American Future Fund

One Year After Citizens United, Right-Wing Demands Even More Corporate Money and Less Transparency in Politics

As Americans remember the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United with calls for action to limit corporate influence in politics and reverse the Court’s reckless decision, pro-corporate activists and their Republican allies in Congress seek to further erode corporate accountability and transparency. As American University Constitutional law professor, Maryland State Senator, and People For Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin writes, Citizens United not only ushered an avalanche of corporate and secret money in elections but also paved the way for more attacks on restrictions on corporate power. Raskin asks:

Do you want to wipe out the ban on federal corporate contributions that has been in place since 1907? This should be a piece of cake. If a corporation is like any other group of citizens organized to participate in politics for the purpose of expenditures, why not contributions too?

Apparently, the answer is “yes.”  While the majority decision in Citizens United said that corporations can use money from their general treasuries to finance outside groups, the ban on direct donations from corporations to candidates was left intact. But as profiled in People For’s report “Citizens Blindsided,” corporations have a number of mouthpieces, front groups, and political allies who want to create even more ways for Big Business to influence American politics.

NPR’s Peter Overby reports that pro-corporate activists from groups like Citizens United and the Center for Competitive Politics now want Republicans in Congress to further weaken already-diluted laws on transparency and fairness in elections:

Citizens United has helped to upend the debate over political money — so much so that when the American Future Fund ran a radio ad targeting Sen. Kent Conrad earlier this month for the 2012 Senate race, it was treated as just part of the political game. Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said this week that he won't seek re-election.



Michael Franz, a political scientist with the Wesleyan Media Project, tracks political ads.

"The effect of Citizens United in 2010 may not have been as huge, because what was going on had been set in motion earlier," he said. "But what the court did in Citizens United could suggest huge effects for other campaign finance laws down the road."

First of all, disclosure is under attack.

"Just because it may be constitutional to impose these disclosure rules, doesn't mean it makes for sound policy," said Michael Boos, counsel to the group Citizens United.

The federal ban on foreign donors faces a court challenge. House Republicans plan to vote next week to kill off public financing in presidential elections.

And the Center for Competitive Politics, an anti-regulation group, wants to undo the century-old ban on corporate contributions to federal candidates.

That was one of the first campaign finance laws on the books. The center says the corporate world now is far different from what it was in 1907, when Congress imposed the ban.
PFAW

Corporate Front Group on the Attack in North Dakota

Even though Election Day is almost two years away, a shadowy political organization with ties to the agriculture industry is already on the air with negative ads attacking North Dakota’s Democratic Senator Kent Conrad. The American Future Fund, as profiled in People For the American Way’s report Citizens Blindsided, is run by GOP operatives in Iowa and funded by anonymous donors who likely have ties to Big Agriculture.

A New York Times report traced the group’s founding to the ethanol industry and their lobbyists, and Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee wrote that groups like the AFF “operate in the shadows. Their donors are anonymous. The power behind them is rarely apparent. It’s impossible to track the exact amounts they spend on campaigns in any timely fashion.” The AFF is also responsible for running some of the midterm elections most misleading and disgraceful ads, including one spot that viciously attacked Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley over the Park 51 Islamic Community Center in New York.

Now, barely two months after the midterm election, the AFF is on the air in North Dakota criticizing Senator Conrad, who is up for reelection in 2012. The AFF spent over $10 million of secret money to sway the last election, and three good-government groups asked for an investigation into the AFF’s status as a 501(c)4 nonprofit. 501(c)4 groups don’t have to publicly disclose their donors but also cannot spend the majority of their money to influence elections. The AFF’s new ad campaign, which calls on North Dakota voters to “call Kent Conrad” rather than to vote against him, may be their attempt to avoid a possible IRS investigation into the amount of their political spending. But the AFF’s early spending shows that even though the midterm elections are over, political groups like the AFF with little transparency or supervision are gearing up to play an even larger role in the 2012 elections.

PFAW

Who’s Paying for our Elections?

People For’s President Michael Keegan has a new op-ed in the Huffington Post today examining the impact of anonymous donors on this year’s midterm elections. He looks at the difference between spending by shadowy groups like the American Future Fund and another type of big spender in elections: self-funded candidates.

Polling shows that the vast majority of Americans really don't like the idea of corporations and interest groups pouring money into elections...and also really don't like it that outside groups don't have to reveal the major sources of their money.

But not liking the idea of wealthy people or corporations or powerful special interest groups trying to buy elections isn't much help when you're seeing a convincing ad on TV from a group with a name like the "Commission on Hope, Growth, and Opportunity" -- and have no way of finding out what the money and motivations behind the ad are.

