In Romney's Super Pac, the Hedge Fund Mavens Come Out to Play

Super Pacs disclose their financial standing and donors only once every three months — in this case, after the first four primaries. The less-than-totally-transparent rules have bothered many campaign finance lawyers, and analysts who say that voters deserve to know who is funding the barrage of negative ads that swing from state to state as the Republican primary trundles along.

Trevor Potter, the former Federal Election Commission chairman who has crusaded against the current finance system by half-seriously advising Stephen Colbert on his own Super Pac, said the new atmosphere was "unhealthy for our democratic system" because the disclosures arrived after four key primaries, they were already outdated and didn't include January fundraising, and are confusing to decipher by ordinary voters.

"The candidates can disavow the negative ads, while secretly hoping they continue and benefiting from them," Potter said in an email from his iPad while traveling outside the United States. "Even when they are demonstratively inaccurate, the candidate can wash his hands of them as they do damage."

That instance happened in the middle of January, when Newt Gingrich said in a statement to the press that the Super Pac supporting him, Winning Our Future, should edit or take down an anti-Romney documentary that had inaccuracies in it about the former governor's time at Bain. The Pac stood by its movie and instead asked Romney to answer questions about Bain.

Potter also pointed to the danger of a candidate being indebted to rich benefactors, in light of a $10 million donation from the Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson and his wife to the Super Pac backing Gingrich. Adelson gave $5 million to the group just before the South Carolina primary, which Gingrich stormed, and Adelson's wife threw in another $5 million before Florida's vote, which Romney won handily.

"Most importantly, we are almost back to the era of pre-Watergate million-dollar-plus donors to candidates," Potter said. "If Mr. Gingrich is elected president as a result of $10 million given by his close friends and supporters, a Las Vegas casino owner and his wife, to a SuperPac run by his former, recent, longtime finance assistant, he will be deeply in their debt — just exactly what the campaign finance limits are designed to avoid. These Super Pacs place the issue of corruption and the potential for corruption from huge contributions squarely on the national agenda."

Other campaign finance lawyers said that the Super Pac system simply allows for more "free speech" in the political arena.

"I've been working on these issues for a long time, and my philosophy is, get more speech, look at public funding as a way to give people who don't have the resources more resources," said Joel Gora, a former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who worked on the 1976 Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo in which the court ruled that no spending limits could be set on candidates. "What you should have is no limits and full disclosure. ... As long as we know where it's coming from and where it's going, that's the best way to do it."

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