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home : opinions : opinions October 03, 2015

5/24/2011 8:53:00 PM
Column: New PAC rules make bribery legal
For more information
Mother Jones: Democrats Challenge GOP's "Super-Duper PAC".

LA Times: New GOP 'super PAC' tests limits of campaign finance laws.

Cornell Law Library: Quote from Justice Kennedy, opinion on Citizens United case, section IV B.

LA Times: Secret campaign ad financing in offing as FEC is deadlocked.

Wall Street Journal:

Supreme Court decision and changes in the law.

Washington Post: Lower court battles that may affect all of this.

Tom Cantlon
Courier Columnist

Politicians asking for bribes is now legal. There are three recent legal changes involved. Follow me on this.

First, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the right to unlimited political spending. There are still restrictions on individual or corporate contributions directly to candidates' campaigns, but not to independent advocacy groups. Before this ruling, corporations were restricted on giving even to these independent groups.

These groups are PACs (Political Action Committees) that advocate for a policy or set of candidates. They have to act independently. That is, they can run ads and do other work for a particular policy, or they can advocate voting for a particular candidate, but they cannot coordinate that with the candidate's campaign committee. This has been pretty closely watched by competing groups so there really has been very little coordination. Although if a group decides to run ads for a candidate, it doesn't take much coordination. They can see what positions that candidate is taking and what issues he's running on, and run ads on the same themes.

With the Supreme Court ruling, corporations are free to give unlimited amounts to these PACs. It is expected that this will lead to a lot more money going to influence elections. The 2010 congressional elections bore this out. Before the 2010 election, Karl Rove formed two PACs specifically to help Republican candidates, and those two PACs collected huge amounts of money and were the biggest single financial factor in the election. Some PACs have a general cause that tends to align with one party or the other - say an environmental PAC, or a PAC against regulations on business. PACs such as what Rove created don't have a general cause; they have one focus and that is to get their candidates elected. They serve as an unofficial, independent war chest for the candidate.

When the Supreme Court justices made their ruling, they justified it in part on the idea that these huge corporate donations would be made public. They made a big point of that in their ruling. They reaffirmed that donations over $1,000 should be reported to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), and Justice Kennedy wrote, "disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages."

How those donations are made public is under the control of the FEC. The FEC is, by law, an even split of Democratic and Republican members. In the past, they have always managed to work out deadlocked votes when implementing regulations. Just recently, the Republicans on the FEC have said that the listing of donors does not apply to independent PACs and are refusing any regulation that would require it. With an even split of members, that leaves a deadlock, so there are no guidelines on reporting. Therefore, these PACs can take these huge donations and make no public reporting of it.

Up until recently, the fact these PACs had to act independently was taken as complete - no interaction with the candidate or their campaign. Now a major Republican PAC is saying that the independence only applies to how they spend the money, not on raising it. So they are planning to have fundraising events and meetings with potential donors in which the candidates themselves are doing the asking. The PACs are even telling donors that they can designate what candidate they want the PAC to spend the money on. The only thing the candidate and the donors cannot tell the PAC is how to spend that money, whether for ads, or get out the vote drives, or what content is in an ad.

Democrats are challenging this new approach, but the only avenue for a ruling is back to the deadlocked FEC.

Politicians still have to separate meetings with constituents about legislative issues from meetings about fundraising. As if that makes any difference under these new circumstances. So, say a politician is running for re-election and is on a committee that writes some corporate rules. They could, in a separate meeting, of course, ask that corporate group for some huge, election-changing donation. They could ask that it be given to some PAC and designated for their support. Now there is no requirement for any public listing of his asking, or of the corporate group's giving of the donation. We will never know about any such deal. In the past, that would have been considered soliciting a bribe. Now it is legal.

Democrats have opposed each step, but as each step has become the new rules of the game, they have decided they have to play the same game or lose.

