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Super PACs Super-Size Campaign Corruption

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Posted on Jan 20, 2012
AP / Charlie Neibergall

Super-PAC ’em: Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich waves while walking in a Fourth of July parade in Clear Lake, Iowa, last summer.

By Bill Boyarsky

Given time and enough money, the super PACs and other secretive political campaign funds are capable of causing corruptive influence that could reach from the presidency down to the lowest ranked members of the House.

So far, most attention in the campaign has been centered on the opaque nature of these funds, their size and their impact—particularly on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, targeted by the super PAC affiliated with Mitt Romney’s campaign. Thanks to Stephen Colbert, the subject of campaign finance, usually too arcane for public instruction, has been elevated at least to cocktail party conversation.

The media have also been focused on how the money is being used—in television commercials and other advertising, most of it negative.

But not enough notice has been paid to the possibility—or even likelihood—of corruption. Corruption, of course, has always been part of politics. What’s new is the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United case. In one of the worst misjudgments of this court, the justices by a 5-4 vote killed as unconstitutional the law banning corporations and unions from paying for political advertising with unlimited contributions from their own treasuries.

The majority said the ban was unconstitutional, violating First Amendment rights of free speech. Corporations and unions, the justices said, are entitled to the same First Amendment protections as individuals.

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Corporations and unions quickly moved into action. In the 2010 elections, 80 super PACs registered with the Federal Election Commission. This year, more than 250 have signed up. The election law and its many loopholes permitted formation of other kinds of political action committees, all of them grouped under the classification of organizations that give “independent expenditures.”

Because of loopholes in federal election laws, these contributions are largely undisclosed.

The power of the super PACs was most recently illustrated by the pro-Romney operation, Restore Our Future, as the South Carolina campaign began with a furious effort to knock off Gingrich.

The numbers, as compiled by OpenSecrets.org, part of the Center for Responsive Politics, are amazing and appalling. On Jan. 10, the Romney PAC spent $1.2 million on media advertising. This was followed by $1.7 million a day later and $824,435 on Jan. 17.

Campaign reformer Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, has pointed out the danger of such big and secretive contributions. He wrote in Politico, “As a result of these developments, secret money and huge contributions are being injected into federal elections in ways and amounts not seen since the Watergate scandals. History demonstrates that such money leads to corruption and scandal.”

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in writing the Citizens United opinion, took a different view. He said, “… Independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. In fact, there is only scant evidence that independent expenditures even ingratiate elected officials to succumb to improper influences from independent expenditures.”

Those words no doubt reflected the justice’s views, shaped perhaps by his late father, Anthony J. Kennedy, who, when I arrived in Sacramento as a young legislative reporter, was one of the most powerful lobbyists in California’s Capitol. Kennedy died in 1963, and his son took over his law-lobbying practice. He grew friendly with Edwin Meese, one of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan’s closest aides, and with Reagan himself.

But then and now I found such sentiments divorced from reality. Any candidate receiving help from a super PAC knows where the money comes from. I’m sure Romney knows who contributes to Restore Our Future, just as the Sacramento legislators knew who contributed to their campaigns.

And if Romney doesn’t know, someone close to him—and who would be close in the White House—certainly will remember the names. Same with President Barack Obama. The pro-Obama PAC Priorities USA Action has started slowly but will speed up as the election nears.

As professor Richard Hasen of UC Irvine’s law school observed in an article on CNN’s website, so much money will be spent on the presidential race that he is not concerned super PAC money will influence the outcome, “although it might.”

Rather, Hasen said, “I am concerned that super PAC spending will influence the outcome of close Senate and congressional races. And I am greatly concerned that when Election Day is over and the public will stop hearing about super PACs, contributions to these groups will skew policy away from the public and toward the interest of the new fat cats of campaign finance as members of the House and Senate thank their friends and look over their shoulder at potential enemies.”

This is just the point that Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders made in his powerful Senate speech calling for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.

These contributions are like all debts. The IOUs come due and must be paid in Congress and, if the matter is big enough, even in the White House. These debts are not paid in cash but in special favors to the secretive donors, favors not available to anyone else. Add up the huge debts and paybacks, and you’ve opened the door to corruption.


