Commentary Magazine


Topic: super PACs

It Takes More Than a Mega-Donor to Win the White House

Those hoping that the seemingly endless 2012 presidential campaign would lead to a shorter run-up to the 2016 contest are out of luck. As Politico reports, not only is there no shortage of aspirants for what will be two open nominations but the hopefuls are already making a beeline to major donors hoping to line up support for a race that may be four years away but seems to have already started. According to their story, a gaggle of ambitious Republican governors who attended the Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas last month managed to take time from their busy schedules to meet with casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in hope of winning his heart and the sort of financial support that could make them viable presidential candidates.

Among those lining up to see the philanthropist/mega donor were Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and John Kasich of Ohio. All three appear to be testing the presidential waters. The story also noted that Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, who both fell short in their 2012 runs, are also keeping close to their big donors in hopes of keeping their options open for another try.

It is true that a viable candidacy requires funding, and the ability to raise money — either from a host of small donors or a few big ones — is an essential skill for any would-be president. But anyone thinking that a nod from Adelson or Santorum’s backer Foster Friess or any of the Texas businessmen that backed Perry is tantamount to a key to the presidency wasn’t paying attention last year. Money gives a candidate a chance, and large donations like those that Newt Gingrich received from Adelson a year ago kept him in the race longer than he might otherwise have lasted. But the lesson of 2012 is that no single donor or even group of large donors or their super PACs can win elections by themselves. Which is why the attention given large contributors may be somewhat misleading.

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Those hoping that the seemingly endless 2012 presidential campaign would lead to a shorter run-up to the 2016 contest are out of luck. As Politico reports, not only is there no shortage of aspirants for what will be two open nominations but the hopefuls are already making a beeline to major donors hoping to line up support for a race that may be four years away but seems to have already started. According to their story, a gaggle of ambitious Republican governors who attended the Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas last month managed to take time from their busy schedules to meet with casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in hope of winning his heart and the sort of financial support that could make them viable presidential candidates.

Among those lining up to see the philanthropist/mega donor were Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Bob McDonnell of Virginia and John Kasich of Ohio. All three appear to be testing the presidential waters. The story also noted that Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, who both fell short in their 2012 runs, are also keeping close to their big donors in hopes of keeping their options open for another try.

It is true that a viable candidacy requires funding, and the ability to raise money — either from a host of small donors or a few big ones — is an essential skill for any would-be president. But anyone thinking that a nod from Adelson or Santorum’s backer Foster Friess or any of the Texas businessmen that backed Perry is tantamount to a key to the presidency wasn’t paying attention last year. Money gives a candidate a chance, and large donations like those that Newt Gingrich received from Adelson a year ago kept him in the race longer than he might otherwise have lasted. But the lesson of 2012 is that no single donor or even group of large donors or their super PACs can win elections by themselves. Which is why the attention given large contributors may be somewhat misleading.

The best example of this was not Gingrich, a Republican veteran whose baggage and lack of discipline doomed his candidacy from the start. Rather, it was Jon Huntsman, whose father Jon Huntsman, Sr., was noted in the Politico piece as the mega donor behind his son’s campaign. The point here is that Huntsman had no shortage of money and was given fawning coverage throughout the mainstream media as well as puff pieces from conservative writers like George Will. But all the money and the media attention in the world could not convince Republican primary voters that a feckless moderate like Huntsman ought to be president.

Mitt Romney’s money gave him an advantage in the GOP race, but Politico’s explanation of his win — “a pro-Romney super PAC obliterated the field” — is misleading. Though he fell short in November against President Obama, he won the GOP nomination because he was the most viable candidate in the field, a factor that no amount of money given to either Gingrich or Santorum could overcome.

While all of the possible candidates on both sides of the aisle would do well to find themselves a friend like Adelson, one such person or even a few won’t elect a person who can’t attract the support of the voters. If you don’t believe me, just ask president-elect Gingrich or president-elect Santorum.

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Incumbent Protection Plan in the Works

Out on the campaign trail, members of the House and Senate are currently getting a belly full of free speech as they fight to keep their seats. But many of those who survive would like to do something to make their next elections a bit easier and cheaper. That’s the conceit of a New York Times story about the discomfort many incumbents are experiencing as their records are being examined and often publicized. Their reaction to all this democracy is characteristic of the political class and appears to cut across party lines: suppress as much of the criticism as possible.

The problem for these politicians is that the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision unleashed the power of the public to promote political speech about elections. The fact that much of that speech is unhelpful to incumbents is a prime motivation for them to act in the next Congress to ensure that new obstacles are placed in the way of political action groups and contributors buying ads highlighting their alleged shortcomings. In this way, the Times, whose editorial agenda has been a relentless attack on free political speech, hopes that the largely defunct cause of supposed campaign finance reform will be revived. But the focus of the story on the new willingness of even some Republicans to go along with another round of “reform” reveals exactly why the court was right to invalidate large portions of the McCain-Feingold bill: the main beneficiary of the legislation isn’t free speech or the rights of the public but the protection of incumbents.

