Here’s issue #16 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 1/25/12. Having taken a look at the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision generally, I’ll now describe a specific example of its impact.

First, a mea culpa. I was wrong when I wrote in the last issue: “These PACs currently have no requirement to disclose their contributors … ” The PACs are required to report contributors and expenditures on a monthly or quarterly basis, at their choice. However, because this schedule is not tied to the schedule of elections, voters may not know until after they have voted who paid for the ads they have seen. In addition, the identity of actual donors can be made difficult to find out. For example, a $1 million donor to one of the pro-Romney Super PACs set up a corporation in Delaware, made his contribution through the corporation, and then dissolved the corporation. [1]

As an example of the impact of the Citizens United decision, a $5 million contribution from Las Vegas casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson, to the pro-Gingrich Super PAC, Winning Our Future, may well have singled-handedly saved Gingrich’s campaign. (We only know who made the contribution because it was leaked, and when asked, Adelson confirmed it. Other contributors will not be revealed until the end of the month.) [2]

This contribution allowed the supposedly independent Super PAC to run ads in South Carolina that are very likely to have allowed Gingrich to win its primary and stay in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. The Super PAC ran ads both attacking Romney and promoting Gingrich at a level that matched the spending of the pro-Romney Super PAC. Without these ads, it is highly likely Gingrich would have lost inSouth Carolinaand that his campaign, which is lacking money and organization, would have been over. It appears that the PACs outspent the candidates inSouth Carolina.

News hot off the press: Adelson’s wife has just given the pro-Gingrich Super PAC another $5 million. This will allow Gingrich to be competitive in theFlorida primary on January 31.

As I noted in the last issue, I call the Super PACs “supposedly” independent because they are required to be by law, but the reality is quite different. For example, Becky Burkett founded and heads up the pro-Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future. She is former top aide to Gingrich, an experienced fundraiser, and as recently as 2011 was the chief development officer for American Solutions, a PAC Gingrich founded in 2007. [3]  In addition, candidates and their campaigns can communicate with the Super PACs through their public statements and their campaigns’ ads and strategies, as well as through mutual allies.

Overall, Super PACs have reported spending about $28.5 million to-date in the Republican presidential primaries. This is a drop in the bucket compared to the $1 billion they are expected to spend during the whole 2012 election period.

[1]       Efforts to increase reporting and transparency passed the House in 2010 but were filibustered by Republicans in the Senate where there were 59 votes (out of 100) in favor, one short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.

[2]       Mooney, B.C., 1/20/12, “Super PACs and their cash are political game-changers,” The Boston Globe

[3]       Confessore, N., 12/13/11, “Former Gingrich aide forms fund-raising group,” The New York Times


Comments and discussion are encouraged

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s