Increasingly Connected to Supposedly Independent PACs
by Braden Goyette | ProPublica
(Aug. 31, 2011) Those are the new-fangled PACs that are
allowed to raise unlimited money and can run ads supporting or attacking
candidates, but are also supposed to operate independently of candidates. As
the New York Times detailed Sunday, those lines are increasingly being blurred:
The groups are typically founded by the candidates' former
aides, financed by the candidates' top donors and implicitly blessed by the
candidates themselves. And they are quickly beginning to rival the candidates'
own money operations in size and scope, setting off a fund-raising arms race
that is changing the way presidential campaigns are financed and executed.
As the Los Angeles
Times has detailed, Democrats
and Republicans have both been aggressively using Super PACs. There are a
number of Super PACs that support President Obama, which have raised $7.61
million altogether in the first half of this year, according
to the Center for Responsive Politics. (For more on Super PACs and how they
came to be, check out our
Now concerns are growing about how independent Super PACs
really are from the candidates they support. The New York Times notes that Barack
Obama, John Huntsmann and Michele Bachmann all have Super PACs run by the
candidates' former aides or associates.
In June, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent out an email soliciting
contributions to a Democratic Super PAC, with a disclaimer at the end to
protect Reid from accusations of collaboration: “Senator Reid is only asking
for a donation of up to $5,000 from individuals and federal PACs.
He is not asking for funds from corporations, labor unions
or other federally prohibited sources.” Open Secrets noted that Reid's former
chief of staff and one of his long-time strategists were on the Super PAC's
More recently, Mitt Romney has raised eyebrows for working
closely with a Super PAC. Romney spoke
at a fundraiser for the Restore Our Future PAC earlier this year, leaving
the room before the leaders of the group started to discuss their plans with
potential donors. The Super PAC was founded by three of his former aides.
The Restore Our Future PAC also came under scrutiny when it
received a $1 million donation from a company that dissolved
shortly after donating, and listed no owner or address in its corporate
records. After campaign-finance watchdog groups started calling for an FEC
inquiry, former Bain Capital executive Edward Conard identified
himself as the donor. Romney co-founded
Bain Capital in 1984 and served as its CEO until 1999.
"I think the whole controversy with regards to his
contribution certainly sort of disappears when he came forward and said he was
the contributor,” Romney stated after Conard identified himself. “He's been a
long-term business associate and friend of mine, a contributor in the
Some of the Super PACs supporting Texas Gov. Rick Perry are founded
by people in his inner circle, including former Perry chief of staff Mike
Toomey, who co-owns a private island with Perry's campaign manager. Dan
Shelley, who used to be Perry's legislative director and now runs two pro-Perry
PACs, told the Huffington Post that
he hasn't talked to the Perry campaign about his work, since "that's
against the law."
Perry has also faced other questions that he's getting too
cozy with his big donors. This week, the Houston Chronicle reported on
allegations that one of Perry's big donors, Bob Perry (no relation), may have
indirectly funneled $500,000 to the governor during his 2006 re-election
campaign, using the Republican Governor's Association as an intermediary. If
that's the case, it could be a violation of Texas campaign disclosure laws.
Records of the calls became public as part of a lawsuit filed by Chris Bell,
Perry's Democratic challenger in the 2006 gubernatorial race.
Under Texas law, Bob Perry was free to make unlimited
contributions to Perry's campaign itself. Bell's lawyers allege that the
donation was funneled through the RGA to avoid criticism, since Perry had just
attacked Bell for receiving a $1 million contribution from a wealthy Texas
settled with Bell for $426,000 last year. Perry's campaign and the RGA both
say that they did not violate Texas law.
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