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Out on the campaign trail, members of the House and Senate are currently getting a belly full of free speech as they fight to keep their seats. But many of those who survive would like to do something to make their next elections a bit easier and cheaper. That’s the conceit of a New York Times story about the discomfort many incumbents are experiencing as their records are being examined and often publicized. Their reaction to all this democracy is characteristic of the political class and appears to cut across party lines: suppress as much of the criticism as possible.

The problem for these politicians is that the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision unleashed the power of the public to promote political speech about elections. The fact that much of that speech is unhelpful to incumbents is a prime motivation for them to act in the next Congress to ensure that new obstacles are placed in the way of political action groups and contributors buying ads highlighting their alleged shortcomings. In this way, the Times, whose editorial agenda has been a relentless attack on free political speech, hopes that the largely defunct cause of supposed campaign finance reform will be revived. But the focus of the story on the new willingness of even some Republicans to go along with another round of “reform” reveals exactly why the court was right to invalidate large portions of the McCain-Feingold bill: the main beneficiary of the legislation isn’t free speech or the rights of the public but the protection of incumbents.

From its inception in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the cause of campaign finance reform has been a futile effort to get money out of politics. But all the successive attempts to legislate limits on spending have done is to create new laws that only serve to make both politicians and parties less, rather than more accountable.

While Citizens United and the super PACs they have unleashed have been relentlessly portrayed in liberal organs like the Times as promoting corruption or undermining democracy, their real impact has been just the opposite. They have opened up the free market of ideas for both sides of the aisle, liberals as well as conservatives, helping to promote accountability. By making it easier for groups to spend money promoting their ideas and/or opposing candidates, the court has destroyed the dynamic of most congressional races in which it was virtually impossible for challengers to raise enough money to take on entrenched incumbents.

The victim of Citizens United isn’t democracy; it’s the laws and traditions of congressional politics that amounted to a near-foolproof incumbent protection plan. Incumbents are magnets for campaign contributions because everyone with a cause or an interest to be served by congressional legislation or influence wants to be in their good graces. There is no such incentive to help their challengers.

The mainstream media, which prizes its constitutionally protected right to exercise influence on elections, similarly looks askance at efforts to break up their monopoly on campaign information via campaign advertising. Citizens United has not injected more money into our political system, since money has always been — and always will be — an integral part of campaigns. Though incumbents will always have great advantages, what the High Court has done is to tilt the playing field a little bit more toward the challengers. And that’s what’s really got many of those quoted in the Times story upset. It wasn’t as the incumbents claim that the voice of the average voter is being diluted, but their monopoly on power. They want less democracy, not more.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has rightly pointed out, “the courts have said that Congress doesn’t have the authority to muzzle political speech.” But don’t expect that to inhibit politicians who would like to make it easier on themselves in 2014. Nevertheless, those Republicans quoted in the piece as favoring such limits ought to expect conservatives to remember their self-interested apostasy during the next election cycle.

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Romney’s Fundraising Advantage Widens

The New York Times reports that Romney now has a $62 million cash-on-hand advantage over Obama, which isn’t as significant as it sounds considering Obama has outraised and outspent his opponent since the beginning of his campaign.

But check out the cash-on-hand advantage the Romney-supporting American Crossroads has over the Obama-supporting Priorities USA:

Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Mr. Obama, raised $4.8 million and ended July with $4.2 million in cash on hand.

American Crossroads, the major super PAC backing Mr. Romney and the Senate Republicans, raised $7.7 million in July and spent $9.1 million, ending the month with $29.5 million in cash.

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The New York Times reports that Romney now has a $62 million cash-on-hand advantage over Obama, which isn’t as significant as it sounds considering Obama has outraised and outspent his opponent since the beginning of his campaign.

But check out the cash-on-hand advantage the Romney-supporting American Crossroads has over the Obama-supporting Priorities USA:

Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Mr. Obama, raised $4.8 million and ended July with $4.2 million in cash on hand.

American Crossroads, the major super PAC backing Mr. Romney and the Senate Republicans, raised $7.7 million in July and spent $9.1 million, ending the month with $29.5 million in cash.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t account for other top Obama-supporting super PACs like American Bridge 21st Century, and the support from the labor movement. But it still doesn’t look good for them. According to the Huffington Post, most of Priorities USA’s July fundraising came from just eight individuals (plus a handful of law firms and unions):

The super PAC, run by former White House aide Bill Burton, raised most of its July money from eight individuals, two unions and seven law firms. The biggest single contribution came from the real estate investor and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender activist Mel Heifetz.

