Business/Finance

Report: Super PACs raise $181 million from fewer than 200 people

As if we needed still more evidence that financial authority over national political campaigns is increasingly wielded by fewer and fewer really rich people, consider this exhibit:

Super PACs raised about $181 million in the last two years — with roughly half of it coming from fewer than 200 super-rich people.

That’s the news from a study called “Auctioning Democracy” jointly conducted by Demos, an organization that says it practices “advocacy to influence public debate and catalyze change,” and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Both groups seek to strengthen, if not compel full disclosure and expenditure rules.

Super PACs’ power stemmed from the U.S. Supreme Court’s July 2010 SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission decision. The Court’s Citizen United decision further strengthened corporations’ claim to personhood and weakened the requirement for full disclosure of donations to super PACs.

Politico’s Ken Vogel and Abby Phillip’s analysis of the study noted that

A relatively few wealthy backers are keeping super PACs afloat — and they’re saying so. Last year alone, individuals gave super PACs $63 million.

The news only worsens.

Again, from Politico:

That includes 15 people who gave $1 million or more, such as DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave $2 million to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting President Barack Obama, and John Paulson, a hedge fund billionaire who gave $1 million to a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney’s GOP presidential campaign, according to FEC reports.

The figures don’t even include the $10 million that Adelson and his wife gave from their personal accounts to the super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich’s GOP presidential campaign after the year-end FEC reports.

And from the Demos/USPIRG report itself:

For-profit businesses use Super PACs as an avenue to influence federal elections. 17% of the itemized funds raised by Super PACs came from for-profit businesses—more than $30 million.

Because Super PACs—unlike traditional PACs—may accept funds from nonprofits that are not required to disclose their donors, they provide a vehicle for secret funding of electoral campaigns. 6.4% of the itemized funds raised by Super PACs cannot be feasibly traced back to an original source.

Super PACs are a tool used by wealthy individuals and institutions to dominate the political process. 93% of the itemized funds raised by Super PACs from individuals in 2011 came in contributions of at least $10,000, from just twenty-three out of every 10 million people in the U.S. population.

And still more from the report:

Nearly 20% of active Super PACs20 received money from untraceable sources in 2011. Six out of the 10 Super PACs that raised the most money in 2011 received money from untraceable sources. [emphasis added]

I have nothing to add except revulsion and disgust. Is this the method the Founders imagined would provide the United States with its best and fairest political leadership?

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