Freshman Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., has chosen for his chief of staff the man who ran the super PAC that spent $175,000 backing his run for Congress, raising a question: Do we need a cooling off period to slow the revolving door between big money campaigns and government service?
As the Associated Press reported, Scott Hommel took over a super PAC, Special Forces for America, or SOFA, that Zinke founded and ran until he decided to run for Congress. Under campaign finance laws, candidates for Congress can’t run, or even coordinate with, a super PAC, which can accept contributions in unlimited amounts from almost any source, including corporations and labor unions.
But while a candidate can’t work with a super PAC because of the big money they raise, once elected he can hire the person who persuaded all those donors to right big checks. (The biggest check that SOFA got was $120,000 from Robert Mercer, the CEO of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies.)
Just like we bar former government officials from lobbying their old colleagues for a year or more after they leave office, barring individuals who just got done soliciting six- and seven-figure checks from working in Congress and the executive branch for a couple of years would certainly be within Congress’ power. And it would keep people with lots of favors to repay out of the corridors of power.
Within five days of a star-studded Los Angeles fundraiser headlined by Hillary Clinton, a Democratic joint fundraising committee raised close to $1 million, according to filings that landed Thursday on Sunlight’s Real-Time Campaign Finance tracker.
Hollywood heavyweights and perennial Democratic donors like Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Leonardo DiCaprio and Eva Longoria each cut checks for $32,400 within that timeframe to the Grassroots Victory Project, a committee that benefits the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a handful of state party committees and the Senate campaigns of candidates in competitive 2014 races. “The Big Bang Theory” star and Emmy-winning actor Jim Parsons gave $32,400, as did filmmaker J.J. Abrams and actor Robert Downey Jr.
A invite for the Oct. 28 fundraiser posted on Political Party Time shows that Spielberg, Katzenberg and their respective spouses hosted the fundraiser along with Disney exec Alan Horn and his wife, Cindy; venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar; Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino and his actress wife, Jolene; Democratic fundraiser Andy Spahn and his wife, Jennifer Perry; and music industry executive Laura Wasserman and her husband, Casey. DSCC Chair and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer are also listed on the invite as attendees at the reception and dinner at Brentwood hotspot Tavern.
Clinton got top billing as the evening’s “special guest,” and the Hollywood Reporter called it a “coming out of sorts” for Clinton among entertainment industry donors, should she opt to run for president in 2016. In her 2008 bid for the White House, deep-pocketed Angelenos memorably opted to put their monetary might behind then-Sen. Barack Obama.
Tickets to the fundraiser went for $32,400 per person, but a note on the RSVP section of the invite states that “an individual can contribute up to $211,200 to the committee.”
Although individuals can give a maximum of $32,400 to national political parties, the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FECdecision earlier this year eliminated the cap on total contributions that an individual can give to political parties and federal candidates. The decision opened up the door to so-called super joint fundraising committees, which can have more than seven payees, the previous limit for joint fundraising committees. The Grassroots Victory Project lists 26 beneficiaries.
The $954,600 one-week haul was part of the almost $2.5 million the group brought in from Oct. 1 to Nov. 24. Other bold-named donors to Grassroots included in the most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission: Actor Jack Black gave $10,000, while filmmaker George Lucas, composer John Williams, actress Cameron Diaz and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon all gave $32,400 each.
This is the second time this year that Grassroots Victory Project reported bringing in such a hefty sum. In September, Real-Time shows that the group collected $1.3 million.
Though the candidates they support might not have much in common, PACs and super PACs associated with Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio spent no more — and often far less — than one of every five dollars they raised in the 2014 cycle supporting other candidates.
