AP Campaign Finance Roundup: March 14, 2022
Connor Flotten, an American Promise Research Associate, has the roundup you need to stay on top of fast-evolving corruption, election spending, and reform news.
As privacy concerns arise, organizations using facial recognition technology spend on lobbying
From OpenSecrets: In 2021, at least 32 companies and organizations lobbied Congress, federal departments, and the White House on facial recognition technology, which enables corporations and the government to scan your face from photos or videos and identify you from a database. Several bills have been introduced in Congress to regulate or place a moratorium on the use of these technologies, due to privacy concerns following a report that almost 2,000 public agencies were using the technology and half of U.S. adults are in facial recognition databases. Additionally, many facial recognition databases and algorithms are biased against people of color.
Among the organizations involved in lobbying on the issue of facial recognition are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Amazon, and that famed guardian of privacy rights, Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook). The Chamber spent over $60 million on lobbying in 2021, and Amazon and Meta each spent over $20 million, although they were not required to disclose exactly how much went to facial recognition specifically. Facial recognition-focused companies that engaged in lobbying include Clearview AI, which is on track to have 100 billion facial photos in its database and says it wants to guarantee that “almost everyone in the world will be identifiable.” Clearview AI spent over $120,000 on lobbying efforts in 2021.
As one of the many people in the world with a face, I would prefer that an unaccountable private company not be able to identify me from pictures it collected without my consent, because it had millions of dollars to spend on lobbying and I didn’t.
Trump issues fundraising email about ‘Trump Force One’ after emergency landing
From The Hill: Former President Donald Trump’s plane, which was on loan from a donor, was forced to make an emergency landing last week as a result of an engine malfunction. Miraculously, hours after reports of the landing, Trump’s Save America PAC announced a fundraising push for a new “Trump Force One” plane, which had apparently been secretly under construction the whole time! The email asked supporters if they wanted to see the new plane, and asked for a donation. The fundraising email did not say if the funds would go to a new plane, a general PAC fund, or anything else, presumably to further preserve the high level of secrecy surrounding the miracle plane.
It was reported last year that Trump’s personal Boeing 747 has been sitting in disrepair in a New York airport. Perhaps repairing it can be added as a stretch goal to the PAC’s fundraising efforts, if PACs are now being used as glorified Kickstarters for plane construction costs.
Reform groups push for probe into whether Cuomo ad spending violates campaign finance laws
From WAER Public Radio: In an attempt at perhaps the least-desired comeback tour of all time, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace last year after the NY State Attorney General concluded that he sexually harrassed nearly a dozen women, has begun running TV ads one again. The former governor, who has $16.4 million remaining in his campaign account, spent $369,000 on ads claiming he was a victim of “political attacks.” The ads make no mention of the fact that the state AG, the State Assembly, and a majority of New York voters all found the accusations against him credible, and that the State Assembly (controlled by Democrats) was preparing to impeach him. So either Cuomo’s opponents engineered a massive display of bipartisanship and political unity specifically to destroy him, or the accusations are true and he’s just mad that he had to face moderate consequences for his actions.
Cuomo has not, however, announced that he will be running for any office, and at the moment seems to just be running ads for the fun of it (gotta do something with $16.4 million burning a hole in his pocket). Campaign reform groups allege that using campaign funds for something that is not a political campaign is illegal, citing a section of New York campaign finance law. Unfortunately, New York Board of Elections Chief Enforcement Counsel Michael L. Johnson, a Cuomo appointee, has declined to investigate complaints made against Cuomo’s spending. Johnson claims that Cuomo is behaving like he’s running for office, as long as you ignore the bit where he’s not actually running for office, and that’s good enough.
In unrelated news, I will be raising millions of dollars in campaign donations to run an ad campaign about how I’m cool and fun at parties, which is OK because I might feel like running for office some day.
Dave McCormick dropped millions into the Pa. Senate race. Good luck finding out where it’s coming from
From the Philadelphia Inquirer: Or: Hide your campaign funding sources with this one weird trick! Dave McCormick, former hedge fund CEO and Republican Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, has not yet had to file any reports on his campaign finances or personal financial disclosures. That’s because he didn’t technically enter the race until January, and so is not required to file his first report until the next FEC deadline in April, one month before the primary. Apparently the $1 million he spent on TV ads to “introduce himself” in December doesn’t count. McCormick’s Super PAC is similarly not required to file its finance reports until April. This has not stopped McCormick’s campaign or his PAC from spending $6.5 million and $7.7 million, respectively, on ads — just from disclosing where those millions of dollars came from.
A spokesperson for the McCormick campaign claimed that he did not enter the race until 2022 due to a request from his hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates (the largest hedge fund in the world), that he stay on the board until 2021. I, for one, am shocked that a candidate would put the desires of a major hedge fund over the interests of the public.
Alaska campaign finance commission erases all limits on donations to political candidates
From the Anchorage Daily News: The members of the Alaska Public Offices Commission, which enforces the state’s campaign finance laws, have decided that their job would be a lot easier if they just got rid of Alaska’s campaign finance limits. After the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down Alaska’s $500 annual limit on individual donations as being too low and sent the issue of setting limits back to the commission and the state Legislature, the commission was unable to find a reasonable middle ground between “$500” and “literally unlimited.” Yes, the commission’s staff recommended a more reasonable $1,500 individual limit, but enforcing that would probably be a lot of work.
Unless Alaska’s Legislature is able to act and impose fundraising limits, the state is almost certain to face an unprecedented wave of political spending and advertising as a result of the commission’s failure.
Maine GOP’s early TV ad reservations for Paul LePage dwarf 2018 spending
From the Bangor Daily News: The Maine Republican Party has already announced its intention to spend $3.9 million on TV ads alone to support former Governor Paul Lepage’s campaign, which is more than the $2.8 million spent by the Republican Party in the entire 2018 gubernatorial election. The 2022 gubernatorial race is expected to be yet another record-breaking Maine election, with ad-tracking firm AdImpact predicting that the state will see more than $75 million worth of political advertising in 2022.
For those of us who are sick of elections being decided by who can run the largest multimillion-dollar ad campaigns, the Protect Maine Elections (PME) ballot initiative seeks to secure our elections from wealthy campaign contributors and foreign influence. The PME initiative would prohibit spending by foreign governments in our ballot measure elections (like the $21 million spent by Hydro Quebec in 2020), including spending by China and Russia. Recent news, like the millions of dollars spent by Russia to influence U.S. policy and potentially weaken U.S. sanctions ahead of the invasion of Ukraine has shown how allowing foreign governments to spend money influencing our election can threaten our security.
The PME initiative also demands passage of an anti-corruption amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow Mainers to place reasonable limits on campaign spending in their state, so they can decide elections rather than the wealthy donors who want to buy them.