Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Blood (money) Donors

25% of super PAC money coming from just 5 rich donors
Five wealthy people, led by Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons and Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, have donated nearly $1 of every $4 flowing to the super PACs raising unlimited money in this year's presidential race, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

In the No. 2 slot: Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who gave $10 million to Winning Our Future, a super PAC aiding former House speaker Newt Gingrich. Adelson declined an interview request through a spokesman.

However, in a Forbes magazine article posted Tuesday, Adelson said he is willing to donate an additional "$10 million or $100 million" to aid Gingrich. "I'm against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections, but as along as it's doable, I'm going to do it," Adelson said.

Adelson, who operates the Venetian, a massive Las Vegas resort, along with casinos in Singapore and Macau, shares hawkish stands on Israel with Gingrich, but he said he's motivated by economic policy. He said his goal is to defeat President Obama and what he termed a "socialist-style economy."

Anthony Corrado, a campaign-finance expert at Colby College in Maine said, "Super PACs have become a vehicle for a very small number of millionaires and billionaires who are willing to spend large sums in pursuit of their political agenda."

No Democratic donors rank as high as the top donors to Republican super PACs.

Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC backing Obama's re-election, raised just shy of $59,000 in January — a fraction of the $27.2 million raised last month alone by five leading GOP super PACs. The biggest donation to Priorities USA Action last month: $50,000 from John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Investments and one of Obama's closest friends.

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson Says He Might Give $100M To Newt Gingrich Or Other Republican
Adelson, the 78-year-old CEO of casino giant Las Vegas Sands, certainly can afford to: With a net worth of roughly $25 billion, that $11 million (which he's actually given), which jolted Gingrich’s flatlining presidential bid back to life, equates to 0.044% of his fortune.

Is that fair? “I’m against very wealthy ­people attempting to or influencing elections,” he shrugs. “But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it."

Super PACs make their muscle felt
Super PACs are relatively new. They are political action committees that can collect unlimited amounts of cash from corporations, labor unions and individuals. They are the by-products of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a federal law prohibiting such groups from independently influencing elections.

The Supreme Court ruled that the ban was an unconstitutional restriction on a corporation's right to engage in free speech. A form of the ban had been in place since 1907, when Congress enacted changes in campaign finance laws amid questions over big-business donations to President Theodore Roosevelt's campaign.

Russ Walker, a spokesman for Freedom Works for America, a Tea Party-inspired super PAC, said super PACs have every right to engage the public. And, he said, the federal government has no right to limit how much money a person or a business can donate to a campaign committee.

"I believe everyone should have a say in the political process, regardless of how much money they want to give. It's free speech," Walker said.

Randy Adkins, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said, negative advertisements are more easily digested by the public, he said, because they typically focus on character issues, rather than policy. Campaigns and supporters wouldn't use them if they didn't work, Adkins said. "Negative ads stick with people," he said.

Super PACs also provide much-needed cover to politicians who like to maintain friendly, positive images. Although candidates and super PACs cannot legally work together, super PACs in the presidential race have assumed the role of campaign mudslingers, allowing the candidates to run upbeat television ads.

"It's sort of hard to hold campaigns accountable for what somebody says on their behalf," Adkins said.

Paul Johnson, a Democratic consultant from Louisiana, predicted that super PACs could soon outspend individual campaigns, effectively taking control of a candidate's message.

Johnson also worries that a single wealthy individual could exert undue influence in the political arena, using his money to torpedo a candidate for personal reasons.

"A person could say, 'You vote the way I want you to, or I will spend $2 million to defeat you.' That's the next step in all of this, and I believe that's dangerous to democracy," he said.

Nationally, these controversial committees have been making their marks on the Republican presidential race.

Their power was on full display in this year's Iowa caucuses.

A late surge by Gingrich, a former House speaker, was stopped cold when a super PAC aligned with Mitt Romney — Restore Our Future — flooded Iowa's airwaves with anti-Gingrich ads. In all, the group spent $3.4 million in Iowa, compared with two pro-Gingrich super PACs that spent $900,000.

Every major presidential candidate in the field now is supported by a super PAC, which often are run by candidates' former aides and supporters but cannot directly coordinate with a campaign or donate directly to a campaign.

The super PACs give candidates added cash power. Candidates can only accept $2,500 from an individual in an election cycle, but super PACs have no such limits.

Super PACs now spend nearly as much as candidates do on television ads. In the last presidential election, special-interest groups accounted for about 3 percent of television ads. This year, they have paid for 44 percent of the ads aired, according to a Wesleyan Media Project study.

President Barack Obama had opposed such groups, saying they could corrupt politics, but recently reversed course and blessed a super PAC that supports his re-election effort. Obama cited competitive concerns in embracing the super PAC, Priorities USA Action.

In Nebraska, a U.S. Senate seat attracted the attention of several super PACs, including American Crossroads, founded with the help of GOP political operative Karl Rove.

American Crossroads spent more than $530,000 running ads critical of U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson and former Nebraska Gov. Bob Kerrey, even before Nelson decided whether he was running again and before Kerrey decided on running. The ads were an attempt to persuade both to stay out of the race.

Both eventually did, although they said the ads had no bearing on their decisions.

By Robynn Tysver, WORLD-HERALD staff writer.