laws, that doubt is now gone. To whatever extent that door was open a crack, that door is now closed.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that the Court is “[f]or apparently political reasons… further tipping the balance of power in America in favor of deep-pocketed, outside interests.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) calls the decision an “important victory for freedom of speech.” (Weiner 6/25/2012)

Former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says that the US Supreme Court’s recent summary reversal of a Montana Supreme Court decision to uphold Montana’s ban on corporate political spending (see June 25, 2012) proves that the US Supreme Court is actively working to dismantle representative democracy. Referring to the 2010 Citizens United case that formed the basis for the Court’s recent decision (see January 21, 2010), Feingold says: “This court had one fig leaf left after this one awful decision two years ago.” The justices could claim “they were politically naive or didn’t know what would happen when they overturned 100 years of law on corporate contributions.” But after the American Tradition Partnership decision that reversed the Montana high court, he says, “They have shown themselves wantonly willing to undo our democracy.” Feingold continues: “This is one of the great turning points, not only in campaign finance but also in our country’s history. I believe we’re in a constitutional crisis.” Feingold heads an anti-Citizens United group called Progressives United, which works to raise awareness about the effects of the decisions and to persuade Congress to overturn the decision via legislation. He says the Supreme Court has “clearly become… a partisan arm of corporate America. This is a real serious problem for our democracy. It’s essentially a court that rules in one direction.… [T]his court is no longer perceived as the independent arbiter of the law that the people expect them to be.” A recent study by the Constitutional Accountability Center shows that during the tenure of Chief Justice John Roberts, the US Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s most powerful business lobbying organization (see January 21-22, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, July 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, October 2010, and February 10, 2011), which filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to rule against the Montana high court (see April 30, 2012), has seen victory in 68 percent of the cases in which it has filed briefs, a much higher success record than in earlier years. Feingold wrote an article for the Stanford Law Review claiming that the 2006-2008 rise in small donor contributions spurred corporations and the Supreme Court to create the Citizens United decision (see June 14, 2012). Feingold says: “The corporate interest in America saw the face of democracy, and so what they did was engineer this decision. They used it as an excuse to stop citizen democracy in this country.” Nevertheless, Feingold is confident that grassroots organizations such as Progressives United and efforts in other venues, including Congress and the Obama administration, will eventually see Citizens United overturned. For now, he quotes his campaign finance reform partner, Senator John McCain, who recently said, “I promise you there will be huge scandals” (see March 27, 2012). Feingold says, “There already is a scandal.” (Blumenthal 6/27/2012)

Senate Democrats try twice within a two-day period to bring the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance bill that would require the disclosure of the identities of political donors (see July 26-27, 2010), to the floor for a vote. If enacted, the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act would overturn many elements of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities (see January 21, 2010). If passed, it would create new campaign finance disclosure requirements and make public the names of “super PAC” contributors (see March 26, 2010). Individuals, corporations, labor unions, and tax-exempt charitable organizations would, under the act, report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) each time they spend $10,000 or more on campaign-related expenditures. The bill would also “prohibit foreign influence in federal elections [and] prohibit government contractors from making expenditures with respect to such elections.” Both Senate Democratic efforts are thwarted by a Republican filibuster. Democrats are unable to muster the 60 votes needed to grant “cloture,” which would break the filibuster and bring the bill to the floor to be voted up or down. The last vote supports cloture 53-45, not enough to invoke cloture; the first vote was 51-44 in favor. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), who is recovering from a seizure, and Richard Shelby (R-AL) do not vote. Democrats force an official recording of each senator’s vote, placing the names of senators voting for and against the bill in the public record. Democrats have tried since 2010 to pass the bill (see July 26-27, 2010). The bill, sponsored in its latest iteration by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would force unions, nonprofits, and corporate interest groups that spend $10,000 or more during an election cycle to disclose donors who give $10,000 or more. Whitehouse modified the original version of the bill to no longer require sponsors of “electioneering” ads to put a disclaimer at the end, and pushed the effective date of the bill to 2013, meaning it would not impact the 2012 presidential campaign. Whitehouse and 15 other senators take to the floor to press for its passage. “When somebody is spending the kind of money that is being spent, a single donor making, for instance, a $4 million anonymous contribution, they’re not doing that out of the goodness of their heart,” he tells the Senate. Democrats urge Republicans who have previously spoken out in favor of transparency and campaign finance reform to vote for the bill, targeting Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Scott Brown (R-MA), John McCain (R-AZ), and Susan Collins (R-ME). However, none of them break ranks with their fellow Republicans. McCain, who co-authored the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill of 2002 (see March 27, 2002) and has spoken out against the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows corporations and unions to anonymously spend unlimited amounts on “electioneering” activities (see January 21, 2010), refuses to join Democrats in supporting the bill. He tells the Senate before the final vote, “The American people will see it for what it is—political opportunism at its best, political demagoguery at its worst.” McCain asks Senate Democrats “to go back to the drawing board and bring back a bill that is truly fair, truly bipartisan, and requires true full disclosure for everyone.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the bill would “send a signal to unions that Democrats are just as eager to do their legislative bidding as ever,” and that it “amounts to nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation.” In his weekly press conference shortly before the floor votes, McConnell says of the bill: “This could best be described as a selective disclosure act. It has managed to generate opposition from everybody from the ACLU to [the] NRA. That’s quite an accomplishment.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says of the bill: “[I]n a post-Citizens United world, the least we should do is require groups spending millions on political attack ads to disclose their largest donors. We owe it to voters to let them judge for themselves the attacks—and the motivations behind them.” And Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation says that the Senate is “thumbing their noses at the very notion of democratic elections.” (Parti 7/14/2012; OMB Watch 7/24/2012) After the bill fails to pass, Reid says, “It is obvious Republicans’ priority is to protect a handful of anonymous billionaires—billionaires willing to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to change the outcome of a close presidential contest.” (Strauss 7/24/2012)


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