Sunday, January 22, 2012

In the Gusher of Super PACs, Even One Named "˜The Internet"

by Kim Barker ProPublica

Sure, there’sthe GOP symbol, but the real elephant in the room at any of the Republicandebates since December has been the super PAC, the turbocharged politicalaction committee able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money onpolitical ads — as long as that spending isn’t coordinated with aparticular campaign.

Mitt Romneysupporters used Restore OurFuture [1] to tank Newt Gingrich in Iowa, whileGingrich supporters relied on Winning OurFuture [2] for revenge in South Carolina.

Jon Huntsman’scampaign [3] would probably not have lasted as long asit did without Our Destiny. Now that Rick Perry is out of the race, throwinghis support to Gingrich, the real question is what will happen to the war chestof Make Us Great Again [4].

But those arejust the super PACs you’ve already heard about — the ones that candidatesgrouse about at debates, with Romney calling one Winning Our Future ad thatportrayed him as a corporate raider [5] “probably the biggest hoax since Bigfoot.”

As thecountdown continues to the South Carolina primary Saturday, it’s worth taking astep back and considering all the confusing names, and all the confusing moneythat might be spent in the coming months. It’s also worth considering how wegot to this new frontier, which even campaign operatives say is messy: Twoyears ago on Saturday, the Supreme Court, in its ruling on Citizens United vs.FEC, cracked open the door for superPACs. Two months later, a federal appeal court’s decision in Speechnow.orgvs. FEC threw it wide open. Now,registering as a super PAC is as simple as sending a letter and a form to theFEC.

So far, atleast 283 super PACs [6] have registered, although60 are run by one Florida man, Josue Larose, [7] and seem to serve no other purpose but piling up paperwork forthe FEC. And so far, super PACs have spent more than $29 million [8] on thepresidential race. (You can follow the money with our PAC Track application [9].) Althoughit’s not yet clear how that compares with overall spending by the candidatesthemselves, reports indicated that super PAC spending in Iowa outstripped thecandidates' by 2-to-1, said Paul Ryan, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center [10].

More spending,likely the most ever in an election season, is on the horizon. And even thoughsome super PACs seem to be parodies (like comedian Stephen Colbert's Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, [11] which has probably done more to deliver “super PAC” into theAmerican lexicon than any politician), the groups insist they are real.

“There’s allkinds of games going on,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a nonprofitpushing to rein in super PACs. “Some group has put up a website telling you howto get around disclosure. Look, we have huge problems on our hands, and we getto celebrate the cause of many of these problems on Jan. 21, the secondanniversary of the Citizens United decision. We have to deal with them as bestwe can.”

Here’s arundown of some new super PACs and examples of how confusing things can get:

The Patriot SuperPAC, [12] which registered with the FEC on Tuesday,boasts a website [13] promising to be the “future home of something quite cool.” Itwill work to defeat [14] President Barack Obama, but it shouldn’t be confused with theconservative Patriot PAC [15], which promises to be the “point of the spear” and asks peopleto sign a petition without providingthe text [16]. Nor should either be mistaken for the Patriot Majority USA PAC [17], which supports Senate Democrats.

Protecting OurVote PAC [18] registered on Jan. 13, with one of thebest signatures [18] in any super PAC filing. Its mission is unclear: The websitesimply says, Protecting OurVote PAC [19]. American Sunrise [19]registered as a super PAC the same day, organized in part by Lora Haggard, theformer chief financial officer for onetime Democratic presidential candidateJohn Edwards.

Citizens forProsperity and Good Government [20], not to beconfused with the nonprofit conservative advocacy group Americans forProsperity [21], registered on Jan. 10.

Some peopleregistering super PACs appear to be confused themselves. Patricia McBride ofWasco, Calif., registered Citizens FireupSuper PAC [22] on Jan. 9 to support or oppose Obama butneglected to say which angle she’ll take. McBride also wrote that she wished toestablish the super PAC as a (c4), which is shorthand for a 501(c)4, the IRS code for a social-welfare nonprofit.Although 501(c)4s are allowed to make certain political expenditures, they are notallowed to be super PACs. Regardless, the FEC appears to have registered thegroup.

On Jan. 5, asuper PAC called “a SuperPAC” [23] registered with the FEC, with a website at [24], which includes a way to donate. It also features theexplanation: “Haveyou ever wanted a message to get out to the voting public about a candidaterunning for federal office but didn't want the mess of production, compliance,or disclosure paperwork?  a SuperPACwants to get the TRUTH out too.”

Treasurer Matthew Balazikof Frederick, Md., said the group is real. Ads on its website [25], which proclaim “Paidfor by a SuperPAC,” target Democrats who’ve turnedRepublican.

“We’re prettyconservative around here,” Balazik wrote in responseto an email. “We believe fundamentally that you should be able to speakpublically (sic) and anonymously so long as you do not violate anyone else’srights.”

When asked if anyonehad tried to hire a SuperPAC super PAC, Balazik wrote simply: “That’s a good question.”

On Jan. 4, “The Internet” [26] registered as a super PAC. Unfortunately, its website [27] doesn’tappear to be working, but it does raise the specter of ads proclaiming, “paidfor by The Internet.”

On Dec. 22,the Real Leader PAC [28] registered as a super PAC, with a website [29] that stillleads to nowhere.

The previous week, Cain ConnectionsPAC [30]registered as a super PAC, with no website, days after Herman Cain had droppedout of the Republican race. Its mission is unclear.

Earlier in December, the AmericanCrosswinds PAC [31]— sounding remarkably similar to the Republican fundraisingjuggernaut AmericanCrossroads [32]super PAC — registered as a super PAC, although it has no website and noemail address.

On Dec. 1, Feel the Heat PAC [33] registered from a Washington P.O. box — just like manyreal super PACs. Its website [34] never got up and running, and reception must have been cool: OnTuesday, it terminated itself [35]. The Restore TrustPAC, [36] started by the same person, had similarissues.

Also in December, Americans for a BetterTomorrow, Today — clearly a play on Colbert’s super PAC, Americans for aBetter Tomorrow, Tomorrow — registered with the FEC. On Dec. 12, itannounced it wanted to be a super PAC, with a typo [37]: “Americans for a BetterTomorrow, Toady.”

Todd Bailey, who formed the super PAC, saidit’s working for the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has decried the CitizensUnitedruling and the effect of moneyon politics. In other words, a joke on a satire is operating in earnest,apparently under the theory, “if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em.”

“There’s atool that’s been created that everyone’s using,” Bailey said. “You have to makea choice. Either stand on sidelines, or get in the game and use a tool thatyou’re really not comfortable with.”

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