Tag Archives: campaign finance

Citizens United meets “Breaking Bad”

By Christopher B. Daly 

Now comes news that certain people have

1. created an organization that meets the technical definition of the kind of non-profit that can funnel unlimited amounts of money into U.S. politics without having to identify the donors.

2. perhaps (according to documents found in a meth house in Montana, fer chrissake) skirted the legal requirement that they steadfastly avoid coordination of their efforts with any actual politicians.

Hmmm…. does that seem: surprising? shocking? dismaying? inevitable? All of the preceeding?

I would say that ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s profoundly wrong ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case, this kind of thing was entirely predictable. (All except the meth house; that is a nice touch.) In brief: the story involves a conservative group opposed to clean energy is organized into something called the American Tradition Partnership. According to news accounts and Montana election officials, ATP may have violated campaign finance laws, based on documents found in the meth house.

For the full story, watch Frontline tonight on PBS (before public broadcasting’s enemies destroy it), or read about it at ProPublica. You can also follow it in the pages of the Missoulian, a newspaper based in Missoula, Montana, which (luckily!) still maintains a bureau in the state capital of Helena trying to keep an eye on government and politics. A hat tip to Mike Dennison of the Missoulian — and keep up the good work. Or, check out the coverage in the Billings Gazette.

p.s. Don’t miss this handy interactive info-graphic from ProPublica, which shows who is giving what amounts to which causes.

p.p.s. Memo to the conservative SCOTUS bloc: thanks a lot.



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Watergate: Lessons learned and un-learned

By Christopher B. Daly

The Boston Globe’s estimable, veteran political reporter Brian Mooney has a front-page story addressing the question: what has happened to the “Watergate reforms” in the 40 years since the Watergate break-in that began the fall of Republican President Richard Nixon.

Turns out, one of the great post-Watergate reforms — the public financing of elections — is all but dead.

Not only that, but the larger trend of political changes in recent years mark a move away from the lessons learned in Watergate.

One lesson was that power corrupts. Therefore, the power that comes from making big donations to a politician was limited by the caps placed on individual giving. The Supreme Court, however, decided to get rich people back into the business of financing elections, through the Citizens United ruling.

Another lesson was that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Therefore, Congress required all candidates for federal office to account publicly for every dollar raised and every dollar spent. Not so for the new Super-PACs.

Another lesson was that money corrupts. Therefore, Congress almost got up the courage to ban all private donations and institute a system of 100% publicly funded elections. But they blinked and created a hybrid by which politicians had to opt in or out. When the amounts available through public financing failed to keep pace with the amounts candidates could get through private fund-raising, almost every serious mainstream candidate rejected public financing and started holding fund-raisers with wealthy donors.

It appears that the past is prologue.

graphic/ Boston Globe

graphic/ Boston Globe

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A new series: Money in politics

By Chris Daly 

I am launching a new series of posts (like the “Math for Journalists” series) to focus on the impact of money in politics.

I first started paying attention to this issue in the 1980s, when I was covering politics full-time for The Associated Press. My perch was the Massachusetts Statehouse. As the chief of a small bureau there, I lead a team of four who covered government and politics — including elections. Most of those elections were for state office (including the U.S. Senate and House races), but they also included a presidential race in 1987-88 when former Gov. Mike Dukakis took it into his head to run for president. That race, just six election cycles ago, now seems quaint in light of the Supreme Court rulings that have since unleashed spending of a type and scale unknown before. We are in uncharted waters here.

Today’s Times brings a story about a hidden reality of the new Super PACs. For the top guns in political consulting, the Super PACs are, in many ways, more desirable as clients than are actual candidates. When you work for a candidate, you have to travel, you have to deal with volatile spouses and staffers, you have to obey campaign-finance laws that force you to raise money in small amounts from large numbers of individuals.

What the Times story doesn’t say but seems equally important is this: if you work for a candidate, there is a good chance your candidate will lose. The voters can reject the campaign or the campaigner, and the whole staff — including consultants — is, in effect, fired, by the people. Not so with the Super PACs. They don’t ever “lose” in the same sense that a candidate does. They can just hang around forever, banging away at the donors’ pet priorities. In political terms, they are immortal.

Consider “Americans for Rick Perry.” This was a Super PAC that was run by a Republican strategist named Bob Schuman. When Perry dropped out of the Republican presidential primary, Schuman — to use a Texas metaphor — had his horse shot out from under him. No matter. Schuman just got a fresh mount and reorganized as the Restoring Prosperity Fund, pushing the same agenda on behalf of many of the same donors.

One way to look at all this: money is, in effect, dis-enfranchising voters. If you don’t agree with a particular office-holder or candidate, you can vote against him or her. If enough of your fellow citizens agree, then that candidate is done.

But not so with the Super PACs. You can never vote to get rid of them.

Your view? Leave a comment.

(To be continued. . .)


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