AP Campaign Finance Roundup: March 28, 2022

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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. 

The battle of Ukraine involves the American homefront

From The Fulcrum: This article by American Promise President Jeff Clements connects the struggle against oligarchy and authoritarianism abroad to the struggle here at home in America. America has always been a leader in the global fight for freedom, and its leadership abroad has always been accompanied by progress toward greater freedom at home. Now, when democracy and freedom are under threat once again, Americans must continue the fight here.


Larry Ellison pumps $15M into super PAC aligned with Tim Scott

From Politico: Larry Ellision, CEO of tech company Oracle, has given $15 million to the Opportunity Matters Fund, a PAC aligned with Senator Tim Scott (R-NC), bringing his total given to the PAC to $25 million. The two appear to be developing a closer relationship, as Scott recently visited Ellison at his Hawaii home. It’s very heartwarming to see a friendship between two people develop over something as wholesome as one friend providing tens of millions of dollars in political support to the other. It will be exciting to see how Scott returns the favor to his newfound friend!


GOP Dark Money Criticisms in Supreme Court Fight Mirror Democrats

From Bloomberg Law: When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was in her confirmation hearings in 2020, Democrats attacked her for connections to conservative PAC Judicial Crisis Network, but had no problem receiving support from millions of dollars in ads run by Demand Justice, the Democratic equivalent to the Judicial Crisis Network.

Now that the Democrats have a Supreme Court nominee up, the Republicans get to take their turn being performatively mad that the other side is supported by dark money. Most concerned about this untraceable dark money group is the untraceable dark money group Judicial Crisis Network, which has put out an ad claiming Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination is President Biden “paying back” liberal dark money groups. If anyone would know how dark money groups allow wealthy donors to purchase influence in government, it would be a dark money group.

If Senators from both sides of the aisle are so upset about dark money poisoning the political process, then they should have no problem supporting regulations that ban it. Unless, of course, they’re hypocrites who are only mad when it’s used against them — but that would be ridiculous. 


Super PAC signals Pennsylvania primary could get rough

From Politico: The Super PAC backing Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate Conor Lamb has signaled its intention to begin running attack ads against Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who is also running for the Democratic nomination for Senate. The Pro-Lamb PAC Penn Progress has decided that because Lamb is losing badly in the polls, they had better subject Pennsylvanians to millions of dollars worth of attack ads in an attempt to change the dynamic of the race. Lamb will feature on a fundraising call for the PAC, which is legal so long as he hangs up the call before people start asking for too much money on his behalf. Hopefully someone tells Lamb that the PAC is planning to raise over $8 million and spend it on attack ads to support him before things get out of hand, as I’m sure he would never support dragging the race into the mud and subjecting Pennsylvania voters to months of negative ads. 


Russian oligarch made political contributions to Sen. Schumer and the oligarch’s associates spent millions on U.S. influence

From OpenSecrets: Analysis by OpenSecrets has found that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) received a $2,000 campaign contribution in 2002 from Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who has close ties to Vladimir Putin, that was never refunded.

Many of Vekselberg’s allies have poured millions of dollars into buying influence in the U.S. Russian billionaires Oleg Deripaska and Leonard “Len” Blavatnik, both associates of Vekselberg, have spent millions of dollars on lobbying in the U.S. The Treasury Department was apparently so persuaded by Deripaska’s efforts to get around U.S. sanctions (millions of dollars can buy some really good arguments, I’m sure) that they allowed him to transfer $78 million worth of stock to his children.

Blavatnik has gone native here in the U.S. and taken up the favorite pastime of our oligarchs billionaires, having made more than $10 million in state and federal political contributions between himself and his wife. Blavatnik donates to both Democrats and Republicans, with some of his top beneficiaries being Sen. Schumer, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), as well as former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and current New York Governor Kathy Hochul. 


Nebraska Congressman Faces Calls to Step Down After Convictions

From the New York Times: U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska has been convicted on one count of falsifying and concealing material facts and two counts of making false statements in a case relating to an illegal contribution by a foreign citizen. In 2016, Fortenberry received a $30,000 donation from a Lebanese Nigerian billionaire who was attempting to make contributions to American politicians in exchange for access. Unfortunately for Rep. Fortenberry and the billionaire, only good old American billionaires are allowed to make donations to U.S. elected officials in exchange for access.  


Sen. Ted Cruz pumped more than $137,000 into former aide’s bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar

From the Dallas Morning News: In a stunning display of American ingenuity and a new and innovative way to get around campaign finance regulations, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz spent over $137,000 from his own campaign’s funds to support his former aide, Cassy Garcia, in the Republican primary for a House seat in South Texas. Although candidates cannot directly give more than $2,000 to other candidates, there is apparently no present regulation that stops a campaign from making expenditures in support of another candidate, so long as they don’t coordinate with the benefitting campaign. 

In 2018, the Federal Election Commission found that it’s “unlikely that independent spending by authorized committees would be deemed more potentially corrupting than independent expenditures by individuals, political parties, or corporations,” apparently operating under the legal principle of “as long as someone is doing something else worse, you’re fine.”  


Alaska House passes campaign contribution limits bill

From The Associated Press: In a rare piece of good news, only two weeks after the Alaska Public Offices Commission abdicated its responsibility to regulate election finance in the state by refusing to impose limits on campaign contributions, the Alaska House passed new limits on campaign contributions. Although the $2,000 limit is higher than the original $500 limit struck down by a federal court, or the $1,500 limit proposed by the staff of the Alaska Public Offices Commission, it is still far more reasonable than the limit of “eh, whatever,” originally imposed by the commission.

Unfortunately, because nothing can ever just work out, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy has previously said that his preference is to “just let people do what they want in campaign finance law” and allow for unlimited campaign contributions, as long as people are made aware of who, specifically, is purchasing their elections.


Trevor Potter: Future of self-government depends on campaign finance amendment

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: This op-ed by Trevor Potter, former chairman of the FEC, demonstrates how important the For Our Freedom amendment is, from someone who would know. Potter argues that without a constitutional amendment to allow reasonable limits on election spending, we will descend further into a world of anonymously funded campaigns and elected officials who are only responsible to their donors, not to the American people. He calls on Pennsylvania to join 22 states and 75% of Americans in supporting the amendment by July 4, 2026, the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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