Archive for August 3rd, 2012
WC thinks this gem first appeared in Bloomberg on-line. As a visual summary, it’s pretty good:
WC is sure glad they got the post office naming crisis resolved.
As every halibut fisherperson knows, you kill a halibut before you bring it in the boat. Even then, the dead fish will thrash around, throwing fish slime everywhere, bruising shins and bashing everything in the boat. WC suggests that’s the state of campaign finance law in the U.S. today: dead, but still thrashing around, making a smelly mess.
Federal campaign law was gaffed by Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court case that invented constitutional rights for corporations and abolished limits on campaign donations to “independent” political action committees in the name of free speech. Even if you buy into Citizens United‘s reversal of 30 years of precedent, even if you think, in the words of The Mitt, that “corporations are people, too,” the reality on the ground is utter corruption.
The New York Times reports that when The Mitt’s presidential campaign needs advice on direct mail strategies for reaching voters, it looks to TargetPoint Consulting. And when the independent “super PAC” supporting him needs voter research, it, too, goes to TargetPoint.
Sharing a consultant would seem to be the essence of coordination between a candidate and an independent group, something prohibited under federal law. But TargetPoint is just one of a handful of interconnected firms in Suite 555 at 66 Canal Center Plaza in Alexandria, Va., working for either the Romney campaign or the Romney-supporting super PAC Restore Our Future. According to the Times,
In the same suite is WWP Strategies, whose co-founder is married to TargetPoint’s chief executive and works for the Romney campaign. Across the conference room is the Black Rock Group, whose co-founder — a top Romney campaign official in 2008 — now helps run both Restore Our Future and American Crossroads, another independent group that spoke up in defense of Mr. Romney’s candidacy in January 2011. Finally, there is Crossroads Media, a media placement firm that works for American Crossroads and other Republican groups.
The overlapping roles and relationships of the consultant provide a case study in the fluidity and utterly ineffectual enforcement of rules that were intended to prevent candidates from coordinating their activities with outside groups. Set aside the ascendancy of ultra-rich super PACs, which operate free of the contribution limits imposed. The idea that they are operating independently is a bad joke.
In reality, super PACs are a slick trick for candidates to bypass the donor limits to candidates. Instead, rich donors are walked across the hall to these ostensibly independent groups, which function as adjuncts of the campaigns.
The prohibition against candidates working in concert with independent political committees traces its roots to Watergate-era reforms intended to prevent big campaign donors from gaining improper influence over elected officials. The concept was a small part of the post-Watergate campaign reforms. But it has taken on added magnified importance in the wake of Citizens United. Now there is no limit to contributions, and the recent development of §501(c)(4)s as super PAC vehicles has left the prohibition on coordination as the only remaining restraint on the power of big donors.
The Federal Election Commission (the “FEC”) has established elaborate, though narrow, guidelines for determining whether the creation of a specific campaign advertisement violates the coordination ban. But the FEC has not focused on other kinds of activities between all PACs and candidates. Rules the commission adopted in 2003, still on the books, allow for regulation of this gray area, but they have been ignored.
There evidence that Congress and the FEC intended a more active role for the FEC in regulating this kind of coordination. But the FEC itself, made up of three Republicans and three Democrats, is divided along partisan lines on how far to go in enforcing rules on coordinated expenditures. The result has been regulatory paralysis.
So the halibut of campaign finance continues to flop around in the bottom of the election boat. Everyone knows it’s a dangerous situation. There’s slime everywhere. But no one does anything. The integrity of our election process, the heart of our democracy, is about as effective as the thrashing around of a dead halibut.
It’s too bad. We very nearly had integrity for a while.