Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Nicholas Confessore of The New York Times looks at the demise of Scott Walker's presidential campaign and concludes that what Republicans would really like is to divert the torrent of super PAC cash straight into the coffers of their official campaigns.
[Walker's] swift decline and exit from the presidential race on Monday were a stark reminder that even unlimited money has its limits.

While a super PAC supporting him, Unintimidated, was relatively flush with cash -- on track to raise as much as $40 million through the end of the year, according to people involved with the group -- Mr. Walker’s campaign committee was running dry....

Super PACs, Mr. Walker learned, cannot pay rent, phone bills, salaries, airfares or ballot access fees. They are not entitled to the preferential rates on advertising that federal law grants candidates, forcing them to pay far more money than candidates must for the same television and radio time.

... Mr. Walker’s decline and fall hint at the systemic dangers of the super-PAC-driven financial model on which virtually the entire Republican field has staked its chances.
That's odd, because I could swear that Frank Rich was just predicting that Donald Trump's success in the race could lead tothe collapse of the whole Citizens United edifice:
Another change Trump may bring about is a GOP rethinking of its embrace of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashing unlimited campaign contributions. Citizens United was supposed to be a weapon wielded mainly against Democrats, but Trump is using it as a club to bludgeon Republicans. “I’m using my own money,” he said when announcing his candidacy. “I’m not using lobbyists, I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.” ... [Trump's] self-funding campaign may make him more effective than any Democrat in turning Citizens United into a political albatross for those who are enslaved to it.
Confessore, however, suggests that future Republican candidates won't want to escape the shackles of Citizens United -- they'll want the unlimited money that now flows to their legally unconnected super PACs to flow directly to them instead.

And maybe they'll get their wish. After Citizens United, there was McCutcheon v. FEC, in which the Supreme Court's five Republicans drastically increased the amount of money rich people can donate in total directly to a number of candidates, but upheld -- for now -- the limits on donations to any individual campaign. Some time after the ruling, Jeffrey Toobin wondered whether the Roberts Court was planning a future assault on those limits:
... the language of Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion suggests that the Court remains committed to the project announced most prominently in the Citizens United case, four years ago: the deregulation of American political campaigns.

The court, and Roberts in particular, has been very clear that regulation of campaign contributions is allowed under a single rationale. As he wrote in McCutcheon, “It is not an acceptable governmental objective to ‘level the playing field,’ or to ‘level electoral opportunities,’ or to ‘equalize the financial resources of candidates.’” Rather, Roberts wrote, “Congress may target only a specific type of corruption -- ‘quid pro quo’ corruption.”

... Roberts is defining “quid pro quo” corruption almost as outright bribery, which Congress can outlaw. But the implication of what Roberts is saying is that anything short of outright bribery is protected by the First Amendment.

This means that the Court may be preparing to do away with the fifty-two-hundred-dollar limit, as well....

Every Chief Justice takes on a project. Earl Warren wanted to desegregate the South. Warren Burger wanted to limit the rights of criminal suspects. William Rehnquist wanted to revive the powers of the states. It increasingly appears likely that, for John Roberts, the project will be removing the limits that burden wealthy campaign contributors -- the “whole point” of the First Amendment, as he sees it.
Trump's success isn't going to threaten the Roberts project of dismantling campaign finance limits. At the popular level, it's reinforcing -- at least for Republicans -- the notion that money is speech according to the term of the First Amendment. And among members of the Republican Establishment, the failure of the Walker campaign (and the Rick Perry campaign, which also ran out of money even though a lot of super PAC money was baking him) suggests that money needs to go straight into candidates' pockets. If we retain a GOP majority on the Supreme Court, my guess is that we'll see the last financing limits fall relatively soon.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm not nearly so sure; here's why: CONTROL.

The donor class want maximum control over the 'talent', with, ideally, no potential for being publicly exposed.

Donating directly to a campaign holds not one but THREE problems:
1) per Steve M, the upper limits on individual donor contributions the current law imposes,
but also
2) the donor gives up control over use of the funds to the campaign (effectively to the candidate), and
3) the donation isn't usefully fungible in terms of maintaining donor anonymity.

PACs provide some increase in anonymity, but at the cost of losing control to the future candidate or the 'cause' the PAC was established to promote.

SUPERPACs maximize anonymity & minimize candidate control, but at the costs of significant devaluation of each dollar donated plus entrusting control to someone like Rove.

I suspect the donor class is more irked by that devaluation, than with trading for anonymity by entrusting control to a middle man. That's what I'd expect the next case to aim at: restoring, or at least significantly 'correcting', that devaluation.

At the same time, I strongly suspect the donor class will never pursue giving up either complete control to the commodity (being the priority for many) or total anonymity (being a priority for those who conduct business on an ongoing basis, like banksters, hedge funds, and industrial oligarachs).