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Study Shows Super PACs Made Mockery of Campaign Law


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JL
- 537 days ago - thehill.com
The court further assumed that legally defined independent expenditures are independent in reality. But this did not prove true in 2012



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JL A. (275)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 9:22 am

Study Shows Super PACs made mockery of campaign law
By Taylor Lincoln, research director, Congress Watch division, Public Citizen - 03/05/13 10:45 AM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which gave rise to outside groups that could accept unlimited contributions to influence elections, was not intended to eviscerate laws limiting the size of contributions to candidates and parties. But the data from the 2012 elections show that it has effectively done so.

In Citizens United, the court assumed that independent expenditures by outside groups — unlike contributions to candidates and parties — do not pose a threat of corrupting elected officials. Therefore, the court concluded that independent expenditures cannot be regulated.

The court further assumed that legally defined independent expenditures are independent in reality. But this did not prove true in 2012. Any reasonable observer would agree that many super PACs and other unregulated groups active in 2012 were not really independent of the candidates or parties they aided, even if they met the FEC’s test for independence. Many of these groups essentially acted as second campaign committees that were not subject to contribution limits.

The data support this conclusion. Nearly 50 percent of unregulated outside groups in 2012 aided just one candidate, a study released today by Public Citizen shows. Even among groups that worked exclusively on congressional races, more than 50 percent spent their resources to support a single candidate.

While a single-candidate focus does not prove that a group did not act independently, it strains credulity that many groups would work on just one race — especially just one congressional race — unless there were connections between the group and its favored candidate. A closer look confirms these suspicions. Many super PACs were run by friends, family or former staffers of the candidate they aided. In one instance, a candidate acknowledged that a super PAC that spent more than $900,000 assisting him was “set up by the professionals who run my campaign.”

Meanwhile, 10 party-allied entities were responsible for nearly 30 percent of spending by unregulated groups in 2012. These were not merely interest groups with partisan leanings. Instead, they were created for the specific purpose, often explicitly stated, of helping one of the national parties. Contributions to these groups essentially marked the return of soft money, the unregulated contributions to the parties that Congress banned in 2002.
Single-candidate and party-allied groups spent $634.3 million in the 2012 election cycle, accounting for more than 65 percent of all unregulated groups’ spending.

Perhaps the most blatant assaults on the integrity of laws limiting contributions were by Priorities USA and Restore Our Future, the super PACs devoted to President Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The ties between the presidential campaigns and their super PACs were beyond dispute. But while casino magnate Sheldon Adelson could contribute only $5,000 to Romney’s official campaign, he and his wife gave $30 million to Restore Our Future.

Meanwhile, the quasi-party groups resumed some of the most unctuous practices from the soft money era. When it upheld the soft money ban, the Supreme Court noted with dismay the parties’ practice of furnishing “menus of opportunities for access to would-be soft-money donors, with increased prices reflecting an increased level of access.” These practices reemerged in 2012. During the Democratic convention, for instance, a super PAC solicitation offered a menu of rewards to would-be donors, topped by six tickets to a “Brunch with Democratic leaders” for those giving $100,000.

The connections between super PACs, parties and candidates underscore the need for the courts to enforce a little known law that bans federal contractors from making political contributions. For that reason, Public Citizen today filed a complaint against Chevron Corp. for making a $2.5 million contribution to a super PAC tied to the GOP.

Ironically, the court’s assumption that independent expenditures would actually be independent was probably about right—until it handed down the Citizens United decision. Before Citizens United enabled outside groups to accept unlimited contributions, most third-party spenders were traditional political action committees that were subject to contribution limits. These limits prevented candidates and parties from setting up ancillary committees outside of the campaign finance system. Such restrictions no longer apply.

There are plenty of reasons to dispute the court’s core assumption that truly independent expenditures financed with large contributions would not engender corruption. But proving that point is not necessary to discredit the vision put forth in Citizens United. The manifest absence of independence in the new spending the court permitted is sufficient to do so.

Lincoln is the research director of the Congress Watch division of Public Citizen.

 

Kit B. (276)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 11:22 am

It seems we must now have another amendment to the Constitution to overturn this assault on the election process, money is and will be a corrupting influence on the political system. I wonder if we could add to that possible amendment that elections would be limited to no more that a total of six months? I sure would be please with a legal limit on how the donations are used, a limit to numbers of media blasts, emails, and even mail outs. Heavens no, I'm not asking for honest elections - that would be UN-American.
 

JL A. (275)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 12:23 pm
I'm hoping SCOTUS will narrow the money permissions with this session further--they already did one decision that indicated unlimited money wasn't OK. Shorter election seasons would probably happen if there were effective campaign finance reform that could include such dates. You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last day.
 

Jaime A. (32)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 1:37 pm
Noted, thanks.
 

Carol D. (109)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 2:21 pm
There are no honest elections anywhere i dont think You can have a small party with really good policies but without the financial backing and media coverage they get nowhere Its all corrupt now Money behind everything

Noted thanks
 

SuSanne P. (182)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 3:05 pm
Thank you JL. Money is the Root of ALL evil! This is not a wife's tail if you open your eyes to every situation we are struggling with.
 

JL A. (275)
Saturday March 9, 2013, 5:44 pm
You are welcome Jaime, Carol and SuSanne.
You cannot currently send a star to Carol because you have done so within the last day.
You cannot currently send a star to SuSanne because you have done so within the last day.
 

Micheael Kirkbym (85)
Sunday March 10, 2013, 1:38 pm
Noted & posted
 

JL A. (275)
Sunday March 10, 2013, 3:52 pm
Thanks for posting Michael.
 
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