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By frozejake, March 9, 2012 at 4:49 pm Link to this comment

cul whoever wins, he or she must go on with the move on the public.

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By frozejake, March 9, 2012 at 4:41 pm Link to this comment

We will not take elections serious but lets do it for everybody.Big money let it win.charme

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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, January 26, 2012 at 12:34 pm Link to this comment

@Arabian Sinbad, January 22 at 12:43 pm

Very informative link. 
The summary sentence of the article, relating that Rahm Emmanuel seems to be following in the footsteps of other municipal officials such as comrade Rudy Guiliani, who, with a touch of POTUS-envy and perhaps a small Napoleonic complex, begin to act like minor tyrants, deserves amplification.  “Dictator behavior“ is a better fit.  His “presidential directive” type of behavior reflects the motive of the Chicago machine for bending the laws in order to slide him into the mayoral slot.  For thirty years, the American patriot of Jewish faith, Sherman Skolnick, provided inside information on the Chicago machine – also the Kenyan, B.H.Obama.

It is readily understandable however, when considering that the “machine” in Chicago put a Kenyan-born man into a social service position in Chicago, subsequently slid him into a U.S. senate seat.  A look at clarifying information indicates that the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Israeli-types that manipulate Wall Street, the “Federal Reserve” and the world banking system were simply enacting another of their long-term plans. 

Comrade Emmanuel´s deportment reflects the un-American behavior of the marines who urinated on the dead remains of indigenous defenders of their homeland.  Which behaviors constitute a microcosm of the macrocosm that has occurred at the US presidential level for many years; but which accelerated after Nov. 2008.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2085378/US-troops-urinating-dead-Afghan-bodies-video-used-Taliban-recruitment-tool.html

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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, January 26, 2012 at 12:10 pm Link to this comment

@ Lafayette “So, if the will to change political game rules does not come from We,
the Sheeple, where will it ever come from? Certainly not the one per-centers.”

Is PAC activity more than a form of entertainment for the super-rich, and a method
they have for swapping favors and pay-offs?

The Clint Curtis story describes how the US presidential elections of 2000 and 2004
were decided. The mayorship of NYC, the mayorship 2011 of Chicago, the Iowa
primary, all voting machine fraud.  It will take an “act of God” to interrupt the Bush
family/Zionist programming of the voting machines that decide the 2012 US
presidential election.  That is, if one occurs. 

Currently, it is fallacious to think that the deciding vote will come from the 99%.  The
two digits punched into the computer will render the final decision.

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Hollywood Russ's avatar

By Hollywood Russ, January 26, 2012 at 11:18 am Link to this comment

Citizens United is one of the worst decisions of SCOTUS since the Dred Scott
decision. There is no logic to it. It opened the floodgates to billions of dollars in
campaign contributions. If you don’t think this buys access to the corridors of
power, then you seriously have your head buried in the sand. Barry Sanders is
correct in looking for ways to mute or destroy this terrible decision by the
Supreme Court. Oh, I forgot about their intervention in the 2000 election by which
a doofus, fool got anointed President of the U.S. We need to impeach at least one
or two of the crooked jerks in the Court, like Clarence Thomas, who thought he
was above paying taxes.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, January 26, 2012 at 4:30 am Link to this comment

A POLITICAL CIRCUS

As professor Richard Hasen of UC Irvine’s law school observed ..., so much money will be spent on the presidential race that he is not concerned super PAC money will influence the outcome, “although it might.”

Still, United Citizens opened the campaign donation floodgates for reasons that are not entire justifiable.

This is the pertinent question/ Do campaign donations “buy elections”? I rather think they don’t. But they certainly cost one helluva lotta money. The WSJ figures the total is close to $5.3B. (See here.)

The money will buy media coverage of a candidate, which puts them in the spotlight. From there, it is the debates and, sometimes, their speechifying that generates the all-important “campaign buzz” that must be maintained in order to win.

Let’s not forget, however, a key parameter of both national and state-level elections. Barely half of the American voting population bothers to go to the polls. So, the money is - I’ll bet - most useful to get people who vote a party-candidate to the polls.

