The new fundraising norms: More money, less timely disclosure than ever

My buddy Tom Hamburger of the L.A. Times is out this a.m. with a fine piece that brings together the new almost-anything-goes norms of fund-raising in the age of the SuperPACs with the pending reshuffle of the dates of the early primaries and caucuses and comes to this conclusion (although not stated quite this bluntly):

The Republican nomination battle will be decided, or nearly so, before the public has a reasonable idea of who is bankrolling the campaigns of the major contenders.

This is disturbing and someone needs to figure out a better system of campaign finance (but don’t count on that happening, this election cycle or any foreseeable cycle.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s disastrous “Citizens United” ruling, the big money players have figured out how to organize SuperPACs which give unprecedented freedom for wealthy donors and yes, big corporations, to funnel virtually unlimited sums into the campaigns of their favored candidates. The advertising blitizes run by these SuperPACs are even worse than the ones run by the campaigns themselves, because the candidates don’t have to take any accountability for the half-truths they contain. (“Half-truth” is a generous word choice, in this instance.) The ads are attributable to the various meaningless names of the SuperPACs like Americans for Goodness and Justice.

This is all old news. The new news is that the primary and caucus season is now being frontloaded to such an unprecedented degree that the Iowa caucuses will almost certainly occur in 2011 and the first five caucuses and primaries will be over (and, in all likelihood, the nomination battle will be over or down to two candidates) before the first date by which the SuperPACs have to make any disclosure of which millionaires and big corporations have paid for the brainwashing ads that secured the nomination for the lucky winner.

I know that under the various Supreme Court doctrines (“corporations are people and have the rights of individual Americans,” “money is speech and therefore money to pay for political commercials is protected by the First Amendment”) it is very difficult to legislate a sane campaign finance regimen that gives proper weight to other important values, such as bringing the counrty’s money power into some better balance with its people power. And it would also be naïve to assume that mere diclosure of the sources of the money would create a proper balance. But, c’mon.

Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/06/2011 - 11:06 am.

    Eric, as you’ve been cataloging, the GOP field is being steadily narrowed down. This is happening in large part because of poll numbers from across the country. These polls aren’t driven by ads are they? Is MN being skipped as a battleground state this cycle or have I just been watching the wrong channels?
    Whatever their flaws, what’s driving the polls are the numerous cycles of debates. In other words, people are watching the various candidates and making their judgments accordingly. Our current system is hugely flawed but isn’t this how you’d want people to pick and choose?

    To the extent that this is a problem, there is at least one easy solution. Since the pre-election system is now a good eighteen months or so, we should change the timeline of disclosure to match. I’d have no problem if we simply made this a floating and eternal thing, full disclosure every quarter for every PAC. Wouldn’t that solve this problem?

  2. Submitted by Patrick McManus on 10/06/2011 - 11:23 am.

    Perhaps the final solution will start with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. They could change everything in this country by unifying under one common theme: amend the constitution to provide Federally funded elections. Candidates either get x amount of dollars to spend on an election (based on media market, type of race, and indexed to inflation) paid for by a tax on everyone, or a combination of free television time and Federal funding. No one would be allowed to donate, and you may not use your own money. Third parties may not advertise on behalf of candidates, they may only advertise on behalf of issues. Corporations may not donate to third parties, only people. All donations to these third parties are limited to much less than 5 figures. All names must be reported each quarter.

    If they do that, and if it actually gets passed, I think everything else will eventually fall into place.

    However, if they decide we need more trust busting, that’s good too.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/06/2011 - 11:57 am.

    Ah, yes; more faux outrage.

    Leftists don’t want less money influencing elections, they just want less money from the right.

    Which is why leftists deliberately ignore the union and Soros Foundation bundles, as Eric does here.

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/06/2011 - 12:16 pm.

    Personally. I’d vote for a single national primary day 3 months before the election.
    This would at least cut down on the ad spending a bit. Most democracies do it this way.

    As far as ‘Citizens United’ (otherwise known as the PAC enablement act) is concerned, I’ll be convinced that a corporation is a person when I see one in prison.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/06/2011 - 12:27 pm.

    Recently, President Obama announced that he would have an unprecedented one BILLION dollar war chest for his re-election campaign.

    No one batted an eye nor did anyone in the press seem to think that it was so surprising that they thought to ask him where he intended to get that money.

    Given the hundreds of millions of dollars he raised online in 2008 from untracable cash cards, no one in the press should ever use the word “transparency” with a straight face when it comes to presidential campaign contributions.

  6. Submitted by Gary Peterson on 10/06/2011 - 12:29 pm.

    I won’t hold my breath, but anytime – and as soon as – any kind of fundraising committee is formed, there should be disclosure every 30 days, regardless of election or caucus cycles.

