With today’s news report that Hillary Clinton will actively work with and solicit funds for a super PAC supporting her candidacy, the very notion that these groups are “independent” of candidates is exposed as a fallacy. Her Republican counterparts also have been actively soliciting funds for their super PACs, with Jeb Bush still delaying his announcement as a candidate so he can go so far as to relegate some of his campaign functions to a super PAC he created solely to support his candidacy. Super PACs are super-connected to the candidates they support.
Super PACs are increasingly dominating federal elections, providing campaigns with the means to sidestep contribution limits as they work closely with candidates and party committees. Now, they even are taking on many of the critical functions of candidate campaigns. As super PACs become de facto campaign committees for candidates, they provide a direct and valuable link for wealthy donors to curry favor with lawmakers and candidates.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) needs to step up to the plate and restrain this coordination between super PACs and candidates. If the FEC fails to carry through, then we must pass the anti-coordination legislation (H.R. 425) introduced by U.S. Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) that would do precisely that.
By Emily Myers
Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, at the rally outside the White House
If you’ve lived in Washington, D.C., for a while, you might not be fazed by thirty people chanting and brandishing a fifteen-foot inflatable flashlight reading “end dark money.” But if you’re new to the city like me, this sort of political protest is exciting and noteworthy. It is also necessary.
Yesterday’s rally at the White House, one of 55 in cities and towns across America, served to raise the voices of citizens above the “voice” of money A March analysis by Public Citizen found that only 47 percent of federal contractors disclose contributions to 501(c)(4) groups that could influence elections, barely one third fully disclose their donations to 501 (c)(6) groups and only 27 percent of the largest contractors disclose the details of contributions to both types of groups.
Behind closed doors, federal contractors can use taxpayer money to elect politicians who may grant them preferential treatment and work for their interests.
This is unacceptable.
Public Citizen and other public interest organizations delivered a petition with over 550,000 signatures to President Barack Obama urging him to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors divulge their campaign spending.
In this year’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama couldn’t have been more transparent. He said, “[A] better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.”
With that sentence, he reaffirmed what we all know is the case: Voters deserve to know who is trying to influence their elected officials by contributing money. Without knowing who is behind political spending, we cannot make truly informed decisions and we lose a critical check on corruption in our moneyed political system.
This Sunshine Week (March 15-21), we applaud the president for speaking out against the wave of “dark money” that has overtaken U.S. elections, and our response is: “We agree. Act now.” The president should start by issuing an executive order to require federal government contractors to disclose all of their political spending. He has the power to do so at any time.
Dark money is a problem no matter who it comes from, and according to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than 40 percent of the outside expenditures in the 2014 elections were made by groups that did not fully disclose their donors. But dark money is especially troubling when it comes from government contractors.
By Taylor Lincoln and Andrew Perez
By definition, super PACs are supposed to be independent from candidates and parties.
However, 45 percent of all super PACs spending more than $100,000 in 2014 did so on behalf of just one candidate. That finding was published in the latest installment in our series of reports quantifying the connections between candidates and outside groups.
The phenomenon of single-candidate super PACs is significant because it is unlikely that many groups would focus all of their efforts on helping just one congressional candidate if they did not have ties to him or her. And if the groups do have ties to candidates, they are not truly independent.
In its overreaching Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010, the Supreme Court chose to permit outside entities to spend at will from their treasuries on elections. This led to super PACs and other outside groups accepting unlimited contributions to influence elections. The court premised its decision on the assumption that spending by independent entities does not pose a risk of corrupting candidates. The risk of corruption is the basis on which the court has supported previous campaign finance restrictions.
The Center for Competitive Politics, which supports the Citizens United decision, promptly issued a response to our report, indicating both that there’s nothing notable about friends of candidates running super PACs and, anyways, any suspicion of coordination between the groups and candidates was just “the stuff of conspiracy theorists and hysterics.”
The congressional leaders who negotiated $1.1 trillion federal spending bill – dubbed the “CRomnibus” – must not have known they were in for a fight.
But when Public Citizen and other public interest allies got hold of the 1,600-page bill and saw that it contained a bevy of atrocious policy riders that had nothing to do with funding the government, the fight was coming.
The take-it-or-leave-it budget – including the poison pill provisions that Public Citizen opposed – did ultimately pass. The fight for its passage is instructive for how public interest advocates can wield power in the coming years, even as majorities in Congress seem determined to deliver a return on Corporate America’s Citizens United-enabled election investments.
The worst that could have happened would have been if the giveaways to corporations and the super rich had been accepted without a fight.
Thankfully, that’s not what happened.
We called on grassroots activists like you to act – to email and call your members of Congress – and you acted.
Tens of thousands of outraged citizens made it known that they would not accept a budget bill that allows millionaires and billionaires to have more influence in our elections and that puts taxpayers on the hook for Wall Street’s recklessness.
And then – hearing the outrage of tens of thousands of constituents across the country – principled members of Congress (of both major parties) fought the bipartisan backroom deal.