The future of fundraising

The “Super PAC” formed to support Governor Perry’s presidential aspirations is a good example of the impact of recent court decisions on how campaigns are financed. Basically, individuals and corporations can give as much as they want to a political action committee as long as that committee does not coordinate with the campaign.

According to a story (“New pro-Perry super PAC sets its sights on raising $55 million“) in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram, “Make Us Great Again” has said that they plan to raise and spend $55 million in support of Perry. The PAC is run by Mike Toomey who is a former chief of staff for Perry. Even if the committee was not led by Toomey, it would not be hard not to know what the Perry campaign wants to do (attack Mitt Romney). So, the independence of the committee may not be that comforting to many citizens. However, that was where the Supreme Court drew the line. After all, citizens are entitled to free speech and the Supreme Court has decided that corporations share that right.

The pipeline running from companies into our political system is troubling given the large numbers of government contracts handed out every day. Some people will claim that there is not a problem because the money does not go directly to the candidate’s campaign. Trust me, if a company gives a million dollars to a PAC supporting a candidate, they will make sure the candidate hears about it sooner or later.

Another problem is that many voters will not see the difference between Perry’s campaign and an independent PAC. Mike Toomey is pretty smart and probably will not make any major mistakes. However, if a pro-Perry PAC produces a commercial that offends people, many will blame it on Perry. Remember that some of the “Willie Horton” ads that embarrassed George H.W. Bush in the 1988 campaign came from an independent PAC. People assume (fairly or not) that these committees are doing the candidate’s dirty work.

The limits on candidate fundraising actually places candidates at a disadvantage and candidates are at risk of being drowned out by these PACs. I do not see where that benefits anyone.

Has the patchwork of federal campaign finance laws left us with a system that is more loophole that law? Should we give up on limits on contributions to candidates and parties to level the playing field or should we put together a new set of laws to check the power of large donors? There does not seem to be any obvious answers, but citizens need to think about who is paying for campaigns today.

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