Self-financed candidates are, to a large extent, "known knowns." When a candidate is bankrolling her own campaign, voters go into the polling place knowing full well who's most invested in that candidate's success and where the money comes from. Voters knew that Carly Fiorina made her fortune by sending jobs overseas, and Linda McMahon made hers by selling misogyny. But when a candidate is backed by millions of dollars from shadowy interest groups, the equation gets more difficult. The money's there, but it's difficult if not impossible to tell where the money comes from and what exactly it's meant to buy.

The system as it is hands a huge advantage to candidates who advance pro-corporate policies, and also rewards those who avoid wearing their corporate allegiances on their sleeves.

When the 112th Congress convenes, its members will include politicians who campaigned on radical pro-corporate policies -- eliminating health care reform, privatizing Social Security, deregulating Wall Street. Corporate America and the Tea Party movement have been closely linked since former Wall Street banker Rick Santelli issued his infamous battle cry on CNBC. But the unlimited, undisclosed corporate money poured into the campaigns of Tea Party candidates has made the union complete. We may not know exactly who our new Congress is indebted to, but we do know that that debt is enormous.

Read the whole thing at the Huffington Post. Then call your senators and urge them to vote for the DISCLOSE Act.
 

PFAW

Behind The Republican Money Web

Yesterday’s vote does not mean the end for the many Super PACs and shadowy political organizations that have emerged this election season. By raising hundreds of millions of dollars from individuals and corporations, often without having to disclose their sources of funding, these groups are able to maintain their political apparatus and prepare for the 2012 election. American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-linked Super PAC, is already crafting its role for the next election. Mike Duncan, the former head of the Republican National Committee and Chair of American Crossroads, told the New York Times, “We’ve planted the flag for permanence, and we believe that we will play a major role for 2012.”

Back in September, Time magazine discussed how pro-GOP groups such as American Crossroads and the American Action Network were working with Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, the former RNC chief and current head of the Republican Governors Association. Republican notables and fundraisers “first convened at Karl Rove’s home,” and became nicknamed “the Weaver Terrace group, named for the Washington street on which Rove lives.” American Crossroads and its sister group Crossroads GPS, which does not disclose its donors, spent over $38 million combined to attack Democrats, and the American Action Network spent close to $20 million this year.

Now with the election over, Politico reveals that pro-GOP groups, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the National Republican Congressional Committee (an official Republican Party wing) were intensely coordinating their political efforts. Other Weaver Terrace group members, such as the 60 Plus Association and the American Future Fund, spent tens of millions of dollars against Democrats, but the US Chamber of Commerce and the NRCC made even bigger expenditures, spending $31.7 million and $44.5 million, respectively. As Jeanne Cummings of Politico described how “coordinated attacks” by Weaver Terrace group members “turned political campaigns largely into contests between business-backed, GOP outside groups and the Democratic incumbents.” Pro-GOP outside groups spent $187 million in 2010, more than double their pro-Democratic counterparts, and Cummings reveals how the organizations collaborated in order to maximize their impact:

The groups – including familiar names like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads – shared their target lists and TV-time data to ensure vulnerable Democrats got the full brunt of GOP spending.

Republican groups had never coordinated like this before, participants said, and backed by millions in corporate cash and contributions by secret donors, they were able to wield outsized influence on the results Tuesday night. The joint efforts were designed to spread the damage to as many of the majority Democrats as possible, without wasting money by doubling-up in races where others were already playing.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which could not legally coordinate with the outside groups, even took the extraordinary step of publicly revealing its own ad buy strategy.



The Chamber, which set aside $75 million in undisclosed corporate donations for the political season, is listed by Center for Responsive Politics as the biggest of independent players, investing nearly $33 million in radio, television and direct mail advertising alone.

Directly behind the Chamber on the Center’s outside group ranking is the coalition of groups formed by Rove and Gillespie. They are: American Action Network, which spent $26 million; American Crossroads, which invested $21 million, and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, which sank $17 million into ads and turnout communications in a plan to obliterate the Democrats’ Senate and House majorities.

Although donors to the Crossroads affiliates are largely unknown, the founders made no secret of the fact that they intended to take advantage of the Supreme Court ruling and tap into the vast resources of corporate America to raise more than $50 million help Republicans retake the Congress.

While that sum alone was enough to make Democrats’ nervous, the Crossroads founders also set out a more ambitious goal: To bring together the disparate new and old GOP political players so they could coordinate their efforts and maximize the damage on the political battlefield.

