AP Campaign Finance Roundup: Feb 15, 2023
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.
From The Guardian:
More drama from FTX. Now the bankrupt crypto exchange is contacting recipients of campaign donations from its former CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried, and other executives, and asking that the donations be returned. If they’re not returned, FTX says it’s prepared to engage in bankruptcy court proceedings to forcibly claw the money back. Hopefully for FTX, the court doesn’t recognize the legal principle of “no takesies backsies.”
This is just getting comedic at this point. The Santos campaign is now facing scrutiny from the FEC for after it filed documents that listed one Thomas Datwyler as its treasurer. The only problem is, Datwyler never accepted the job. It’s unclear how that happened, or if it was an accidental miscommunication, but it’s also unclear how this will get resolved. An attorney for Datwyler is as confused as everyone else, saying that trying to contact the campaign is “a waste of time” and that “If you know who’s in charge of the campaign right now and how to get ahold of them, let me know.”
“People with access to large piles of free money vote to keep spending that money.” In Virginia, a House panel defeated legislation that would have imposed new restrictions on the use of campaign funds for state lawmakers. Under current law, VA legislators can spend campaign funds on pretty much anything, and apparently they’d like to keep doing that. Defenders of the practice claim that transparency requirements prevent abuses, but the system is lax enough that one could buy something on Amazon and just list “Amazon” as an expense. Maybe they don’t realize that Amazon sells a few different items.
South Carolina Dem James Clyburn funneled six figures from campaign funds to family last cycle, filings show
From Fox News:
Being in Congress is good business, apparently. Democratic Rep. James Clyburn has sent tens of thousands of dollars of campaign funds to his family members and companies owned by them. This includes payments to companies linked to his son-in-law and a $94,000 expense to his grandson for “campaign management fees” (not sure how different that is from just writing “Very Legitimate Campaign Expense”). It’s entirely legal for Clyburn to do so, and politicians from both parties funnel campaign funds to their family members, it’s frowned on by ethics experts.
From the NYT:
The Koch donor network, which has been one of the most influential in American politics over the past 15 years, is setting itself up as a kingmaker once again in the GOP presidential primary, in an apparent attempt to oppose former President Trump. Many other major donors are doing the same, preparing to use their financial influence to determine the result of the presidential primary. Personally, I thought that was what voters were for, but I guess they’re worried the voters would make a decision the donors won’t like.
Another election, another shattered spending record. Total spending in the 2022 midterms exceeded $8.9 billion, much more than the (inflation-adjusted) $7.1 billion spent in 2018, and almost double the $4.8 billion spent in 2014. Republicans narrowly outspent Democrats, $4.2 billion to $4 billion. The average cost for a Senate seat went up to $13.5 million. At some point, these numbers start to blur together, but it’s important to keep focused and recognize that this is real money being spent to purchase our government.
Larry Householder, the former speaker of the Ohio House, is on trial for a $60 million case of bribery. Householder and his allies established Generation Now, a 501(c)4 “dark money” group, funded by the power company FirstEnergy. Generation Now spent $1 million electing Householder and allies to the Ohio House, who then passed a $1 billion taxpayer-funded bailout for the power company. When taxpayers resisted and tried to overturn the bailout via ballot measure, Generation Now spent another $38 million to defeat the measure. Householder’s attorneys argue that this is no different from any other politician who receives backing from dark money groups, and honestly, they kinda have a point. Householder might have been a bit too blatant about the whole affair but the fundamental idea remains the same.
From The Portland Press Herald:
This column, from American Promise President Jeff Clements and Executive Director of Maine Clean Elections Anna Kellar, marks the 13th anniversary of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates for unlimited spending in our elections. Which is not great. But fortunately, Americans are standing up to the influence of dark money and outside spending. In Maine, 80,000 voters signed a petition in support of the Protect Maine Elections ballot initiative, which would ban foreign governments from spending money in Maine elections and advance Maine’s support for the proposed anti-corruption amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Because of that support, the measure will be on the ballot this fall.
‘Dark money’ groups have poured billions into federal elections since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision
Speaking of dark money, it’s become a massive part of our campaign finance system. Since 2010, dark money groups have spent and contributed more than $2.6 billion. These groups have also spent millions of dollars on ads that skirt around FEC filing requirements by not technically calling for the election or defeat of a particular candidate. Although we don’t know where most of this money comes from, we do know who it benefits. Groups tied to congressional leadership, Democratic and Republican, steered more than $346 million into the 2022 midterms. So, we may not know who’s spending the money, or how, but we can rest assured that it’s being used to benefit the people already in power.
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.
Donate to power American Promise Campaigns American Promise and citizen-powered campaigns across the country are fighting for the For Our Freedom Amendment to eliminate dark money corruption in politics. Support our cross-partisan work and donate now to help give the power back to the people.