Ready for Hillary, the super PAC set up to boost the campaign of the former first lady, New York senator and Obama administration cabinet official, raised the most money and was stingiest it, with just two percent of the more than $10 million it raised spent to help candidates running in 2014 or transferred to other committees. By contrast, Rep. Paul Ryan, D-Wis., who served as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012 and might harbor presidential ambitions of his own, raised $3.2 million for his Prosperity Action leadership PAC and contributed almost 30 percent of that amount to Republican candidates and committees. Ryan is said to have his eye on another seat — the powerful chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee — which may explain his eagerness to win friends and influence among his GOP colleagues.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s leadership PAC, Reclaim America, made $593,000 of independent expenditures on its way to spending 18 percent of its funds helping other candidates. Of that amount, 60 percent went to research and advertising in Iowa, where Republican Joni Ernst is in a neck-and-neck Senate race, but also where the first ballots of the 2016 presidential race will be cast. Rubio’s PAC also spent $1 million on strategy and research, with Something Else Strategies the largest recipient at close to $300,000. In 2010, the firm helped Rubio beat then-Gov. Charlie Crist, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for Senate, in one of the biggest Tea Party-fueled upsets that year.
Although Sen. Ted Cruz’s Jobs, Growth & Freedom Fund raised $1.8 million, just $81,000 made its way to other federal candidates, including $17,000 to candidates running in Iowa and New Hampshire. The PAC also made $282,000 in independent expenditures, of which $266,666, or 94 percent, were in the same two states. Its biggest expense was $157,000 paid to Campaign HQ, a political consulting firm headquartered in Iowa.
Of the $3.1 million that Rand Paul’s Reinventing a New Direction PAC raised, more than half — $1.6 million — was spent on fundraising, with Strategic Fundraising, a Chicago-based telemarketing firm, winning the lion’s share. The libertarian leaning Kentucky senator spent just seven percent of his funds helping other candidates or committees, with the biggest chunk — $164,800 — poured into independent expenditures. The largest sum was spent supporting GOP Sen. Pat Roberts in Kansas, but RANDPAC also chipped in $12,000 of support for conservative Senate candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire.
A hybrid super PAC, Ready for Hillary maintains separate accounts: one that abides by campaign finance limits that traditional PACs follow so that it can contribute to candidates, and a second that accepts contributions in unlimited amounts that can be used for independent expenditures. The former account made $2,600 contributions to a pair of Democratic House candidates; it also transferred more $209,000 to other federal committees, mostly parties.
Monday’s Supreme Court decision overturning the requirement that employers provide insurance coverage for emergency contraception under President Barack Obama’s health care law leaves the reproductive rights movement trying to figure out how to strike back.
Groups involved in the effort certainly have the wherewithal to do so, a review of the Sunlight Foundation’s influence trackers demonstrates.
Planned Parenthood is a major influence player, by virtue of the organization’s cash and clout. Along with its state affiliates, Planned Parenthood has spent more than $30 million on campaigns and ballot initiatives and more than $11 million lobbying the federal government on a host of issues ranging from generic “health issues” to welfare, to abortion, according to data compiled in the Sunlight Foundation’s Influence Explorer.
The group’s giving skews liberal, and employees and PACs of Planned Parenthood have contributed handsomely to some of the country’s most powerful Democrats, including: President Barack Obama ($133,135), Secretary of State (and former Sen.) John Kerry ($53,556) and Hillary Clinton ($48,882).
Unlike many national advocacy groups, Planned Parenthood devotes most of its resources to state battlegrounds. A whopping $24 million of its total campaign finance spending went to state level affiliates, ballot initiatives and candidates. The group devoted $2.2 million to a 2012 Florida ballot initiative that would have prohibited prohibited the use of public funds for abortion. The measure failed.
NARAL Pro-Choice also took an active role in the Cuccinelli-McAuliffe showdown. The organization’s state affiliate spent $217,000 on mail, telemarketing online ads to stir up support for McAuliffe, according to VPAP.
Though the group has a smaller financial footprint than Planned Parenthood — Influence Explorer shows it has spent just over $5 million on campaign donations and $2.2 million on federal lobbying over the same time period — it also publishes policy studies and state report cards.
State legislatures may be the next front for the influence battle over late contraceptives, a search in Sunlights Open States database finds 153 different bills containing the term “emergency contraception” have been introduced in state legislatures in this cycle.
Meanwhile, most political observers have their eyes trained on the upcoming midterm elections, where national Republicans see a potential path to retaking the upper chamber. Though not one of this cycle’s biggest outside spenders, Planned Parenthood’s super PAC has made about $180,000 on independent expenditures, so far most of which has gone to defending one of the nation’s most vulnerable incumbents, Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.