America’s defamation laws are not enforced and so much of campaigning is negative advertising - which is shameful. Unfortunately, it works. Who knows why many of the body-politic enjoy candidates bashing one another in the gutter?

Media Message Manipulation is a science. One seeks the right message for the right constituency - young/old, coloured/white, religious/non-religious, low/middle/upper class, etc., etc., etc.

This messaging is what tends to convince an individual to listen more closely to what a candidate is saying and, in that manner, arrive at a decision to vote for them or not. But getting voters to the polls is still the hard part. Almost half of them wait it out sitting at home watching the Boob-Tube.

Almost $6B is a lotta money for just campaign hoopla. Think of how many schools we could have built with that money. Now THAT would have been a justifiably good use of the funds spent.

But, who knows, maybe Americans like a Political Circus? Because, in terms of representational government, they have elected a good many strange animals into office. Most of ‘em millionaires.

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By Lafayette, January 26, 2012 at 3:23 am Link to this comment

THE ONE PER-CENTERS IN CONGRESS

No doubt it showed that he has his heart in the right place. Income Disparity is THE major challenge of the American economy. Far too much of the wealth our GDP generates “trickles upward” to a select class. That class can rightly be called Plutocrats because of their overbearing influence on the political process.

Our Congress is constituted of far too many millionaires. Yes, 47% of them are millionaires of which 100% of are in the 1% of our population. (See here if you don’t believe it.)

Do we begrudge them their wealth? No, lucky them. But should these people be representing Jack ‘n Jill America in Congress or the White House?

Do we think that they have the slightest concern for how much a bus ticket from the burbs costs the mother of three kids who cleans rooms at a downtown hotel for only slightly more than the minimum wage?

They could care less. Why? Because it takes money to run an election campaign - and not that much will be coming from the working class. Plutocrat money begets more money to run a campaign. Coupled with district manipulation (aka gerrymandering) that encrusts the two-parties into sharing power in Congress, it almost guarantees a party-candidate’s election.

Moreover, who is so naïve as to believe that campaign funding (particularly the superPACs unleashed by the CU decision of the Supreme Court) is donated with no strings attached? And those strings intend to maintain the status quo of far too low taxation of the Plutocrat Class.

MY POINT

All of which means that the electoral system is rigged.

So, does it not seem clear that our objective should be to take money out of the political game? Even if it takes Federal funds to assure that any one with the courage and the intelligence to stand for election has the chance to succeed.

But of course, how could Obama say that to the millionaires aggregated in a combined session of Congress? It would have been like slapping half of them in the face.

So, if the will to change political game rules does not come from We, the Sheeple, where will it ever come from? Certainly not the one per-centers.

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By drbhelthi, January 24, 2012 at 4:32 am Link to this comment

@Arabian Sinbad
” - - imagine the damage Zionists can cause to democracy when they get together
in a big lobby called AIPAC!”

How very accurate.
After the demolition of the WTC, which evidence indicates was done by the
MOSSAD, notice how swiftly the mayor had the ruble removed and shipped away. 
A former insider remarked, ” - - no one could have done a better cover up than was
done by Rudy Giuliani.”  Also, notice how he was replaced afterwards.  For much
better coverage, read “Gideon´s Spies, the Secret History of the MOSSAD,” by
Gordon Thomas.

The deceit and dishonesty of Israel is consistent and documented from the time of Ben-Gurion, who defrauded on the inspection of its nuclear reactor in 1963.  Israel, the only identified land-mass with 120 nuclear weapons and two nuclear reactors that is not inspected by the IAEC.  Certainly, they want to misuse the USGOV to destroy Iran´s potential ability to compete, and continue to ride forever on the waves of the Holocaust.  Which itself, may have been a Zionist, false flag operation.

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By Howard, January 23, 2012 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment

Arabian arshole;
  u have what is called a hard.n for zionists.  Get off
the bandwagon.  Next thing you’ll be blaming them for
your bad marriage and that they cause the sun to come
up in the east, and not the west. Imagine !
  On the simplest of stories u gotta’ get your sick
prejudice in gear.  Lordee, you need bigtime help.

