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In an exclusive interview on The Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour with host Earl Ofari Hutchinson on KTYM 1460 AM Los Angeles on February 17, Viveca Novak, spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics
EOH: What are Super PACs , where does the money come from and can you identify some of the biggest?
VN: Super PACs are essentially regular political action committees on steroids. They can accept unlimited amounts of money from almost any source; individuals, corporations, labor unions, or trade associations. They came about after the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. FEC. That decision combined with another allowed the formation of committees that can spend unlimited amounts in support of or opposition to a candidate, independently of the candidate’s committee. They can’t coordinate with the candidate. A lot of the Presidential Super PACs are run by former aides to the candidate. The largest one in terms of spending is Restore Our Future, supporting Mitt Romney. It has already spent about $20 million in ads. The next largest is one supporting Newt Gingrich, and then the one supporting Ron Paul. These Presidentially focused Super PACs are mostly taking donations from individuals who are deep pocketed supporters of the candidate. In the case of Newt Gingrich, you have Sheldon Addelson, a casino magnate, who has given about $10 million. These Super PACs support the candidates when they are running low on money, and they have the ability to go after the opposition in a negative way. The candidate can stand aside and say “That’s not my ad. That’s not me. That’s this group’s ad”, and hope it does not reflect badly on him.
EOH: What are your thoughts on President Obama’s reversal in thinking about Super PACs?
VN: The Super PAC Priorities USA is run by two former white house aides, and it’s interesting. The group has had a hard time raising money because President Obama didn’t really approve of this. Then there was a turnabout and I think having watched the spending and attacks that are going on in the Republican field, one could speculate Obama thought “we can’t go into this fight with one hand tied behind our back”.
EOH: How does the President walk this fine line?
VN: It’s very difficult. The answer to that is, “well gosh I can’t set an example if I’m not re-elected”, and money doesn’t just talk, it bellows sometimes and you’ve got to get your message out there.
EOH: Is it true that independent spending does not give rise to corruption?
VN: I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder. I’m not sure the Supreme Court envisioned what is currently happening. It’s hard to imagine there isn’t some impact on the candidates when they see supporters giving $10 million to these Super PACs, and the Super PACs are saving their skins. I don’t know if you would call it corruption, but I think it is noticed.
EOH: Do you see Corporations, Wall Street, and the super rich giving more money and creating more Super PACs?
VN: It’s very hard to speculate, but right now it doesn’t seem like there is anything holding them back. If they feel the stakes are high, then it makes sense that they would spend.
EOH: If you have deep pocket donors, what does that do for regular people who want to get involved?
VN: You have to believe it’s pretty off-putting. There’s this handful of very wealthy people making large donations. When run of the mill folks like you and me see that, they’re thinking how is it going to make a difference if I contribute $25 or even $200 to my candidate? I think it’s going to possibly discourage people from getting involved in the process.
EOH: Can you expect to see more negative or dirty ads in the process?
VN: Yeah, I suppose negative ads aren’t necessarily bad. It depends on how truthful the information is. I think a lot of these negative ads distort and mislead. I used to be deputy director of Factcheck.org. We would monitor political ads for their truthfulness. It was generally the case that the negative ads were the ones that had the most misinformation. This could be a problem in getting the facts out to voters.
EOH: Who are the top 5 Super PACs and where do they get their money?
VN: The top one is Restore Our Future, which supports Mitt Romney. They have spent $19 million so far. The next is Winning Our Future, which supports Newt Gingrich and they have spent $8 million. Make Us Great Again spent about $4 million and supported Rick Perry until he dropped out. Then you have the Ron Paul Super PAC, Endorse Liberty, that has gotten a lot of small contributions. He’s spent about $3.5 million. Number 5 is the Our Destiny PAC which supported Huntsman. Most of that money came from his dad and spent about $2.5 million.
EOH: Has there been any involvement on the part of the Koch Brothers with any of the Super PACs.
VN: Not that we’ve seen so far, at least directly. They may be using their money other ways. There are other kinds of groups, non-profit 501(c)(4)s, that are politically active and don’t have to disclose their donors. The one thing you can say about Super PACs is they are required to disclose their donors. Some of these other groups, you’re really talking about some dark money and we’ll probably never know who’s giving to them.
EOH: I understand former colleagues of Bain Capital are bankrolling Mitt Romney’s Restore Our Future.
VN: There are a lot of Bain Capital people or former Bain Capital people who have been contributing to Restore Our Future and you could say bankrolling, I suppose. They are certainly helping bankroll. Millions of dollars has come in from Bain connected people, but you have a lot of other folks who are involved in the finance and investment industry. By far, Romney is the preferred candidate for that industry, both in terms of his campaign committee and the Super PAC.
EOH: Where does the move to put limits and checks on the Supreme Court decision stand?
VN: That’s very difficult because it’s hard to do anything about it without a Constitutional Amendment. This is a Supreme Court decision that was made on Constitutional Freedom of Speech grounds. Without a change in the court to reverse the decision, it would require a Constitutional Amendment. People get outraged about campaign finance issues, but when it comes down to it, they vote based on their economic concerns. Tell your listeners to take a look at Opensecrets.org for more information.