Corrupting super PACs

Corrupting super PACs

February 25th, 2012 in Opinion Times

If it's not yet clear to all that the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010 opened the door for this country's megarich individuals and corporations to influence or control the election of our president, consider this: A select group of just over two dozen multimillionaires, billionaires and corporations have quickly become the biggest givers to the super PACs that are now funding most of the advertising for candidates in the Republican presidential primaries. The super PACs they support often outspend the official campaign organizations of the candidates they openly favor by a two-to-one to three-to-one margins.

Such electioneering funding by super PACs in behalf of specific candidates was allowed under the Citizens United ruling, so long as the PACs did not coordinate their campaigns with those of the candidates they favor. That's a technical distinction that in reality makes no difference at all. There's no question as to why the media campaigns of the super PACs are overwhelming the candidates' own campaigns. Rich donors may only give $2,500 legally per election cycle to a candidate's campaign. With no rules or limits for the super PACs' technically unofficial campaigns, they can use their fortunes freely to make the political playing field -- and ultimately the candidates' political agendas -- their own. Some of them are quite transparent about that: some oppose environmental regulations, others oppose higher tax rates on the rich.

Las Vegas casino czar Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, who wrote two $5 million checks in the South Carolina and Florida primaries for the Winning Our Future super PAC that favors Newt Gingrich, favor American patronage of Israel. Dr. Adelson's two daughters or their spouses kicked in another million to that super PAC.

Harold C. Simmons, a Texas billionaire, corporate raider and longtime political activist -- he helped fund the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry -- has plowed $12 million into the American Crossroads super PAC headed by Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush's longtime aide. His conservative agenda is pretty clear. He also put $1 million into the super PAC that favored Texas Gov. Rick Perry's brief fling in the current GOP presidential primary.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel chipped in $2.5 million to the super PAC that favors Ron Paul, a fellow libertarian. Since President Obama finally allowed a former aide to open a super PAC that favors him, Hollywood's Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks, has put $2 million into Priorities USA Action. Another $1 million gift to that super PAC came from the Service Employees International Union, a listing this week by The New York Times of the top 25 individuals, corporate givers and unions showed.

Of more than two dozen donations of $1 million and above, the latter two were the only gifts to the super PAC that favors Obama, and the SEIU gift was the only one by a union. Although more gifts surely will flow into the super PAC that favors Obama as the presidential campaign tightens, all of the big gifts so far were in behalf of GOP aspirants by heavy-hitter Republicans and a handful of corporations.

So far, the super PACs that favor Mitt Romney are sitting on top of the cash pile. They have picked up more than a dozen gifts of at least $1 million from hedge fund managers Julian H. Robertson Jr., John Paulson and Paul Singer, other financial and business tycoons, and two of Romney's former campaign aides.

The Supreme Court justices can't help but see how their narrow 5-4 ruling in the Citizens United case, overturning a century of settled law against such unfettered campaign meddling by rich individuals and corporations, is making a mockery of the political landscape. The high court presently has an opportunity to revise the Citizens United ruling, and it should take it. The opportunity arises in the wake of a filing last week in which the court stayed a ruling of a Montana court that upheld the state's anti-corruption campaign law, which roughly parallels the federal campaign finance law that prevailed before the Supreme Court dumped it the Citizens United ruling.

Writing to support the stay, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said, "Montana's experience, and experience elsewhere since this court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations 'do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.'" She was quoting Justices Anthony Kennedy's justification for allowing such expenditures, which he said might provide access to or influence over politicians, but would not corrupt them. If the court looks at the current gifts to super PACs by the ultra rich in favor of specific candidates, it can hardly profess with a straight face that the Citizens United ruling is not corrupting our political system faster than we can say million-dollar-gifts for special consideration.