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Arabian Sinbad's avatar

By Arabian Sinbad, January 22, 2012 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment

Click on the link below and read how one Zionist is working towards bringing fascism to America outlawing dissent and limiting free speech! This is what one Zionist at the level of a city mayor can do, then imagine the damage Zionists can cause to democracy when they get together in a big lobby called AIPAC!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/jan/19/outlawing-dissent-rahm-emanuel-new-regime

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By gerard, January 22, 2012 at 10:30 am Link to this comment

Ask Justice Kennedy to produce some “scant evidence” that lobby money does NOT pay off.  Trouble is, we
the common horde have no access to Mr. Kennedy—we don’t even create a buzz in his ear!

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Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, January 22, 2012 at 9:40 am Link to this comment

Good posts DBM

The Republicans have been behind this thing from the beginning, with their bought and paid for justices to their bought and paid for congress and anyone in-between.

Thinkprogress:

“Last month the six FEC commissioners killed — on a 3-3 vote — a motion to begin consideration of Van Hollen’s suggestions. By law, the agency may have only three members of any political party. By tradition, the president chooses three commissioners and the other party’s Senate leader chooses three. The three Republican appointees — Commissioners Caroline Hunter, Donald McGahn II and Matthew Petersen — were the three “no” votes. The same trio also made headlines last month when they took the view that even coordination between Super PACs and candidates might not qualify as coordination between Super PACs and candidates. The lawsuit is still pending.”

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/01/21/408198/republicans-on-fec-making-citizens-united-worse/

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By DBM, January 22, 2012 at 5:25 am Link to this comment

Again on Kennedy (excuse my hobby horse):

“[T]here is only scant evidence that independent expenditures even ingratiate elected officials to succumb to improper influences from independent expenditures.”

EVIDENCE:

The largest political contibutors:  Financial Institutions
Typical result:  Deregulation resulting in legalised theft and bank bailouts.

Next largest (usually):  Oil Industry
Typical result:  The most lucrative economic sector in history receives government subsidies (i.e. is made even more lucrative by levying the rest of the economy) and the country spends an enormous part of its military budget in support of Oil industry interests (read “profits”).

Next largest (recently):  Health sector - Pharmas, Health Care providers and Health Insurance
Typical result:  Single Payer (publically funded) health care is not even considered and the “reform” bill passed is merely a boon to the insurance sector.  No semblance of price competitiveness allowed to creep in to the various cartels.

Next largest (unclear):  Military / Security providers
Typical result:  A Pentagon budget which grows faster than the economy - always - without meaningful review - despite poor results and outcomes.  The amounts spent by this sector would probably be more if they were not able to achieve their aims through “political engineering” (a fancy term for spreading their manufacturing activity throughout key congressional districts).

Exactly what sort of evidence would not be “scant” to Mr Kennedy?  Written promises?  It’s not exactly rocket science ...

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By DBM, January 22, 2012 at 4:52 am Link to this comment

Kennedy again:

“[T]here is only scant evidence that independent expenditures even ingratiate elected officials to succumb to improper influences from independent expenditures.”

I think that is what is called a flat-out lie.  It’s not a fib, not an opinion, not dissembling; just a bald-faced through the teeth Lie (with a capital “L”).

It is inconceivable that someone as intelligent and informed as Justice Kennedy could possibly believe his own words.

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By DBM, January 22, 2012 at 4:48 am Link to this comment

So the perennial deciding vote in the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy, is a 2nd generation lobbyist!  That explains a lot.

... and is a perfect example of the corruption Citizen’s United promotes.  I mean campaign contributions wouldn’t have had anything to do with identifying Kennedy as the most deserving appointee to the Supreme Court would they?  I’m sure he was just the most outstanding jurist available at the time ... right.

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blogdog's avatar

By blogdog, January 22, 2012 at 12:48 am Link to this comment

only option: all money out - no paid advertisting, no donations, anyone producing
enough autographs gets on the ballot - publicly run forums - open debates - free
media for all candidates - let the best ideas win

anyone feeling stifled that their money can no longer talk (or swear) - grab a pen,
a keyboard, a placard - write a letter, write a song, write a play, write a book,
make a movie - just don’t buy a politician, don’t buy a campaign - not allowed

but, will never happen, if only for lost revenue from advertising, printing, media
industries - elections are big, big business

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A Bird in the Hand's avatar

By A Bird in the Hand, January 21, 2012 at 6:43 pm Link to this comment

‘Because most of us, excluding those who spend time in forums like this one, are not political. The real danger of the huge amounts of money poured into elections by corporations and special interest groups are manifested precisely because people tend to trust what they read, see, and hear.’

