Elections USA: Paying your way

By MARTY GOODMAN
“There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.” — Mark Hanna, a 19th-century mining baron and Republican fundraiser.
It was expected that the Democrats would beat the Republicans in fundraising. So far, Obama tops Romney in individual donations, about $300 million to $152 million. But with the explosion of so-called “Super PACs” (Political Action Committees), which do not require disclosure of contributors, and “bundling” of donations, that’s far from certain.

Romney’s main Super-PAC is “Restore Our Future,” whose top contributor is Sheldon Adelson, a casino owner and rabid supporter of apartheid Israel. Adelson donated $10 million and says he may give $100 million total. The second main contributor was Texas home-builder Bob Perry, known for funding the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group in 2004.
In addition, “American Crossroads,” a Super-PAC headed by Karl Rove, George Bush’s former adviser, pledged to raise $200 million for Romney. Contributors include the Charles and David Koch brothers, both billionaire Tea Party funders, who say they may spend $400 million.
Obama’s main Super-PAC is “Priorities USA Action,” formed after Obama reversed his supposed opposition to PACs in February. There are several billionaires in the Obama camp also. What’s more, top-drawer corporations like Microsoft and Google, Inc. are backing Obama.
“We spent the vast majority of our money last time on broadcast television,” said Obama advisor David Axelrod, “It’s still the nuclear weapon.” An April Monthly Review magazine feature on the election reports that information from Needham and Co. to investors estimate that TV stations will receive as much as $5 billion in this election cycle, up from $2.8 billion in 2008. In 2012, political advertising will account for 20% of TV station ad revenues, up from about 2% in the 1990s.
One of the few restrictions on PACs prohibits them from “coordinating” with candidates. In practice, PACs are used to produce “attack ads” that candidates use without taking direct responsibility. “The truth was you could talk to the campaign every single day,’’ said Rick Tyler, who headed a Gingrich Super-PAC. “What you couldn’t do is coordinate expenditures.’’ But Tyler said he didn’t need to talk directly to the campaign. He’d simply give an interview. “You could tell the campaign what you were doing as long as you told the whole world,” Tyler said. “It is all a joke, it’s all laughable.”
What’s more, a candidate can be invited to be a guest speaker at a PAC fund-raiser for themselves, as long as they don’t ask for specific amounts!
Campaign “bundlers” can raise up to $500,000 or more and work in conjunction with candidates. Bundlers, who are politically connected, get around the individual presidential donation limit of $2500 by collecting large numbers of donations—say, by throwing a gala for a couple of hundred people at $2500 a table. Bundled contributions can go directly to help pay for campaign salaries and advertising.
There are hundreds of bundlers for Obama, seeking to raise $74.2 million for his re-election. So far, Obama’s bundlers have raised $22 million from the financial sector, more than any other sector (CRP). Romney has 34 bundlers, who have officially raised $5.2 million. But the Romney camp has refused to reveal its donors.
Lastly, Obama has collected donations for the Democratic National Committee, which can total $61,600 per person over two years. What’s certain is that high-rollers want payback in the form of tax breaks, cuts in public services and jobs, bloated government contracts, and shady bank deals.