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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Super PACs and Presidential Candidates

Nicholas Confessore writes at The New York Times that most current presidential candidates have support from at least one super PAC:

Restore Our Future is run by three veterans of Mr. Romney’s 2008 campaign team. They were recently joined by a fund-raiser who left Mr. Romney’s 2012 team, according to a report by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity. Restore Our Future raised more than $12 million during the first half of the year — more than any actual Republican candidate except Mr. Romney himself.

A pair of aides to President Obama started Priorities USA, the leading Democratic Super PAC, just two months after they left their jobs at the White House in February. And two weeks ago, a onetime consultant to Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota took over Citizens for a Working America, a previously existing Super PAC, with plans to focus solely on electing Ms. Bachmann president.

On Thursday, Thomas E. Muir, an executive at the Huntsman Corporation, filed papers to form Our Destiny PAC, a Super PAC devoted to electing Jon M. Huntsman Jr., a former Utah governor and the son of the corporation’s founder.

Make Us Great Again, a Super PAC founded late last month, is backed by Mike Toomey, a prominent lobbyist in Austin, Tex., who is a former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Mr. Toomey also owns a private New Hampshire island with Dave Carney, the top strategist for Mr. Perry’s nascent presidential campaign.

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Early fund-raising suggests that the new groups are relying on a handful of wealthy donors capable of writing five-, six- and even seven-figure checks. According to a study published last week by the Center for Responsive Politics, more than 80 percent of money raised by Republican-leaning Super PACs this year came from just 35 donors.

Democratic-leaning Super PACs relied on an even smaller group, with more than 80 percent of contributions coming from just 23 donors.

“What took thousands of individual donations to make significant political advertisements in 2008 can now just take one phone call,” said Spencer MacColl, the study’s author.

At the Los Angeles Times, Tom Hamburger, Melanie Mason and Matea Gold note a potential problem for Perry:

Perry will be hamstrung by new Securities and Exchange Commission rules that inhibit donations from financial services company employees to sitting governors. The regulations are intended to limit contributions that could influence state contracting decisions.

For this and other reasons, Perry is likely to be more reliant on a familiar network of corporate and construction barons and conservative fundraisers who backed his campaigns for governor, as well as a cluster of "super PACs," the new entities that can legally raise unlimited sums from wealthy donors, including corporations, for independent campaign efforts.

The SEC rules could pose a serious hurdle for the Texas governor. In 2008, securities firms alone gave the Republican presidential candidates nearly $20 million, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Perry can succeed without the support of Wall Street, but it would require strong help from other sectors and could increase his reliance on the super PACs. The biggest of the new groups is the Texas-based super PAC Make Us Great Again, led in part by Michael Toomey, a lobbyist and a former chief of staff to the governor.

Campaign finance lawyers are split on whether financial services employees affected by the rules could simply channel their money to super PACs working on Perry's behalf. Ken Gross of Skadden, Arps is urging affected clients in the financial services industry to be cautious about giving to a super PAC for Perry.

"You don't want to be doing something indirectly that you can't do directly," said Gross, who represents Democratic and Republican clients.

Republican campaign finance lawyer Jan Baran said he believed such donations would be permitted, but agreed that the new rules were worrisome for the campaign.

"Perry will definitely lose some campaign funds because of the pay-to-play rules," Baran said.

And then there is Colbert, as The New York Times reports:

Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow may be a running gag on “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, but it is spending money as it sees fit, with little in the way of disclosure, just like its noncomedic brethren.

Comedians, including Mr. Colbert in the last election, have undertaken faux candidacies. But his Super PAC riff is a real-world exercise, engaging in a kind of modeling by just doing what Super PACs do.

And he has come under some real-world criticism for inserting himself in the political process so directly. Mr. Colbert, who lampoons conservative talk show hosts by pretending to be one, is now making fun of Super PACs by actually forming one. His committee spent money on advertising in Iowa during the run-up to the Ames straw poll, which took place Aug. 13. It’s as though Jonathan Swift took his satirical suggestion about Irish babies one step further and actually cooked one.

At first blush, it seemed to be one more skirmish in the culture wars: East Coast funnyman uses his fan base to pay for satirical commercials, implicitly demeaning the Ames straw poll in specific, and Iowa in general. Mr. Colbert suggested that all the soft-money ads with their soft-focus shots of rural tableaus were exposing the children of Iowa to “cornography.” But the folkways being criticized belonged to the Beltway, not the Corn Belt.