But transparency can be a bit blurry at times. In 2011, the Mitt Romney-linked Restore our Future super PAC reported a $1 million contribution from “W Spann LLC.” Never heard of it? Neither had several enterprising reporters, who learned that its address in New York was the same as that of Bain Capital — Romney’s former firm. After the press demanded to know what Romney was hiding, a former Bain executive came forward to say that the donation was his. He had given it through a shell corporation that his lawyer had created for that purpose.
How often does this happen? What if W Spann had been funded by another corporation or a foreign national — one whose lawyers had been a little less obvious when picking an address? Disclosure isn’t the same as transparency.
2. Super PACs don’t corrupt politics because they operate independently of the campaigns they support.
In Citizens United, the high court said that the government may regulate only political activity that has the potential to corrupt and that independent corporate spending does not fall into that category.
But the Federal Election Commission permits “common vendors” (such as pollsters and media firms) to be used by candidates and super PACs. It lets candidates solicit funds for super PACs, endorse them and appear at their events. Financial backers of these groups can travel with candidates and advise them on policy. And the people running them can be closely tied to the candidates.
Sheldon Adelson and his family donated $16.5 million to a super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich, Winning Our Future — more than 85 percent of its receipts. He also conferred privately with the candidate in Las Vegas. Foster Friess, who bankrolled the pro-Rick Santorum Red White and Blue Fund, traveled with Santorum to campaign events and stood beside him onstage. Gov. Rick Perry’s super PAC manager, Mike Toomey, was a business partner of Perry’s campaign manager and a former chief of staff to the governor. And Bill Burton, head of the super PAC backing President Obama, is a former White House aide.
Super PACs are essentially another bank account for candidates — one that, because of Citizens United, can accept unlimited money. The court created a constitutional right for corporations and unions to make “independent expenditures” that are not really independent. Such spending links candidates to major funders who want something from government, and this may be corrupting.
3. Corporations were banned from political activity until the Citizens United decision.
Corporations and unions routinely participated in federal elections before the ruling. They could pay for and control political action committees that could raise and spend unlimited money on advertising on behalf of candidates, but the funds had to be voluntarily contributed by individuals — executives, shareholders, employees or union members and their families. In addition, corporations and unions could endorse candidates, sponsor candidate appearances and pay for voting drives.