Clearly Obama’s side is somewhat worried about fundraising, or we wouldn’t be deluged with stories about it every other day. The Republican side certainly seems to have the capacity to outraise its opponents between now and the election; but it’s hard to tell whether the constant stories about Obama and Co.’s poor fundraising numbers indicate an actual problem for them, or whether it’s just another way for them to put pressure on donors.

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Money, Speech and Morgan Freeman

Politico reported this morning that Morgan Freeman donated $1 million to the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA last month. The organization has reportedly been struggling to drum up donors, which isn’t surprising as Democrats have spent the past two years demonizing super PACs. Clearly, they hope Freeman’s donation will signal to wealthy liberals that it’s okay to support these groups.

But note Freeman’s statement out this morning:

“Pres. Obama has done a remarkable job in historically difficult circumstances. … I am proud to lend my voice … to those who defend him. Priorities USA Action is doing a great job of protecting the values I believe in. I am happy to help them and I hope others will join me.”

He wasn’t defending his donation as a necessary evil. Instead, he said he was “proud to lend [his] voice.” That’s an interesting choice in wording, considering Democrats have been mocking the idea that political spending is protected speech for the last two years.

But Freeman is right, and the Supreme Court has affirmed it. Political spending is a form of free expression. As Justice Antonin Scalia explained eloquently to CNN’s Piers Morgan last night, “You can’t separate speech from the money that facilitates the speech.”

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Politico reported this morning that Morgan Freeman donated $1 million to the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA last month. The organization has reportedly been struggling to drum up donors, which isn’t surprising as Democrats have spent the past two years demonizing super PACs. Clearly, they hope Freeman’s donation will signal to wealthy liberals that it’s okay to support these groups.

But note Freeman’s statement out this morning:

“Pres. Obama has done a remarkable job in historically difficult circumstances. … I am proud to lend my voice … to those who defend him. Priorities USA Action is doing a great job of protecting the values I believe in. I am happy to help them and I hope others will join me.”

He wasn’t defending his donation as a necessary evil. Instead, he said he was “proud to lend [his] voice.” That’s an interesting choice in wording, considering Democrats have been mocking the idea that political spending is protected speech for the last two years.

But Freeman is right, and the Supreme Court has affirmed it. Political spending is a form of free expression. As Justice Antonin Scalia explained eloquently to CNN’s Piers Morgan last night, “You can’t separate speech from the money that facilitates the speech.”

Scalia: You can’t separate speech from the money that facilitates the speech.

Morgan: Can’t you?

Scalia: It’s utterly impossible. Could you tell newspaper publishers you can only spend so much money in the publication of your newspaper?

Exactly. If you limit the amount of money that can be spent on speech, you are consequently limiting the speech. It’s true that some people have more to spend on this than others. But there are all kinds of inequalities when it comes to speech. Some people run newspapers. Some people have radio shows. Some people have prominent jobs that provide them with platforms to reach large audiences.

And then there are those who choose to spend their own money to express their voices on politics. Freeman apparently gets it. When will Senate Democrats figure it out?

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Pro-Obama Super PACs Outspending GOP

The common assumption is that conservatives will have an outside money advantage in the presidential election, thanks to massive spending by pro-Romney super PACs. This wisdom is on display in the New York Times today, which wonders whether Democrats will be able to “catch up in the super PAC game”:

“They’re spending ridiculous amounts of money on the other side,” [potential donor] Amber Mostyn said. “All the crazy commercials they’re going to put up — how do you combat that?”

Burton was ready for this question. “You don’t do it dollar for dollar,” he said. He whipped out his iPad and showed the Mostyns a few slides from his PowerPoint presentation. The slides included polling data indicating voters’ lack of familiarity with Romney’s business record at the private-equity firm Bain Capital, as well as financial figures from the 2010 midterm election showing how well-spent donations could help a Democrat prevail over a better-financed Republican opponent.

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The common assumption is that conservatives will have an outside money advantage in the presidential election, thanks to massive spending by pro-Romney super PACs. This wisdom is on display in the New York Times today, which wonders whether Democrats will be able to “catch up in the super PAC game”:

“They’re spending ridiculous amounts of money on the other side,” [potential donor] Amber Mostyn said. “All the crazy commercials they’re going to put up — how do you combat that?”

Burton was ready for this question. “You don’t do it dollar for dollar,” he said. He whipped out his iPad and showed the Mostyns a few slides from his PowerPoint presentation. The slides included polling data indicating voters’ lack of familiarity with Romney’s business record at the private-equity firm Bain Capital, as well as financial figures from the 2010 midterm election showing how well-spent donations could help a Democrat prevail over a better-financed Republican opponent.

