AP Campaign Finance Roundup: April 12, 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.
Intuit spends millions lobbying amid accusations of deceptive TurboTax advertising
As we come upon Tax Day, millions of Americans once again wonder “why do I have to do my taxes if the IRS knows how much I owe them?” Turns out the answer is something along the lines of “because TurboTax wants to make money off of you.”
Intuit, the company that owns TurboTax, has spent over $41 million dollars on lobbying the federal government since 1998, spending nearly $3.3 million in 2021 and about $3.4 million in 2020 alone. Intuit affiliates gave more than $146,000 to President Joe Biden in 2020, and Intuit’s corporate PAC has given tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic and Republican candidates and political committees.
Don’t worry, though! They’ve gotten their money’s worth. In 2003, they successfully blocked a plan by the federal government to make a free tax-prep and filing service available to everyone, and have continued to successfully lobby against free tax prep since then. So when you pay to file your taxes this year, be proud that you’re paying a multimillion-dollar corporation to fund politicians to stop you from filing your taxes easily and freely.
Dissatisfied With Their Party, Wealthy Republican Donors Form Secret Coalitions
From the New York Times
This piece by the NYT details for the first time the “Rockbridge Network,” an organization of ultra-wealthy conservative donors who are planning to spend tens of millions of dollars to reshape the Republican Party. The Rockbridge Network will have to compete with other sets of similarly motivated and wealthy organizations that seek to use their immense wealth to reshape American politics. Completely abandoning the language of democracy, Rockbridge describes itself to potential members as “a kind of political venture capital firm” that seeks to replace the entire party apparatus of the Republican Party with its own operatives. As American Promise, Jeff Clements put it, “wealthy donor factions [are] replacing parties as drivers of American politics.”
Remind me again, why are they only called “oligarchs” if they’re Russian?
Koch Industries’ campaign donations were questioned after the company’s decision to remain in Russia
As Koch Industries has continued to do business with Russia, despite their invasion of Ukraine, many US lawmakers are deciding what to do with political donations from the business conglomerate. On the one hand, they have an insatiable need for campaign donations, and if they were really concerned about ethical dilemmas they’d have to return huge amounts of their donations. On the other hand, taking money with only one intermediary step between them and Russia probably looks bad.
In their defense, several of the lawmakers mentioned in this story announced that they would be giving away Koch contributions and not accepting any more after they found out there would be a story published about the contributions. Many others haven’t, however. Hopefully, they don’t run into any tricky dilemmas where they have to choose between their Russia-backed donors or making an important foreign policy choice!
A Democratic Super PAC’s Ad Buy Shows a Widening Battle for House Control
From The New York Times:
Democrats are already preparing to bombard the country with ads in the lead-up to the midterm elections. The main PAC for House Democrats has already spent $102 million dollars to reserve ad space across the country, including ad buys of millions of dollars for individual races. The PAC is being ambitious, reserving ad buys worth twice as much as their current cash on hand. Almost as if they can rely on a massive donor network of individuals and corporations with the resources to provide them with hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
While Texas’ top oil and gas regulators were deciding whether to permit a disputed oil waste disposal site, their campaigns raised tens of thousands of dollars from donors tied to the case.
What a coincidence! While they were deciding on a proposal for an oil waste disposal site, members of Texas’ state commission for oil and gas received tens of thousands of dollars from companies involved in the case. Most notably, commissioner Wayne Christian received a contribution of $100,000 from High Roller Group just three days after approving their application to build a dumpsite.
Some cynics might argue that commissioners may have been influenced to approve the site, which could contaminate one of the world’s largest sources of groundwater, by the more than $250,000 dollars they received from donors involved in the issue. Luckily, Christian has put these questions to rest by saying “I have never allowed a political contribution to my campaign to influence my decisions.” As we all know, nobody has ever lied about corruption before, especially not when hundreds of thousands of dollars are involved.
Emails reveal prominent law firms were among donors to Caddle’s dark money groups
An investigation by POLITICO has found a web of connections between politically-connected attorneys, the Elizabeth Board of Education, which runs the second-largest school district in New Jersey, and political operative Sean Caddle, who has admitted hiring two men to kill an associate.
This story is confusing, so to sum it up: Politically powerful law firms, including ones run by former governors, funded dark money groups that supported an effort to take control of the second-largest school district in New Jersey, and in return, the school board gave out millions of dollars worth of legal work to those same law firms. Oh, and to spice it up, the man running the dark money group pleaded guilty to hiring two men to kill an associate of his in 2014. This, of course, is how normal democracies function, and using an organization run by someone who hires hitmen to hide your political donations is just free speech.
Pro-Lamb Super PAC Misfires in Attack Ad Against Fetterman
We’re all used to PACs dealing in negative campaigning and attack ads that often veer into the misleading territory. Usually, though, they’re able to run their ads freely, with people mostly just accepting that they’re going to be bombarded with misleading ads and near-falsehoods.
In Pennsylvania, however, an ad run by the pro-Conor Lamb Super PAC, Penn Progress (which has featured in this roundup multiple times) was pulled by the TV station WPVI in Philadelphia for making a false claim about Lt. Governor John Fetterman. The ad described Fetterman as a “self-described democratic socialist,” despite the fact that Fetterman has never described himself as such and has previously said that he is not a democratic socialist.
Although the Super PAC system allows the Lamb campaign to claim they had nothing to do with the ad (despite Lamb himself appearing at fundraising events for the PAC), it is nice to see that Super PACs can only bend the truth so far in their advertising campaigns.