Tom Cantlon is a longtime local resident, business owner and writer. Contact him at TomCantlon@TomCantlon.com.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2011
Article comment by: Can't Buy My Vote

To expand on the Honkey comment, I would say, based on observation over a long period of time, that a lot of the voting population is very gullable and apparently are, in many cases, stupid. What can we say? Look at the last election here in AZ. Does any reasonable person really believe that Ann Kirkpatrick is a "big spending Liberal" and was personally responsible for the AZ economy "drying up"? Money was flooding into those grossly misleading adds from all over the map. Harry Mitchell, some kind of a wild eyed "Liberal" or Socialist. Gabrielle Giffords, a real far Lefty? The baloney they sling about all the power of the Unions and how it is equally in favor of Dems is grossly overstated. What we really have is a full court press to suppress voters, of all kinds, who would be inclined to vote for Democrats, to go along with the huge glut of Mystery Money available to support Corporate Stooges for Elected Office. A real strategy to radically tilt the playing field in favor of obedient Republican candidates.

Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2011
Article comment by: McCarthy's Ghost

As expected, it just takes cantlon a few paragraphs before he starts to blame the whole mess on Republicans. Marxists often utilize various methods of propaganda and "misinformation", therefore, none of us should be surprised at the standard approach by this individual. To suggest in any way that Republicans are more to blame for the corruption in political financing is a sign of only one of two possibilities, there are no other options. Thus, cantlon is either being deliberately dishonest or he is incredibly ignorant of the facts. Given the attention he spends on political affairs in general, I think we know exactly which of our two possibilities we are dealing with here.

Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2011
Article comment by: s- marie

Then we should make new laws to put those donations "on the books" rather than making them legal.

Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2011
Article comment by: The Real Prescott Patriot

Tom, until you realize that the Left and Right are one in the same, you will never see that cooperate "donations" are "off the books" and major corporations such as BP were the biggest donors to Barry Obama!

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Article comment by: Tom Cantlon

To: Tom Steele, and I'll include SOS too, I know we disagree on politics and I know you sometimes have good points. I don't see one here. Yes, the Dems are going to jump on this bandwagon just as much. Yes, SOS, union pac giving is big (second to Rove's two PACs). FYI the unions are subject to the same restrictions, and now the same unlimited donations. Personally I don't want to see this unlimited, hidden giving for any party. You give a negative comment but does that mean you approve of unlimited donations? Hidden donations? Unlimited, hidden donations solicited by politicians (regardless of stripe)? I doubt it. Or maybe you do and should just say so. I bet we can agree that this development is bad even while we continue to disagree on other issues.

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Article comment by: Tom Cantlon

One more link new today. Two stories in one article that expand on possible complications for donors and PACs. That the IRS may not desginate Rove's PACs as charitable (they are after all primarily political) which would mean they have to list their donors. And the possiblility that donors have to list their donations and pay taxes on them. Both of these have long been the law, it's just a question of whether the IRS will actually enforce them.

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Article comment by: s- marie

Mr. Steele, I fail to see how your comments are relevant to this piece.

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Article comment by: honky brujo

The Republicans and their Rich Masters believe that Americans are so stupid and fearful that they will keep voting against their best interests. We will see in 2012 if money can buy an election in America, because that's all they have. No ideas, no leaders, but a boat load of cash.

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Article comment by: GOPs FACT FREE Nation

Thomas Jefferson was a true visionary, his insights concieved in centuries past, are spot on, TODAY in the matters of Political Power, and Corruption that plague America. Now, add to these imminient theats to our Democracy, the influence of undisclosed, Foreign Monies and Government donors.
Here's a few Jeffersonian thoughts
"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country".
"Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains".
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies."
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be"
- Thomas Jefferson

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Article comment by: sos s

There go all those "evil" corporations again. Watch out because the "boogeyman" corporation is going to get you! Not a single mention of the demoncratic parties parasitical dependency on unions who are the biggest single group of political contributors in the nation. Why are they always excluded from campaign finance legislation?

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Article comment by: Tom Steele

Too bad Tom ... you were probably very happy the foreign funding and the leftist unions drained treasuries to fund Barrack Obama's campaign of "hope" and "change". Those actions were O.K. Well, the BHO administration has shown its true colors there is little chance they will be in office in January 2013. Most of the reason for their loss will be their handling of the economy, wars and inflation of food and fuel costs. The BHO spin machine will no doubt win the myopic progressives and their special interest minorities but the rest of us have seen the light and we don't like what we see.

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