Since the beginning of the 2014 campaign cycle, Planned Parenthood also has been an active purchaser of television time, Sunlight’s Political Ad Sleuth shows. Not all of those advertisements have to be reported to the Federal Election Commission, including several that Planned Parenthood has purchased in Kentucky, where Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is running for reelection. The first Planned Parenthood ad targeting McConnell ran in Feburary, 2013.
NARAL’s political action committee, a “non-super” PAC, has doled out six-figure contributions to a wide selection of Democratic candidates and party committees.
In a statement after Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, NARAL promised to continue pushing the envelope:
“NARAL’s message has always been clear: bosses who want control over their employees’ personal medical decisions are offensive, out of touch, and out of bounds, and so is this ruling. We call upon Congress to right this wrong, and we will work tirelessly with our allies and member activists to make sure that the people who would stand between a woman and her doctor are held accountable.”
The Emergency Committee for Israel, a political nonprofit founded by William Kristol, is taking to the airwaves tonight with a new ad slamming all-but-declared 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton when she appears on a pair of ABC shows. While the purchase is relatively small — $11,000 for two spots on WJLA, the Washington, D.C., affiliate of ABC — the timing could not be better for the conservative group. Its ads will air when the network runs its exclusive interview with the former Secretary of State at 9 p.m. this evening and during Clinton’s live appearance on Good Morning America early Tuesday morning.
Clinton will be promoting her new book Hard Choices, detailing her time in the Obama administration.
A new ad appeared on the YouTube account of the Emergency Committee for Israel Monday afternoon, criticizing Clinton for not censuring Secretary of State John Kerry for his recent remarks comparing Israel to an apartheid state for its treatment of the Palestinian Minority. The comment drew rebukes from several of the nation’s most prominent Jewish political organizations, but not from Clinton, the ad alleges.
A Republican gay rights group is one of the super PACs that raised the most money during the first quarter of this year thanks to Republican financier Paul Singer. (Photo credit: Wikimedia) An anti-gun PAC, a GOP gay rights PAC and rival c… […]
When the members of the Senate Agriculture Committee meet today to consider the nominations of three new commissioners for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), they will be voting on three professionals who have played the political donor game.
The two Democrats and one Republican nominated for slots on the commission, which has had a major role in the implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, all have made significant donations to candidates in their respective parties, according to data downloaded from Sunlight’s Influence Explorer.
Currently a Treasury official and formerly a securities attorney with Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Massad has been tapped to fill the role of former Chairman Gary Gensler, who left the commission in January and was widely disliked by banks and big financial institutions which felt he was too tough of a regulator. Liberal senators Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders., D-Vt., have questioned whether Massad will be as hard-nosed as Gensler.
Sharon Bowen, an attorney with Latham & Watkins, has been eyed suspiciously by Wall Street reform groups and Democratic officials on the Hill because of her firm’s client list — big financial companies — and her lack of a track record on reform, according to this report by the New Republic. She has contributed at least $12,775, all to Democrats, two-thirds of which went to help elect President Obama. She has also been criticized from the other side of the aisle for her work as acting chair of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), where she serves as an Obama appointee. Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., have questioned the SIPC’s decision not to compensate victims of R. Allen Stanford’s $7 billion Ponzi scheme, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Christopher Giancarlo, an executive vice president for GFI Group Inc. who would fill an open Republican slot on the commission, has distributed at least $26,700 to Republican federal candidates and parties. While he was a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney — and the bulk of his contributions have gone to Republicans — he has also supported the occasional Democrat: Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., none of whom are in Congress anymore.
The CFTC is an independent agency charged with protecting the public from “fraud, manipulation, abusive practices and systemic risk related to derivatives … and to foster transparent, open, competitive and financially sound markets.” Among the initiatives the agency has pushed in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown — that was in part blamed on derivatives trading — is the rule-setting standards for future funds, such as the failed firm MF Global, which was led by Jon Corzine, a Democrat who served as a senator and as governor of New Jersey.
According to court documents, Thompson spent nearly as much money helping Clinton’s campaign as he did helping D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. While he’s now admitting to spending more than $600,000 to boost Clinton’s campaign, he originally reported contributing only $5,900 to help her campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.