  7. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/06/2011 - 01:05 pm.

    Peder–
    The big factor so far have been the ‘straw poll’ numbers in Iowa of likely voters in the Republican primary. You won’t find big ad spending with this sort of a narrow targeted audience, and there’s certainly no reason to spend ad money in Minnesota yet.
    Now the spending is shifting to New Hampshire for the next round.
    You’ll see ads here when Minnesota’s primary approaches.

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/06/2011 - 01:34 pm.

    There’s am interesting article on campaign spending on Nate Silver’s site:

    http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/05/the-moneyball-of-campaign-advertising-part-1/

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/06/2011 - 02:04 pm.

    “Recently, President Obama announced that he would have an unprecedented one BILLION dollar war chest for his re-election campaign.”

    It doesn’t seem like that much when you stop to consider what beer and smokes cost these days…that’s gonna add up real quick during the Democrat “get out the vote” campaign, Dennis.

  10. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/06/2011 - 03:14 pm.

    Paul, I’d forgotten about the straw polls and my understanding is that there is quite a bit of cash unloaded on them. Not sure how much they translate into long term appeal though. Iowa brought Bachmann into view for a lot of people but it sure hasn’t sewn anything up for her. My guess is that the same thing will happen with Cain.
    Ok, clear question, does anyone think that advertising money has pushed national polls by any significant amount in this cycle?

  11. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/06/2011 - 05:41 pm.

    As usual, Swiftee ducks the issue. The real question here is: who is giving the money and how much? This should be known by voters before the election.

    I’d love to hear how much Soros, the unions, AND the Koch brothers are kicking in.

    Stay on topic, please, Swiftee. I know it is hard given your artistic efforts elsewhere. Found a new site yet?

  12. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/06/2011 - 06:29 pm.

    Dennis–
    By ‘untraceable cash cards’ I assume that you’re referring to small donations. Are you objecting to them?

  13. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/06/2011 - 06:33 pm.

    Eric–
    You might consider whether Mr. Swift’s potentially libelous posts, such as imputing voting fraud to Democrats, are really appropriate to this blog.
    They tend to be at best tangentially related to the posted topics (in this case ‘SuperPAC’s’) and the difficulty of identifying their sources.

  14. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/06/2011 - 06:35 pm.

    @ Paul Brandon:

    My beloved 80+-year-old aunt, living in Austin (TX), sent me simple black-and-white graphic a couple weeks ago. It’s just text, and says,

    “I refuse to believe corporations are people until Texas executes one.”

  15. Submitted by will lynott on 10/06/2011 - 11:15 pm.

    “Ok, clear question, does anyone think that advertising money has pushed national polls by any significant amount in this cycle?”

    #9, do you seriously think the fat cats would be spending all that money if they didn’t think it would work for them?

    BTW, no one I know thinks Democrats should get a pass on this. I say, full disclosure for all, although what I really think is that the out of control spending should be brought to a screeching halt. Public campaign funding is the way to do it.

  16. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/07/2011 - 07:07 am.

    I think the obvious solution is to eliminate the funding of our electoral system by open bribery.

  17. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/07/2011 - 07:42 am.

    Paul #13, if you’re seriously asking to have Swiftee pushed off of here because you don’t like the things he says, then please never refer to yourself as open minded. And I suspect that he’s exactly right on #3.

    Will #15, so if only Perry could get some money he wouldn’t be doing a fade right now? And the Cain surge is related to ‘fat cats’ jumping on his bandwagon? I’m doubtful.
    Money obviously has a place in elections but I don’t see any evidence that it’s pushing the GOP nomination right now. Got any that would change my mind?

  18. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/07/2011 - 08:50 am.

    “I refuse to believe corporations are people until Texas executes one.”

    People seem to forget that the SCOTUS decision also affected labor unions so let’s execute one of them while we’re at it. I nominate the SEIU.

    [“Corporations and unions may establish a political action committee (PAC) for express advocacy or electioneering communications purposes”]

  19. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/07/2011 - 10:35 am.

    Peder–

    If Mr. Swift’s posts were edited to eliminated unsupported ad hominem attacks, there would be nothing there.

    Dennis–
    The point is not that we SHOULD execute either corporations or unions, it is that neither are individuals in the conventional sense of the word as used in the Constitution.

  20. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 10/07/2011 - 12:09 pm.

    Paul, I’ll admit that I don’t find his style of arguing very effective. Punching someone in the nose is a terrible way to invite them to church. However, there is no shortage of unsupported ad hominem attacks on the GOP and righties in particular. Nazi comparisons and casual slurs of racism are fairly common. If you’re not looking to kick those folks out then you’re not interested in any kind of fairness, you just want to tip things to your own comfort.

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