AP Campaign Finance Roundup: Dec 9, 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.
Another week, another set of stories about how our elections are being bought out from under us and all that matters is fundraising and the donor class. I know it gets frustrating writing these, as important as it is to shine a spotlight on what’s happening, and I hope that they get you fired up too. But, starting this week, I’m also going to be offering solutions on what you can do to channel that righteous anger into something that will help solve these problems.
Two anonymous $425 million donations give dark money conservative group a massive haul
No big deal, just a couple anonymous donations totaling almost a billion dollars. Normal stuff, normal amounts of money. And totally anonymous, too, so whoever is throwing around that much money to boost conservative causes gets to do so without any accountability at all. Groups like DonorsTrust, which received the donations, have been likened to an “ATM for dark money groups.” Oh, and the donations were tax-deductible too, because of course they were.
Megadonor no more: Sam Bankman-Fried spent his way into the good graces of Washington then lost it all
Sam Bankman-Fried, the 6th biggest individual donor of 2022 who gave more than $38 million to outside spending groups, mostly supporting Democrats, had pledged to give up to $1 billion in 2024. At least, until his FTX cryptocurrency exchange imploded in spectacular fashion earlier this month (on Election Day itself, ironically), leading to “one of the largest ever single-day collapses among billionaires” as SBF’s $16 billion fortune was wiped out almost overnight.
SBF had claimed that his political donations had nothing to do with influencing government regulation on the crypto industry (like the sort of regulations that might stop an exchange from gambling customer deposits on volatile investments), but also admitted that “everyone should always be skeptical” of donor motives. Not that anyone would ever try to buy political influence to dodge regulation.
FTX billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried funneled dark money to Republicans
From The Guardian:
Sam Bankman-Fried wasn’t just bankrolling Democratic candidates and causes. In his first full interview after FTX’s bankruptcy, SBF admitted that, in addition to his public donations to Democrats, he also gave significant amounts of money to Republicans as well. It’s just that our campaign finance system allows donors to give millions of dollars in secret, if they want, and he didn’t want to deal with public scrutiny for his donations. If I didn’t want to be criticized for spending millions of dollars on campaign donations I would simply spend my money on anything else, but I suppose that’s why I’m not the sort of business genius who can lose $16 billion in one day.
Arizona voters back ballot measure taking aim at ‘dark money’
From The Washington Post:
And now for a bit of good news! Voters in AZ have passed an anti-“dark money” ballot measure with an overwhelming 73% of the vote. The measure would require any group that spends more than $50,000 in statewide races or $25,000 in other races to disclose any donors who give more than $5,000. This comes after similar successes in Alaska and North Dakota to strengthen disclosure rules and ban contributions from foreign governments and corporations. Americans are sick of the unaccountable dark money system dominating our elections, and we’re starting to fight back in our states.
Incumbents and top fundraisers largely victorious in costly elections for attorney general
2022 featured the 3rd most expensive set of elections for attorney general, with candidates raising more than $161 million and breaking fundraising records in 9 states. In every election but one, the candidate who raised the most money won. It’s almost like you need money to compete in elections, how odd. And with more and more state and local elections becoming the target of national spending groups deploying millions of dollars, it’s swiftly becoming impossible to run for anything without the favor of massive donor networks
Spend big, win big: 96% of U.S. House races won by the biggest spender
Continuing the trend of “biggest pile of money wins,” OpenSecrets analysis has found that the biggest spender won 96% of House races in the 2022 midterms. In several key races where Republicans were expected to flip Democratic-held seats, the Democratic incumbents managed to hold on, in part due to their access to millions of dollars of donors and PAC money.
At this point, why even bother with the “election” part? Just have the candidates compare bank accounts.
Boebert gets new FEC warning letter
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO3) had better watch out! The FEC has sent her another warning letter for possible campaign finance violations, as she has alleged accepted almost $10,000 worth of donations over the legal limit for individual contributions. This letter comes on the heels of a warning letter in May claiming her campaign accepted $30,000 in excess donations, and another from October 2021 that claimed her year-end report didn’t balance out, even after 3 amended filings. Boebert has 60 days to correct her latest warning, and she had better watch out, or else the FEC might send her a fourth letter! That’ll really show her!
With new campaign fund, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s allies are raising cash outside city ethics rules limits
From the Chicago Tribune
Technically ethical is the best kind of ethical, I always say. And Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appears to agree, as her allies have founded a campaign fund that is allowed to ignore legal and ethical limits placed on Lightfoot’s actual reelection campaign. The 77 Committee, as it’s called, is able to raise unlimited funds, including from city contractors who are otherwise prohibited from donation to Lightfoot’s campaign or associated PACs. The Committee is run by a longtime top Lightfoot adviser, and has claimed that it “has the support of the Lightfoot for Chicago campaign,” but it’s not technically associated with the campaign, so it doesn’t count!
Angry? Here’s what you can do:
Protect Maine Elections:
If you’re sick of the unending political ads and outside interference in our elections, volunteer for the American Promise Protect Maine Elections ballot initiative at protectmaineelections.com, or send them a contribution at protectmaineelections.nationbuilder.com/donate2, so they can get us back on track. The initiative would block foreign interference in Maine’s ballot elections and call on our federal delegation to pass a Constitutional amendment to get money out of politics.
As a Mainer, seriously, I can’t take another election cycle full of ads from America and Canada.
Secure Candidate Pledges:It’s easy to get angry at our elected officials for taking money from wealthy donors and ignoring the issues that matter most to us. And don’t get me wrong, a lot of the time they deserve it. But it’s important to remember that they work for us, and to give them a chance to prove that they’re committed to that ideal. Get your elected officials and candidates to sign the American Promise Candidate Pledge, affirming that they’ll use their office to advance the For Our Freedom Amendment and fight for We the People, not money.