October 28, 2015
A lot of Republicans at Wednesday night’s debate lobbed criticism at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the self-described democratic socialist running for the Democratic presidential nomination. But it turns out that Donald Trump and Sanders have something in common: Neither has a super PAC supporting them. (Trump is largely self-financing, while Sanders is taking in mostly small donations.) And like all the Democrats, Trump is opposed to super PACs.
“Super PACs are a disaster, they’re a scam, they cause dishonesty, and you’d better get rid of them,” Trump said on Wednesday. “Because they are causing a lot of bad decisions to be made by some very good people. And I’m not blaming these people,” he said, pointing at his rivals on the stage, adding to laughter, “but, I guess I could.” He repeated that super PACs cause good people to make bad decisions, then said that if “anything comes out of this whole thing, with some of these nasty and ridiculous questions, I will tell you: You’d better get rid of these super PACs, because they’re causing a big problem in this country,” citing how they favor lobbyists and “special interests.”
As has been noted previously, Carly Fiorina’s campaign relies heavily on the SuperPAC, Carly for America. From The New York Times:
By Nick Corasaniti | September 30, 2015
LEXINGTON, S.C. — The table festooned with red “Carly for America” placards arrived hours before the candidate. Political operatives took up positions outside the front door to catch supporters of Carly Fiorina, the corporate executive turned Republican presidential contender, and gather their contact information before steering them inside to the room where she would speak.
But the table, the placards and the workers did not belong to Mrs. Fiorina’s campaign. They were there because of the “super PAC” supporting her run for president.
The Federal Election Commission forbids direct coordination between campaigns and super PACs, lest candidates effectively rely almost entirely on the huge, unlimited donations of a small number of billionaires. But in 2016, the groups are aggressively exploiting gray areas and loopholes in the rules, few of which the commission — deadlocked with its three Republican and three Democratic members — has hastened to close.
One of the most important openings is the simplest: Candidates and super PACs are free to coordinate their plans if the information is shared in public view.
There’s a lot more at the link, and though the story notes that all of the Republican candidates except Mr Trump are using their nominally-independent SuperPACs for their campaigns, the story concentrates on Mrs Fiorina. That the story came out right after her very successful performance in the second Republican debate and subsequent surge in the polls just might have had something to do with that focus. And the Times has noted in another story that the SuperPACs have enabled the “outsider” candidates to compete in raising money with the more solidly establishment candidates. Lawyers for the Federal Elections Commission don’t like the way SuperPACs are doing business, but, thanks to the decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, it is legal for corporations and unions to spend from their general treasuries to finance independent expenditures related to campaigns, but they still may not make direct corporate or union contributions to federal campaigns. It seems like a strange way to set things up, but sometimes the action of the law requires strange things.
But, for Donald Trump, a billionaire five or ten times over, and a man who can finance his presidential campaign out of his own revenues,1 telling us how terrible SuperPACs are is his way of saying that only billionaires can run for President. Neither Ben Carson nor Ted Cruz nor Carly Fiorina, nor any of the Republican candidates with the possible exception of Jeb Bush, could ever have raised enough money to have even started a presidential campaign without the exception in the laws that allows the SuperPACs to exist and operate. Only candidates like Hillary Clinton, with her huge name recognition, and Mr Trump, with his personal fortune, could run.
Do I like the SuperPAC formulation? No, of course I don’t: it is a backhanded way of having to finance a campaign, and the solution is simple: remove the restrictions on regular campaign contributions, fund raising and spending.2 It costs a huge amount of money to run for President, and that means that the campaigns have to raise that huge amount of money. If we were to eliminate the silliness of the individual campaign contribution limits, and allow the regular campaigns to do the things that the candidates increasingly rely on SuperPACs to perform, we could at least get the honesty of not having candidates go through silly contortions just to be candidates. SuperPACs are a form of a-wink-and-a-nod lying that only candidates like Mr Trump don’t have to do.
Mrs Fiorina is a millionaire several times over, with a net worth of $58 million according to Forbes, but she’d soon be a pauper if she had to finance her campaign the way Mr Trump is, and Forbes lists her as the second wealthiest candidate. Ted Cruz, with a net worth of about $3.5 million, much of which is due to his wife’s earnings at Goldman-Sachs,3 and the favored candidate of both Patterico and John Hitchcock,4 could never have run for President without a SuperPAC.5 We might not like SuperPACs, but it would be a much worse thing to limit a presidential candidacy to the super-rich.
- A prosaic formulation which brings to mind how the kings of England had to operate before they consented to a Parliament to raise funds. ↩
- My contribution to Mrs Fiorina’s campaign was made directly to her campaign; I did not make a contribution to the Carly for America SuperPAC. ↩
- A position she left when Senator Cruz declared himself a candidate, to avoid any conflicts of interest. ↩
- While I would find Senator Cruz a perfectly acceptable nominee, he is not my preferred candidate. ↩
- Farris and Dan Wilks, billionaires who made their fortunes in the West Texas fracking boom, have given $15 million to the pro-Cruz super PAC, Keep the Promise. ↩