Good point Adree..Very sad and very true..

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By Marian Griffity, January 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@David Cyr,

What is liberal about this, and what is misdirection about it?

Regardless of WHY it is effective, when evidence shows that the candidate with the biggest (negative) advertisment campaign wins this means that allowing unlimited amounts of money into the election is a powerfully corrupting influence.

If you argue that the fact that it is bad that for a majority of the americans not only their world view but their entire self-image is defined by television, then I will most certainly agree with you.

But don’t try to pin this on any single political party. It’s a social problem plain and simple, and the only solution is better education.

That said, the fact that relentless advertising works is not merely a matter of ‘sheeple’ or ‘ignorant voters’. Peer pressure and group conformity are very powerful mechanism in the human psyche and to a large extent required to be able to operate in a group. Information that is repeated enough will eventually gather a veneer of truth, simply by being so pervasive. (“Ceterum autem censeo, Carthaginem esse delendam”, not to be confused with Goebbels’ big lie, though politicians of both parties make use of that fallacy also and the two tactics can be used together for great effect (e.g. the trickle down economics meme))

Only by schooling people to independent thought and through giving them enough information to make an informed decision can this kind of disinformation and agitprop being fought.

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David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, January 21, 2012 at 11:20 am Link to this comment

QUOTE, Bill Boyarsky:

“Super PACs Super-Size Campaign Corruption”
_________________

More liberal misdirection!

The comfortably corporate compliantly corrupt voters who vote for the corporate party’s Republicans and Democrats have been providing 99% popular vote mandate approvals for the ever increasing corruption of corporatism… liberals and conservatives voting in solidarity together regularly providing popular vote mandates for its perpetual war, ruthless economic exploitation, and the rapidly increasing destruction of our human habitable environment.

Big Money only wins elections because too many millions of sheeple refuse to vote against Big Money.

People who don’t want corrupt corporate gangster government refuse to vote for it, and they cast protest votes affirmatively against it. Those are the only votes that are **NOT** wasted!

Jill Stein for President:

http://www.jillstein.org

Voter Consent Wastes Dissent:

http://chenangogreens.org/home/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=498&Itemid=1

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By amex, January 21, 2012 at 10:43 am Link to this comment

I submit that we are already a Fascistic government.  We started the slide 40 years ago and Bush perfected it in 2001.
Why are Americans so dumb anyway?  I mean that Troll Gingrich?

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By MeHere, January 21, 2012 at 10:20 am Link to this comment

Good article.

Really, what is there to vote for? The only good reason to vote is to build up a third party even though its chances of winning are nil for now.  There’s also too much focus on presidential elections and too little on the election of legislators, as if the two were unrelated. We have elections that are only legally democratic because the political criminals have made laws that protect the web of corruption.

Are these the type of elections we’re actively supporting in struggling countries?  If only we could bring true democratic elections to our own country.

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By ardee, January 21, 2012 at 4:17 am Link to this comment

“Why are the American people dumb enough to believe the BS?”

Because most of us, excluding those who spend time in forums like this one, are not political. The real danger of the huge amounts of money poured into elections by corporations and special interest groups are manifested precisely because people tend to trust what they read, see, and hear.

The Citizen United decision is a blow to the heart of our democratic process, gives impetus to our continued slide towards fascism and , as the rising cost of elections shows plainly, gives us legislators beholden to the minority and able to ignore the wishes and needs of the majority.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, January 20, 2012 at 10:35 pm Link to this comment

KINDA DUMB

The media have also been focused on how the money is being used—in television commercials and other advertising, most of it negative.

Then why is it the American people are so gullible as to believe the BS?

Do they think that the selling of a presidency is like that of soap-detergents? “Mine washes whiter than white”

Which is kinda dumb.

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By Misfiteye, January 20, 2012 at 5:27 pm Link to this comment

Why bother with elections?

Let whoever raises the most money win.

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