With the presidential field already getting crowded, it's never too early to look at the ever increasing role of money in politics. Here are the best stories we've come across over the past few months.
Lobbyists, Bearing Gifts, Pursue Attorneys General, New York Times, October 2014
State attorneys general are supposed to serve as "the people's lawyers," protecting citizens against securities fraud, Internet crimes and other deceptive practices. But the New York Times found that the top law enforcement officials on the state-level have become the target of lobbyists and lawyers who use campaign contributions and lavish trips to get investigations dropped and score favorable settlements. "It is undermining the credibility of the office of attorney general," said one expert.
Straw Into Gold: Candidates Trading Leadership PAC Dollars for Campaign Cash, Center for Responsive Politics, October 2014
Elected officials are cleverly getting around hard-money caps by donating to their colleagues' campaigns from their leadership PACs and having their colleagues do the same for them. One senator engaged in at least 21 such exchanges during the last election cycle, giving $96,000 from her leadership PAC to other candidates' campaigns. Within a week of those donations, she received exactly the same amount back from the leadership PACs of those candidates.
Flush with Mystery Money, Kentucky Nonprofit Haunts Grimes' Senate Bid, Center for Public Integrity, October 2014
The biggest outside spender in the race that pitted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell against Alison Lundergan Grimes was a pro-McConnell group called the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition that appeared out of nowhere. It aired more than 12,000 TV ads, about one of every
seven in the race, twice as many as the biggest outside group spending on Grimes' behalf and more than all other pro-McConnell groups combined. Where did the money come from? There's no way of knowing, because the group is classified as a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" organization. But the Center for Public Integrity traced the group to a veteran GOP operative.
Rapper-backed group illustrates blind spot in political transparency, The Center for Public Integrity, March 2015
Super PACs, unlike other political committees, can accept donations of unlimited size, but the identities of the donors are supposed to be disclosed. Some donors, though, have remained anonymous by giving through limited liability corporations. In some states, these LLCs do not have to register the name of the people behind them. The Center for Public Integrity found a way to illustrate this dry but important transparency issue by revealing that one of the most flagrant users of the LLC loophole is Pras, the least celebrated member of the Fugees.
The Secret World of a Well-Paid 'Donor Adviser' in Politics, New York Times, February 2015
Raising money for the outside groups that increasingly dominate campaigns has become a lucrative business for a new cohort of middlemen. The New York Times reports that the firm of one fundraising consultant, Mary Pat Bonner, has been paid more than $6 million in recent years to raise money for liberal groups such as American Bridge 21st Century, Media Matters for America and the super PAC Ready for Hillary. On the Republican side, limited liability companies established by Mitt Romney fundraiser Spencer Zwick collected $34 million in fundraising fees from Romney's 2012 campaign committees. The cost of the middlemen is drawing ire from donors across the spectrum.
The Clinton Foundation agreed in 2008 to stop accepting donations from foreign governments to avoid the perception of conflicts of interest for Hillary Clinton's State Department. But the Washington Post reported that some contributions managed to slip through anyway, including a $500,000 contribution in 2010 from the Algerian government toward earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. And the Wall Street Journal reported that since Clinton left the State Department, the Foundation aggressively ramped up seeking contributions from abroad, including a contribution between $250,000 and $500,000 from the Canadian agency that is promoting the Keystone XL pipeline.