But NRO’s Jim Geraghty reports that as of right now, it’s the pro-Romney super PACs that have to catch up with the opposition. He crunched the Federal Election Commission data from January 2011 through this week and found a major discrepancy in spending:

According to Federal Election Commission data filed from January 2011 through July 3, super PACs and all groups making “independent expenditures” in the political arena have spent $35.3 million in opposition to Romney, and only $9 million in opposition to Obama. Rove’s American Crossroads, for example, has spent $3.1 million this cycle. But only $158,126.17 of that has been spent in efforts opposing President Obama, and a separate $7,500 has been spent on Web ads supporting Mitt Romney. For perspective, the group spent $358,202.98 in mid-June in just one expenditure on “TV/Media Purchases” opposing Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine in Virginia, and then spent the same sum a week later in the same race.

There’s still plenty of time until the election, and the political spending will pick up as it gets closer. Republicans also had the disadvantage of a competitive primary, giving conservative groups a smaller window of time so far to focus on general election messaging. But Jim’s findings certainly blow apart the narrative that pro-Obama groups are lagging far behind when it comes to super PAC spending. Interesting that the mainstream media hasn’t picked up on that yet, no?

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Obama Campaign’s Fundraising Troubles

April was not a good fundraising month for the Obama campaign or the pro-Obama super PAC. BuzzFeed reports that many of the campaign’s big-dollar donors have already maxed out their contributions, and new donors aren’t lined up to replace them:

Donations to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign declined sharply in April, as many big-dollar contributors hit the legal maximum, a BuzzFeed analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows. …

Most of Obama’s drop is attributable to a decline in contributions of more than $500, which fell by more than $9 million. Many of Obama’s top donors have already hit the legal $2500 maximum to the campaign, which — along with an apparent failure to recruit a new cadre of wealthy supporters — may account for the decline.

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April was not a good fundraising month for the Obama campaign or the pro-Obama super PAC. BuzzFeed reports that many of the campaign’s big-dollar donors have already maxed out their contributions, and new donors aren’t lined up to replace them:

Donations to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign declined sharply in April, as many big-dollar contributors hit the legal maximum, a BuzzFeed analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows. …

Most of Obama’s drop is attributable to a decline in contributions of more than $500, which fell by more than $9 million. Many of Obama’s top donors have already hit the legal $2500 maximum to the campaign, which — along with an apparent failure to recruit a new cadre of wealthy supporters — may account for the decline.

The bigger issue is that the donor pool isn’t being replenished. Obama has attended a record number of fundraisers, so it’s hard to chalk this up to a lack of outreach. More likely, as Andrew Malcolm writes, is that donors (and some bundlers) simply aren’t as enthusiastic as they were in 2008. Collecting the money takes a lot more time and effort:

But the decline appeared to confirm rumors and anecdotal evidence that Obama’s large-sum donors were less enthusiastic this time around and holding back the checks or reducing their size. One California Democrat said bundlers, who simply stacked the free-flowing checks in 2008, were now having to convince many to give.

And it’s not just the president’s campaign that had a down month in April. The pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA had its worst fundraising month as well, only collecting nine donations of $10,000 or more, according to Politico. Another bad sign: several of these donations were from labor unions, which already play a similar role to super PACs and likely would have already used that money for their own Obama reelection efforts anyway.

The fact that big-money donors are maxing out their Obama campaign contributions wouldn’t matter as much if they were subsequently pouring their money into the super PAC. So far, it doesn’t look like they are. Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage might help open some wallets in Hollywood and elsewhere. But his attacks on Romney’s career at Bain Capital could also present a problem for him with Wall Street donors. These are the people who would normally be prime targets for recruitment by Priorities USA, but it’s very possible that they don’t want their money funding anti-Bain attack ads.

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The Resurfacing of Jeremiah Wright

As Alana noted, this morning the New York Times reported a super PAC was weighing a “hard-line attack” against President Obama by “linking him to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign.” The Romney campaign, and then Governor Romney himself, immediately repudiated the effort.

I should say that I’ve never felt raising the issue of Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright was somehow illegitimate. The relationship was obviously a long and important one to Obama. The Reverend Wright married Barack and Michelle Obama, baptized their children, and was the inspirational force behind Obama’s first autobiography. That relationship was unquestionably a significant one and was probably quite useful in terms of understanding Obama. If a conservative had a similarly close relationship with a comparable figure on the right, especially a comparable hate-figure on the right, journalists would have focused on it far more than the press focused on Obama and Wright in 2008. There was an obvious double standard being applied.

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As Alana noted, this morning the New York Times reported a super PAC was weighing a “hard-line attack” against President Obama by “linking him to incendiary comments by his former spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose race-related sermons made him a highly charged figure in the 2008 campaign.” The Romney campaign, and then Governor Romney himself, immediately repudiated the effort.

