Friday, November 13, 2015

Can Dark PAC Money Harm the Conservative Republican Cause?

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson: His big money should help the GOP. But
out-of-control super PACs could be siphoning money from actual campaigns.

(Updated below)

Ever since the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, many people on the left could only assume that dark, soft money would flow at such unprecedented rates to candidates on the right that for liberals it would literally spell game over. Period. I was one who feared that.

I recently wrote about a negative "Fox News Effect," in which the epistemic closure and confirmation bias among their listeners would create not a monster horde of freedom fighters that could roll over Washington at will but instead corral a 30-percent cohort of radical rightists who, for all their froth and frenzy, are too batshit crazy and uninformed to do anything but eat their young.

Hard to know. But this Amanda Marcotte article in Salon spells out the danger of over-relying on the scads of free money that could potentially flow to the right because of Citizens United.
But has the rush of unlimited funding been the great boon to the Republicans that everyone, likely on both sides of the aisle, thought it would be? There’s an increasing number of reasons to suspect the Republicans might just be regretting this financial free-for-all. As an investigative report from Politico demonstrates, this new flood of money, while helpful for winning elections, comes with alarming strings attached. Republican candidates might have more money than ever, but the party is losing its independence and being quietly bought out by the biggest bidders.
The piece, written by Kenneth P. Vogel, focuses largely on the infamous Koch brothers, two oil billionaires named Charles and David Koch who have extreme libertarian views and an apparent willingness to spend as much money as it takes to turn the United States into a dystopia out of Ayn Rand’s wet dreams. That the Koch brothers, and many other billionaires, spend lavish amounts of money in our era of deregulated campaign law is not a surprise, of course, but Politico discovered that they are spending even more money than most political watchers had assumed.
But the money isn’t just going to help Republicans win more elections. Instead, and this is what is worrying many Republican insiders, the brothers are trying to reshape the Republican Party in their own image and take the already hard-right party even further to the right. “The Kochs and their allies are investing in a pipeline to identify, cultivate and finance business-oriented candidates from the local school board all the way to the White House,” Vogel writes, “and Koch operatives are already looking for opportunities to challenge GOP incumbents deemed insufficiently hard-line in their opposition to government spending and corporate subsidies.”
Here's the problem: If Koch money reshapes the party in their interests, does it become so far out of the mainstream that its candidates have become Frankensteins too bizarre for the average Joe? A good example of that was Alan West, who on paper looked like the perfect candidate for the right -- an African-American, Iraq-veteran ultra-conservative that cruised to victory with the tea party, only to be so distasteful as to get tossed out the very next election.

That's a while back and the GOP has had an epidemic of radical rightists forcing moderate Republicans out by beating them in the primaries. Is it a Pyrrhic victory?

What's more, the grifters have been circling the new laws and have found fertile ground for all kinds of scams, sucking up lots of loose dollars and preventing them from getting to the campaigns they purport to support.
For instance, Citizens United has made it easier for grifters, who notoriously prefer conservative marks for their apparent gullibility, to line their own pockets with political donations siphoned away from legitimate candidates. As Vogel explained in Politico earlier this year, there’s been an explosion of super PACs that promise donors to help conservative candidates win, but who actually spend the money on pretty much anything but the intended goal. “Combining sophisticated targeting techniques with fundraising appeals that resonate deeply among grass-roots activists, they collect large piles of small checks that, taken together, add up to enough money to potentially sway a Senate race,” he wrote. “But the PACs plow most of their cash back into payments to consulting firms for additional fundraising efforts.”
It’s hard to say how much of that money would have gone directly to campaigns that would have spent it on actual campaigning rather than self-enrichment, if it hadn’t gone to super PACs instead. But the amount is likely not insignificant, especially since these groups rely so heavily on small donors. But in an unregulated environment, there’s nothing to stop shady dealers from fleecing Grandma for her political donations and then walking away without spending any real money on the candidates.
The problem has grown so out of control that it seems to be hurting prominent presidential candidates. There are four huge super PACs set up ostensibly to support Ted Cruz’s run, and so far, they have barely spent any money actually supporting their supposed candidate. How many of the donors would have given to Cruz directly if they knew that this was happening? Some, surely, but that’s just money that’s going into PAC consultant pockets instead of into campaigning.
 A sane political world -- with a functioning legislative branch -- would have already started cleaning up this mess. But in these days with Republican dominated legislatures, the crazy-money party just can't help itself. To its own dismay -- as with Fox News and talk radio roping in the crazies and driving them into a frenzy of kooky ideas (no compromise on anything, ever, ever!!) that makes for impossible governance -- this wild-west money game may turn into its own feeding frenzy.

Good for a little while, but the long run? Hard to say.

Note. Kudos to Amanda Marcotte's great commentary in her several sites she writes for, including Salon and Slate. Google her and read her often.

A new breed of savvy political analysts, Amanda Marcotte being a good example,
though she would remind us she's been around for years...

Update. Here's an interesting article about super PAC scams. Good example of what Citizens United has spawned.

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