Super PAC Donor Lists Likely Unsurprising

Today’s the big day, when all the super PACs reveal where they get the money to create ads that, according to an AP piece that’s been picked up by everyone from The Washington Post to Time Magazine, “have pummeled Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and others for the past two months by spending millions of dollars on mostly negative TV ads that have had an enormous impact on the fight for the Republican presidential nomination.”

Now, for the first time since they started shaping this campaign in earnest, many of those “super” political action committees are set to disclose just who is financing their pseudo-campaign operations. Many took advantage of a change in federal rules that essentially let them shield their donors’ identities until after key primary elections in January. But they still must submit their financial reports to the Federal Election Commission by Tuesday.

Of course what the piece is referring to is the Citizens United decision of 2010, which has taken on a mythic connotation of negativity that leads the under-informed to assume that corruption is just around the corner because Citizens United opened the floodgate and super PACs are the first wave through.

However, as writer Anthony Kammer points out in a piece published in The American Prospect, “The problems in our campaign finance system run deeper. Before ​the decision was handed down, it was not as though wealthy individuals were not able to spend exorbitant amounts of money influencing elections. As Heather Parton pointed out at Digby’s blog, ‘The fact is that nothing any wealthy individual like Sheldon Adelson is doing in this cycle is a result of that ruling.'”

While it’s a stretch to say that Kammer’s piece is ubiquitously valid — he asserts, for example, that perhaps a new look at the First Amendment is in order as it relates to Democratic elections and that sounds like rhetoric that could lead to the stifling of political speech — he does a fair job of pointing out that much of what super PACs are doing may have very little to do with the Citizens United decision. And, lest we forget, once the donor lists are revealed, the chances that any of it will be surprising are very slim.

What’s really interesting about super PACs is that both the reform-minded and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney have expressed an unease with the fact that these groups that are legally barred from coordinating with candidates are controlling so much of the message. Presumably they have different agendas however, with the former pushing for another look at DISCLOSE legislation and the latter — well, it’s hard to say. But it may not be too far afield to suggest that Romney may be interested in the same thing that interests us here at the Center for Competitive Politics: direct contributions to candidates.

In any event, super PACs continue to spark interest, urged on of course by Stephen Colbert who, with his early-morning filing with the FEC had this to say: “‘‘Yeah! How you like me now, F.E.C? I’m rolling seven digits deep! I got 99 problems but a non-connected independent-expenditure only committee ain’t one!””

Thanks for keeping the kids interested, Stephen. They should be.