However, based on that presidential race’s outcome, it appears Thompson didn’t wield the same influence on the federal level. Nonetheless, he has made a number of campaign contributions on the federal level that were in fact reported to the FEC to a number of political campaigns, including Clinton’s.
All told, Thompson has reported giving more than $137,000 to federal candidates over the last three decades. Of the 61 campaigns and politicians he’s given to, mostly were Democrats, although a few Republicans received contributions too. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona received money from Thompson for his 2008 presidential bid, for instance. Thompson has also given to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Part of Thompson’s guilty plea included creating a network of straw donors made up at least partly of employees of his accounting firm to make contributions on his behalf. FEC records show contributions from employees of his accounting firm (including Thompson) dating back to the 2000 presidential election total $321,500. The amount of that money that was illegally funneled is unclear.
While the much buzzed-about Ready for Hillary draft committee has vaulted into the top ranks of super PACs when it comes to fundraising, an analysis by Sunlight’s Real-Time FEC tracker of just-filed year-end campaign reports shows, the tool also suggests that Democratic 2016 presidential favorite Hillary Rodham Clinton and her fans had better look over their right shoulders.
Sadly, we won’t have updated numbers on Senate candidates for awhile because members of the antique-loving upper chamber of the national legislature have not quite gotten around to mastering the art of electronic filing. The Sunlight Foundation has an opinion about that. But the tracker turned up some interesting nuggets about candidates — and ex-candidates — for other high offices:
Boehner rules: For all the political problems he had last year with his unruly caucus, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, remains a king of the Hill when it comes to fundraising. Real-Time FEC shows that Boehner raised more than three times as much as his next closest House colleague, Paul Ryan, R-Wis, a whopping $11 million.
Gabby beats the NRA (barely): The gun issue remains a money magnet in American politics, but in 2013, the fundraising forces fought to a draw: Americans for Responsible Solutions, the pro-gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after the Arizona Democrat’s recovery from a near-fatal assassination attempt, leaped into the top ranks of super PAC fundraisers, with a haul of $12.8 million. Just behind, the National Rifle Association’s Victory Fund, with $11.7 million.
Money hearts GOP ins: Donors favor Republican incumbents: Of the top 10 House fundraisers in 2013, only one is a Democrat: Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Florida first-termer who in 2012 knocked off Tea Party favorite and fundraising behemoth Allen West in one of that year’s closest races.
Money hearts Democratic up-and-comers: But when it comes to challengers, the smart money tilts slightly toward Democrats: Eliminating Katherine Clark and Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who ran in special elections in 2013, the top 10 non-incumbent fundraisers include six Democrats, including Silicon Valley fave Rohit Khanna and former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and Gwen Graham, daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla.
Waxman’s surprise haul: Veteran Rep. Henry Waxman, who announced his retirement this week, must have just made up his mind: His latest FEC filing shows he was continuing to ramp up his fundraising operation: The quarter before he made his announcement was his most successful of 2013.
To the losers go the debt: It’s one thing to carry a big debt when you’re raising big money, like the DNC or Obama for America. It’s another when you have no political chits to trade. Several losing candidates reported ending the year deeply in the red. Among them: former presidential candidate turned CNN commentator Newt Gingrich ($4.6 million), David Dewhurst, the Republican establishment favorite who lost the Texas Senate primary to now-Sen. Ted Cruz ($3 million), and Maryland businessman Rob Sobhani, who has a whopping $7 million in debt left over after his quixotic campaign to beat Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., as an independent.
Them’s that got it don’t need it: Among the House committees with the most cash on hand are two connected with former Massachusetts lawmakers who haven’t run in years: The biggest kitty belongs to the Marty Meehan for Congress Committee, even though Democrat Meehan left Congress seven years ago for the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, where he’s chancellor. Another Democrat, Joseph Kennedy II, retired from Congress in 1999 but his campaign committee still has $2.5 million. Meanwhile, his son, first-term Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, ended the year with $912,226.
For the latest proof of the importance of money in politics, look no further than the Wednesday decision by Bob Kerrey to make a comeback bid for his old Senate seat and the excitement it is generating. Never mind that Nebraska’s one-time Democratic g… […]