Super PACs rule

Super PACs rule

February 6th, 2012 in Opinion Times

Serious fund-raising for the pending presidential campaign has barely begun to show up in the figures reported by the super PACs, which are now open to unlimited donations by corporations, unions and wealthy individuals, who may legally remain anonymous. But early figures on these PACs, which may fund campaigns for and against any candidate so long as they are not officially coordinated with candidates' campaigns, already show the daunting dimensions of their financial reach.

An analysis of super PAC reports to the Federal Election Commission last week by The New York Times provides an insightful perspective on how the millions of dollars that are flowing into super PACs break down. Consider, for example, the Restore Our Future super PAC, which was created by former aides to Mitt Romney and which -- surprise -- favors him and attacks his opponents so easily without any official "coordination."

Through Dec. 31, it had raised $30.2 million from 265 donors. To divide the total number of donors into the total figure and conclude that the "average" donation is $113,962 would be to grossly distort the reality. In fact, the top 10 donors gave $10 million of the total sum; the next highest 11 donors gave $6 million cumulatively; the next 70 donors gave $9.7 million total; and the next 85 gave $3.8 million. (Other donors gave less than $25,000.) So the average gift for the 10 biggest donors was $1 million apiece, and the average for the group of 85 was $44,705.

That's a big difference. And what they show is how the disproportionately high contributions of super wealthy supporters become the tail which wags the dog in politics. The majority of the super PAC's top 10 donors were in finance industries, and had their donations put in their name. But two of the donors shared a Provo, Utah, post office box that gave no clues to the donors' identities.

Of course, identities and political accountability are not necessary now for people who are rich enough to control a huge chunk of the nation's electoral machinery -- not since the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010 threw open the door to unlimited and unaccountable election spending if it's not "coordinated" with a campaign. Rich guys like Las Vegas casino czar Sheldon Adelson, who with his wife dropped two $5 million donations in two weeks into the super PAC that "favors" and Newt Gingrich to help him joust with Romney's campaign in Florida, showed precisely how porous the invisible distinction of non-coordination with a campaign can be.

Spending by the Restore Our Future super PAC that "favors" Romney, of course, also illustrated that invisible distinction very well in its consistent attacks on Gingrich in the same primary.

Donations to the "American Crossroads" super PAC, created in 2010 by Karl Rove some other Republican stalwarts to oppose the Obama administration, demonstrated a greater tilt toward super affluent donors. Of the $18.4 million it reported, $13.5 million came from just six donors.The largest donation in that group was $5 million, by Texas billionaire Harold Simmons. The next group, of three, gave $1.5 million, and 14 more donors contributed $2.7million. Of its $18.4 million total, $17.7 million came from just 23 of its 143 donors.

National politics has long been the domain of the super rich. What makes the current tilt under the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling is that it allows rich donations cloaked in anonymity, even as it allows unofficial coordination of their media and advertising power with soaring super PAC campaign spending that will dwarf the spending of the official campaigns, as it already has, by 3-to-1 margins in the GOP primaries this year.

If this sort of collusion is allowed to prevail, elections will be ruled by the nation's wealthiest top-tenth of one percent of earners, and our democracy will yield to their vested interests in concentrating their wealth and power.