I should say that I’ve never felt raising the issue of Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright was somehow illegitimate. The relationship was obviously a long and important one to Obama. The Reverend Wright married Barack and Michelle Obama, baptized their children, and was the inspirational force behind Obama’s first autobiography. That relationship was unquestionably a significant one and was probably quite useful in terms of understanding Obama. If a conservative had a similarly close relationship with a comparable figure on the right, especially a comparable hate-figure on the right, journalists would have focused on it far more than the press focused on Obama and Wright in 2008. There was an obvious double standard being applied.

Speaking of which, isn’t it interesting (as Ed Morrissey and Jennifer Rubin have pointed out) how media inquiries into Romney’s Mormon faith is deemed as not only legitimate but necessary, whereas inquiries into the Obama-Wright relationship was (and is) considered insignificant, unrevealing, and even unseemly? There’s a deep theological reason that explains this difference in approach: Romney is a Republican, while Obama is a (liberal) Democrat.

With all that said, Romney is wise not to pursue the issue of Obama’s relationship with the Reverend Wright, for two reasons. The first is that it’s precisely the kind of sideshow Obama wants this campaign to revolve around. Romney needs to focus like a laser beam on the economy — and Jeremiah Wright’s past sermons, for all their offensiveness, are of very little interest to Americans, particularly in a struggling economy. In addition, Obama is more or less a known quantity at this stage. People’s judgment about his past are basically locked in. There’s no particular upside to Romney in focusing attention on Wright.

Oh, and one other thing: The fact that Governor Romney and his campaign responded so quickly and emphatically to the possibility that an anti-Obama super PAC might resurrect the Obama-Wright relationship is a sign they are firing on all cylinders.

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Desperation in Obama’s Super PAC Attack

Contrary to what some credulous news reports have indicated, the Obama campaign does not seem tremendously confident about beating Mitt Romney next fall. Case in point: a relaxed and confident campaign doesn’t attack its opponent for an ad proposal – one that never even went beyond the consideration phase – cooked up by an unrelated outside group. Or at least if it does, it uses surrogates and outsiders to make the point.

But the Obama campaign has been scraping bottom to find angles to attack Mitt Romney on. So it’s not a surprise that campaign manager Jim Messina blasted Romney today for responding too “tepidly” to reports that a conservative super PAC was considering an ad blitz targeting Jeremiah Wright:

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina doesn’t seem to think the Romney’s camp’s reaction is strong enough.

“The blueprint for a hate-filled, divisive campaign of character assassination speaks for itself. It also reflects how far the party has drifted in four short years since John McCain rejected these very tactics,” Messina responded. “Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party.”

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Contrary to what some credulous news reports have indicated, the Obama campaign does not seem tremendously confident about beating Mitt Romney next fall. Case in point: a relaxed and confident campaign doesn’t attack its opponent for an ad proposal – one that never even went beyond the consideration phase – cooked up by an unrelated outside group. Or at least if it does, it uses surrogates and outsiders to make the point.

But the Obama campaign has been scraping bottom to find angles to attack Mitt Romney on. So it’s not a surprise that campaign manager Jim Messina blasted Romney today for responding too “tepidly” to reports that a conservative super PAC was considering an ad blitz targeting Jeremiah Wright:

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina doesn’t seem to think the Romney’s camp’s reaction is strong enough.

“The blueprint for a hate-filled, divisive campaign of character assassination speaks for itself. It also reflects how far the party has drifted in four short years since John McCain rejected these very tactics,” Messina responded. “Once again, Governor Romney has fallen short of the standard that John McCain set, reacting tepidly in a moment that required moral leadership in standing up to the very extreme wing of his own party.”

For the record, here’s Romney’s “tepid” response to Guy Benson, which sounds pretty unambiguous to me:

“I repudiate the effort by that PAC to promote an ad strategy of the nature they’ve described. I would like to see this campaign focus on the economy, on getting people back to work, on seeing rising incomes and growing prosperity — particularly for those in the middle class of America.  And I think what we’ve seen so far from the Obama campaign is a campaign of character assassination. I hope that isn’t the course of this campaign. So in regards to that PAC, I repudiate what they’re thinking about … It’s interesting that we’re talking about some Republican PAC that wants to go after the president [on Wright]; I hope people also are looking at what he’s doing, and saying ‘why is he running an attack campaign? Why isn’t he talking about his record?’”

Romney is right. Republicans are far better off targeting Obama’s record, rather than his 20-year relationship with Jeremiah Wright. As toxic and offensive as Wright’s sermons and political commentary are, if that line of attack was ineffective in 2008, it’s not going to be effective four years later.

That said, it’s amazing that the story of Obama’s vehemently anti-American, anti-Israel pastor is now so off-limits that a conservative super PAC can’t even consider broaching it without sending the media into a frenzy.

