In 2010, two landmark Supreme Court rulings turned election law on its head by allowing corporations, business leaders and labor unions to make unlimited contributions to political action committees that are legally separate from the candidates they support. Practically overnight, the courts helped to spawn a new generation of political “Daddy Warbucks,” who now are able to influence the course of an election by writing a personal check to the new Super PACs that legally must operate independently of the candidate.
History is littered with examples of powerful capitalists and titans of industry with deep pockets who bankrolled the ambitions and campaigns of presidential aspirants. Some of the country’s richest men, including J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie, opened their wallets to help elect Theodore Roosevelt president in 1904. Wealthy industrialist Joseph P. Kennedy underwrote the cost of the presidential campaign of his son, John F. Kennedy, in 1960 and famously said that there was no way he was paying “for a landslide.”
Since the turn of the century, corporations and wealthy businessmen technically have been barred by law from using their own money to influence the outcome of elections, although some, including liberal billionaire George Soros, used tax-exempt “527” organizations to skirt those restrictions in the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns.
The Super PAC Phenom
Among the big political news this week is that these new “Super PACs” raised more than $42 million last year to back GOP candidates, according to documents released Tuesday by the Federal Election Commission.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who rolled over Newt Gingrich to claim victory in Tuesday’s Florida primary, was the greatest beneficiary of this free flowing campaign funding. His Super PAC, Restore our Future, reported raising $30 million in 2011, with nearly $24 million in the bank at the end of the year.
Romney won the primary with nearly 50 percent of the vote thanks largely to carpet-bombing Newt Gingrich with nearly 10 days of negative advertising, funded by the Super PAC. While nearly 60 corporations and wealthy individuals gave checks of $100,000 or more to Romney’s Super PAC, three individuals – hedge fund executives Robert Mercer, Paul Singer and Julian Robertson – each gave checks for $1 million, according to an analysis by the New York Times.
None of the three is a household name, but they they are engaging in a plutocracy of sorts by making oversized contributions that far eclipse the $2,500 limit that federal campaign law currently imposes on most people.