March 19, 2012
Are negative ads bad for America?

An editorial in today’s New York Times (published online yesterday) criticizes a super PAC whose goal it is not to advance a political agenda but to challenge incumbents. It makes some good points but there is one line in its conclusion on super PACs generally that deserves further exploration: “Attack ads, which are their stock in trade, are tainting the political process and turning off many voters.”

While John McCain may agree with this statement, it would nice if that belief could be corroborated with more than just intuition.  As Nick Gillespie of Reason has argued, despite McCain’s objection to the tone, negative ads actually contain more information for voters than positive ads.  And it’s not just a libertarian magazine that sees the benefit.  This week, Paul Begala, Democratic commentator and now adviser to Obama’s super PAC, published a piece in Newsweek praising negative ads because he finds them more engaging.

Screenshot of negative ad against Mitt Romney

Screenshot of negative ad against Santorum

March 19, 2012
Senator John McCain Rips Supreme Court over Citizens United decision on NBC’s Meet the Press

Yesterday, on the March 18th episode of NBC’s Meet the Press program, Republican Senator from Arizona, and former Republican presidential nominee, John McCain appeared as host David Gregory’s featured guest. When questioned on the current Republican presidential primary process, the Senator, a ranking member of the Armed Services Committee and widely respected by Republican and Democratic Congressmen alike, took the opportunity to blast the United States Supreme Court over its decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission while lamenting the prominent role Super PACs have come to play in the American political process.

Senator McCain, who has endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the Republican primary race, responded to a question asking why Mr. Romney had yet to seal the deal on obtaining his party’s nomination to run against President Barack Obama in the upcoming election. Senator McCain placed a large amount of the blame on the emergence of Super PACs stating, “Super PACs have played a key role, unfortunately in my view, because most of them are negative ads, they’ve driven up the unfavorables of all the candidates and made it much more difficult frankly to win the election in November.”

McCain described this current election season as the “nastiest” he has ever witnessed and placed the blame squarely on the presence of Super PACs. “When you have a Las Vegas Casino mogul, by the way who gets part of his money from Macau, pouring 20 million dollars into one campaign and most of those are negatives ads, obviously those drive up people’s unfavorable” noted McCain.

However, the Senator did not stop there and proceeded to explicitly attack the Supreme Court, declaring the election climate is, “a result of the worst decision the United States Supreme Court has made in many years - the Citizens United decision – where out of naivete and sheer ignorance, the majority of the Supreme Court just…released all money, now, there will be scandals David, there will be scandals and then maybe we will reform again.”

March 15, 2012
Who is funding the super PACs?

Sheldon Adelson gave Gingrich's super PAC $10 million

When Citizens United came down two years ago there was a lot of fear it would lead to a major influx of corporate donations in elections.  In his 2010 State of the Union address just after the decision came down, President Obama said he believed it would “open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections.”  John McCain had predicted the super PACs that resulted from the decision would “destroy the political process.”  Presumably both major party presidential candidates from the last presidential election worried the decision would lead to corporations controlling the messaging during the following presidential election.

But looking at the super PACs that have developed, wealthy individuals, not corporations, are the dominant donors.  Corporations, it turns out, are giving less than half of one percent of all contributions raised by the most active super PACs.  Below is a compilation of some of the biggest contributors.

Mitt Romney’s super PAC Restore Our Future received $1.25 million from Wall Street investor Julian Robertson, and two other wealth individuals gave $1 million.  Many other financial investors contributed six-figure donations.  Top  Jewish donors have donated more than 10% of the total $36 million raised by Restore Our Future.  Billionaire investor Ken Griffin donated $150,000 to Restore Our Future.  Frank Vandersloot’s company Melaleuca donated $1 million.  (Vandersloot is also co-chair of the Romney campaign.)

Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his family have twice donated $5 million to Newt Gingrich’s super PAC Winning Our Future.  (Adelson had said he could give $100 million to Gingrich or another Republican last month though that may have changed as he was recently sued for $375 million.)  Before the super PAC received money from Adelson it had only raised $2 million.  Three wealthy individuals, including Mrs. Adelson’s youngest daughter, have each donated $500,000 to the super PAC.

Rick Santorum’s super PAC, the Red, White and Blue Fund, received $1 million from energy executive William Dore and at least $331,000 from investor Foster Friess which was about 40% of its funding in 2011.  (It also returned a $50,000 donation from a foreign corporation that may have violated American election law.)

Ron Paul has done very well at receiving small donations but like the other candidates his super PAC, Endorse Liberty, relies on the extremely wealthy.  Billionaire PayPal founder Peter Thiel, who likes to keep a low profile, has donated the majority of Endorse Liberty’s funding: $2.6 million out of $3.4 million total.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action, has received a $2 million gift from Dreamworks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and a widely-publicized $1 million gift from political comedian Bill Maher as well as five- and  six-figure donations from other wealthy individuals in entertainment and business including directors Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams and Chicago media tycoon Fred Eychaner.  The Service Employee International Union has also been a major donor, giving Priorities USA Action a $1 million donation.

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