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Soros Won’t Play Ball with Democrats

In yet another sign the bloom is off the Democratic rose this year, the New York Times reports a split between party officials and leading donors may cause liberals to squander their opportunity to answer pro-Republican advertising campaigns this year. This may mean that while supporters of the GOP will pour their money into super PACs that will buy ads aimed at supporting their candidates and opposing President Obama and other Democrats, their counterparts on the left, including billionaire financier George Soros, will instead spend their money on voter turnout efforts that would duplicate those being undertaken by the party.

This decision stems in no small part from liberal objections to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that protected the right of groups as well as individuals to express their views on the issues and elections via campaign spending. Because liberals like Soros think freedom of speech when it comes to campaign expenditures should be limited, they prefer not to compete in the marketplace of ideas with conservative funders and instead concentrate their efforts on other aspects of the campaign. This is a critical mistake on their part and reflects a curious though perhaps prescient pessimism.

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In yet another sign the bloom is off the Democratic rose this year, the New York Times reports a split between party officials and leading donors may cause liberals to squander their opportunity to answer pro-Republican advertising campaigns this year. This may mean that while supporters of the GOP will pour their money into super PACs that will buy ads aimed at supporting their candidates and opposing President Obama and other Democrats, their counterparts on the left, including billionaire financier George Soros, will instead spend their money on voter turnout efforts that would duplicate those being undertaken by the party.

This decision stems in no small part from liberal objections to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that protected the right of groups as well as individuals to express their views on the issues and elections via campaign spending. Because liberals like Soros think freedom of speech when it comes to campaign expenditures should be limited, they prefer not to compete in the marketplace of ideas with conservative funders and instead concentrate their efforts on other aspects of the campaign. This is a critical mistake on their part and reflects a curious though perhaps prescient pessimism.

The Times quotes Soros as believing he and others on the left can’t compete with conservatives when it comes to campaign ads so they’d rather not try. While this is good news for Republicans, it also makes absolutely no sense. Despite liberal myths about corporations lining up for the GOP, the experience of the last two decades shows us there is no shortage of liberal wealth to be spent on political causes. Soros and his friends have the ability to match conservatives dollar for dollar if they want to. But whether it is out of a misguided belief in an indefensible principle or just plain stubbornness, they won’t do it. The result is that for all of the talk of President Obama’s enormous fundraising advantage this year, the refusal of liberals like Soros to step up in a constructive manner may severely handicap the Democrats this fall.

As the Times explained a day earlier in a separate story, Soros and his cohorts are ideologically predisposed to fund what they call “infrastructure” groups that are more concerned with turnout than influencing public opinion. They think it is cheaper and more effective to work on mobilizing minority or youth voters rather than fighting for independents. As Karl Rove proved in 2004 when he helped turnout evangelicals and other conservatives for George W. Bush, ensuring that your base votes is critical to victory. But if the Democratic Party is already spending heavily on this sector, having their big givers create redundant organizations won’t help Obama. Nor can it manufacture the same kind of surge on the part of those demographic sectors that took place in 2008. The push to re-elect a president who has not fulfilled their hopes and for whom the historic imperative to put an African American in the White House no longer exists means they cannot duplicate the enthusiasm of four years ago.

Democratic Party leaders are right to be dismayed at this lack of teamwork on the part of their leftist financial partners. But they shouldn’t be surprised. People like Soros have always been more interested in ideology than electoral politics. They want to build a powerful left, not fight for the center of the American public square. They may be driven in part by hatred of conservatives, but expecting them to play ball in order to re-elect the president may be asking too much of them.

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Obama’s Super PAC Problems

President Obama has a huge lead on Mitt Romney when it comes to campaign fundraising, but that margin shrinks significantly when Super PACs are added into the pictures. Pro-Romney Super PACs have been raising cash steadily, but the pro-Obama Priorities USA group has had trouble bringing in donors, Bloomberg reports:

Through March, only 12 of Obama’s 532 top fundraisers had donated to Priorities USA Action, a super political action committee created to support his re-election. Priorities has only raised about $9 million compared to a combined $80 million brought in by the two main super-PACs dedicated to defeating Obama: American Crossroads, formed by Karl Rove, and Restore Our Future, a group backing presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The leaders of Priorities have asked former President Bill Clinton to tap the pool of donors who helped fund his campaign and Hillary Clinton’s White House run. Yet Priorities lacks on its donor list most of the core group of Chicagoans who backed Obama’s presidential ambitions four years ago.

One government professor quoted in the story speculated that Democrats are wary about giving money to Priorities USA because they feel that negative advertising is unseemly. That’s absurd. Democrats are just as ruthless when it comes to negative ads as Republicans are. But there are other political reasons these Democrats might be hesitant about donating to Super PACs. Liberals almost universally condemn the Citizens United ruling. People give to politicians in part because it makes them feel good, like they’re behind a worthy cause. But many liberals would probably feel like hypocrites – like they’re betraying their ideals – if they give through a fundraising channel they’ve claimed is corrupting politics.

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President Obama has a huge lead on Mitt Romney when it comes to campaign fundraising, but that margin shrinks significantly when Super PACs are added into the pictures. Pro-Romney Super PACs have been raising cash steadily, but the pro-Obama Priorities USA group has had trouble bringing in donors, Bloomberg reports:

Through March, only 12 of Obama’s 532 top fundraisers had donated to Priorities USA Action, a super political action committee created to support his re-election. Priorities has only raised about $9 million compared to a combined $80 million brought in by the two main super-PACs dedicated to defeating Obama: American Crossroads, formed by Karl Rove, and Restore Our Future, a group backing presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The leaders of Priorities have asked former President Bill Clinton to tap the pool of donors who helped fund his campaign and Hillary Clinton’s White House run. Yet Priorities lacks on its donor list most of the core group of Chicagoans who backed Obama’s presidential ambitions four years ago.

One government professor quoted in the story speculated that Democrats are wary about giving money to Priorities USA because they feel that negative advertising is unseemly. That’s absurd. Democrats are just as ruthless when it comes to negative ads as Republicans are. But there are other political reasons these Democrats might be hesitant about donating to Super PACs. Liberals almost universally condemn the Citizens United ruling. People give to politicians in part because it makes them feel good, like they’re behind a worthy cause. But many liberals would probably feel like hypocrites – like they’re betraying their ideals – if they give through a fundraising channel they’ve claimed is corrupting politics.

Some may also be nervously eyeing the attacks the Obama campaign has launched against top pro-Romney donors. Kimberly Strassel reports that the campaign is targeting these donors on its website, criticizing their businesses and work histories:

Save Mr. Obama, who acknowledges no rules. This past week, one of his campaign websites posted an item entitled “Behind the curtain: A brief history of Romney’s donors.” In the post, the Obama campaign named and shamed eight private citizens who had donated to his opponent. Describing the givers as all having “less-than-reputable records,” the post went on to make the extraordinary accusations that “quite a few” have also been “on the wrong side of the law” and profiting at “the expense of so many Americans.”

These are people like Paul Schorr and Sam and Jeffrey Fox, investors who the site outed for the crime of having “outsourced” jobs. T. Martin Fiorentino is scored for his work for a firm that forecloses on homes. Louis Bacon (a hedge-fund manager), Kent Burton (a “lobbyist”) and Thomas O’Malley (an energy CEO) stand accused of profiting from oil. Frank VanderSloot, the CEO of a home-products firm, is slimed as a “bitter foe of the gay rights movement.”

These are wealthy individuals, to be sure, but private citizens nonetheless. Not one holds elected office. Not one is a criminal. Not one has the barest fraction of the position or the power of the U.S. leader who is publicly assaulting them.

Donors to political campaigns and Super PACs are required to disclose for a reason. Journalists, watchdog groups, and opposing campaigns are certainly within their rights to report on conflicts of interest, ethics issues, or the backgrounds of these donors. But the Obama campaign goes too far with this. Claiming someone is “less-than-reputable” or “on the wrong side of the law” when he has committed no crime – outside of the offense of giving large sums of money to a political opponent – is not appropriate behavior by a political campaign. If Obama is setting this precedent, it’s no wonder Democrats are reluctant to cut large checks to his supporting Super PAC.

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Unions Seek Monopoly on Political Money

The Hill reports on a new campaign by liberal groups and labor unions, which seeks to expose companies that donate to super PACs and nonprofits in the lead-up to the presidential election:

Gathered Monday at the Washington headquarters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the groups issued a call to arms for the 2012 campaign, vowing to aggressively challenge companies that contribute to super-PACs and 501(c) nonprofit groups. …

Representatives of the coalition, which includes Common Cause, Health Care for America Now, Public Citizen and Occupy, among others, said they’d push for legislation and regulations that would require companies to disclose all of their political spending. …

Americans United for Change, a liberal group that has received labor backing, plans to offer a $25,000 cash reward to the first whistleblower who can prove a company has donated to a nonprofit without disclosing it.

“We’re going to challenge those donations. We’re going to challenge efforts to hide donations through (c)4s and (c)6s,” de Blasio said, referring to nonprofit groups.

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The Hill reports on a new campaign by liberal groups and labor unions, which seeks to expose companies that donate to super PACs and nonprofits in the lead-up to the presidential election:

Gathered Monday at the Washington headquarters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the groups issued a call to arms for the 2012 campaign, vowing to aggressively challenge companies that contribute to super-PACs and 501(c) nonprofit groups. …

Representatives of the coalition, which includes Common Cause, Health Care for America Now, Public Citizen and Occupy, among others, said they’d push for legislation and regulations that would require companies to disclose all of their political spending. …

Americans United for Change, a liberal group that has received labor backing, plans to offer a $25,000 cash reward to the first whistleblower who can prove a company has donated to a nonprofit without disclosing it.

“We’re going to challenge those donations. We’re going to challenge efforts to hide donations through (c)4s and (c)6s,” de Blasio said, referring to nonprofit groups.

Note that pretty much all of these groups have labor union ties. Even the Occupy Wall Street representative at the meeting was reportedly the point-person for OWS’s big anti-Verizon march coordinated with Big Labor last October.

There’s a good reason for the union involvement. At Power Line, John Hinderaker flags a chart of the top 25 donors to political campaigns from 1989 to 2012, compiled by Open Secrets, and finds a trend:

That’s right: you have to get all the way to number nineteen to find a donor who gives primarily to Republicans. Not only that, of the top 20 donors, 12 are unions. Special interest money overwhelmingly favors the Democrats, and the unions and their left-wing allies want to keep it that way. Their desire to maintain their near-monopoly is understandable, I guess, but it is hard to understand how they can seriously object to companies’ joining them in the political money game.

Unions sink enormous resources into getting Democratic politicians elected, and they’re not thrilled to have competition from the other side. Today, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry went on MSNBC to talk about the union’s plan to spend $400 million on helping Obama’s reelection campaign. How do groups like that think they have any standing to complain about big money in politics?

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Citizens United Decision’s Real Victim: Incumbent Protection Plans

The primary defeat of an incumbent Republican member of Congress on Tuesday in Ohio has provoked some cries of dismay from the media and other sectors of the chattering classes. No one really cares about Rep. Jean Schmidt, who lost her race in her Cincinnati-area district to a relatively unknown podiatrist. But the reason for concern we are told is the fact that Schmidt was, in part, taken down by a GOP insurgency in which a super PAC played a significant role. That’s the conceit of a New York Times feature this morning about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that limited the federal government’s ability to restrict political speech in the form of election advertisements. A Houston-based political action committee called the Campaign for Primary Accountability spent about $200,000 to help defeat Schmidt and is taking an active role in other races where incumbents are being challenged.

The Times story attempts to paint such super PACs as tools of corporate interests, which fits in with the liberal critique of Citizens United as undermining democracy. But the real moral of this story is very different. By making it easier for groups to spend money promoting their ideas and/or opposing candidates, the court has destroyed the dynamic of most congressional races in which it was virtually impossible for challengers to raise enough money to take on entrenched incumbents. The victim of Citizens United isn’t democracy; it’s the laws and traditions of congressional politics that amounted to a near-foolproof incumbent protection plan.

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The primary defeat of an incumbent Republican member of Congress on Tuesday in Ohio has provoked some cries of dismay from the media and other sectors of the chattering classes. No one really cares about Rep. Jean Schmidt, who lost her race in her Cincinnati-area district to a relatively unknown podiatrist. But the reason for concern we are told is the fact that Schmidt was, in part, taken down by a GOP insurgency in which a super PAC played a significant role. That’s the conceit of a New York Times feature this morning about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that limited the federal government’s ability to restrict political speech in the form of election advertisements. A Houston-based political action committee called the Campaign for Primary Accountability spent about $200,000 to help defeat Schmidt and is taking an active role in other races where incumbents are being challenged.

The Times story attempts to paint such super PACs as tools of corporate interests, which fits in with the liberal critique of Citizens United as undermining democracy. But the real moral of this story is very different. By making it easier for groups to spend money promoting their ideas and/or opposing candidates, the court has destroyed the dynamic of most congressional races in which it was virtually impossible for challengers to raise enough money to take on entrenched incumbents. The victim of Citizens United isn’t democracy; it’s the laws and traditions of congressional politics that amounted to a near-foolproof incumbent protection plan.

As The Hill points out in their piece on Schmidt’s loss, ethics charges as well as her lack of sympathy for Tea Party principles made her vulnerable. Her opponent Brad Wenstrup was also a more formidable foe than was generally understood. But the infusion of cash into this race by the super PAC helped offset the otherwise enormous advantage that a sitting member of the House such as Schmidt has in such a primary. Incumbents are magnets for campaign contributions because everyone with a cause or an interest to be served by congressional legislation or influence wants to be in their good graces. There is no such incentive to help their challengers.

Incumbents always think there is something not quite kosher about anything that makes it easy for those out of power to hold them accountable. The mainstream media, which prizes its constitutionally protected right to exercise influence on elections, similarly looks askance at efforts to break up their monopoly on campaign information via campaign advertising. Citizens United has not injected more money into our political system since money has always been — and always will be — an integral part of campaigns. Though incumbents will always have great advantages, what the High Court has done is to tilt the playing field a little bit more towards the challengers. Though President Obama and the liberal chorus in which the Times plays a key role decries this change, what they are complaining about is more democracy, not less.

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