Cummings also shows how this plan worked out over the airways in competitive congressional districts:

In Pennsylvania, the Republican groups called in multiple players to bombard a half-dozen House Democrats, including some facing significantly underfunded Republican opponents. In the quest to oust Democrat Chris Carney, 60 Plus and the Chamber combined to spend about $1 million. The 60 Plus Association teamed up with the Center for Individual Freedom, another group that doesn’t disclose donors, to shell incumbent Democrat Rep. Paul Kanjorski with more than $600,000 worth of ads.

The close collaboration of pro-corporate groups only increases the need for greater transparency in the political process. Americans this election have seen dozens if not hundreds of ads and received substantial amounts of direct mail and phone calls from groups who reveal little information about themselves and do not have to disclose their sources of funding. Voters deserve the right to know who is working towards the election or defeat certain candidates for office, and overwhelmingly support disclosure laws. As such organizations creating new partnerships and intensifying their coordination, Congress needs to pass the DISCLOSE Act to allow the public to know who is behind these outside groups.

 

 

PFAW

The Most Outrageous Ads of the Election

This election cycle has experienced a massive flood of political spending following the dramatic weakening of campaign finance laws in cases such as Citizens United and SpeechNow. According to Political Correction, between August 1st and October 29th, the ten biggest right-wing groups, many of which are backed by contributions by corporations and don’t publicly disclose their donors, have spent about $100 million to air 109,826 ads. Many of the conservative candidates and organizations have been employing false claims and polarizing smears in their ads meant to foment cultural divisions and discredit progressive legislation. Here are just a handful of the most outrageous and irresponsible ads used this election year:

Anti-Muslim Rhetoric

The Right Wing has used the Park51 Community Center as a way to provoke fear, stoke divisions, and promote intolerance. The debate surrounding the community center has been riddled with attacks on religious freedom and baseless claims that the project’s organizers have ties to extremist groups, and the right has attempted to make the community center in Lower Manhattan an election issue in places like Iowa and North Carolina.

American Future Fund:

Renee Ellmers (Republican nominee, NC-02)

Anti-Health Care Reform

The recently passed health care reform law has been hammered by outside groups and conservative politicians with numerous dishonest and misleading attacks. Independent fact checkers have confirmed that the law does not use taxpayer funds to pay for abortion or drugs like Viagra for sex offenders. Other false and deceptive claims include allegations that the reform law establishes death panels, creates an army of IRS agents to arrest people without coverage, cuts Medicare benefits, and leads to the government takeover of the health care system.

American Action Network:

Susan B. Anthony List & CitizenLink (Focus on the Family Action):

Anti-Immigrant Extremism

Conservative politicians are taking cues from the Right Wing Playbook on Immigration Reform by attempting to portray Latinos in America as violent criminals who threaten White Americans. While smearing Comprehensive Immigration Reform and the DREAM Act, such anti-immigrant ads unfairly depict Latinos as invaders, gangsters, and welfare-beneficiaries. Even Sharron Angle tried to distance herself from her campaign’s ads by claiming that they are not Latinos but could actually be “terrorists” from Canada.

Sharron Angle (Republican nominee, NV-SEN):

Sen. David Vitter (Republican nominee, LA-SEN):

PFAW

American Future Fund’s Ethanol Industry Ties

In PFAW’s report “After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics,” we looked into the Iowa-based American Future Fund which is spending millions of dollars attacking Democrats across the country. The AFF was founded by former GOP staffer Nick Ryan, whose lobbyist firm has ties to Big Agriculture, especially Iowa’s large ethanol industry. The group’s director, Katherine Polking, also works for Ryan’s lobby firm, the Concordia Group, and the AFF paid Ryan’s firm $300,000 for consulting fees.

Now, the New York Times reports that while Ryan’s Concordia Group lobbies on behalf of the ethanol industry, Ryan’s American Future Fund received its seed money from Bruce Rastetter, the “chief executive of one of the nation’s larger ethanol companies, Hawkeye Energy Holdings.” As a 501c4 organization, the AFF does not have to disclose the sources of its funding, and in this case Rastetter’s lawyer confirmed his connections to the group. Now Ryan, a “lobbyist for four Rastetter businesses,” receives money to attack Democrats with ties to agriculture policy: “Of the 14 ‘liberal’ politicians singled out in a list [the AFF] released last month, nearly every incumbent sits on a panel with a say over energy or agriculture policy. Five sit on the Agriculture Committee; four others are on related committees with say. One candidate was a staff member on a related panel.”

When Bruce Braley, a Congressman in the crosshairs of AFF attacks, tried to visit the AFF, he “found only a rented mailbox.” The proliferation of shadowy, pro-corporate groups like the American Future Fund is a result of the substantial weakening of campaign finance laws:

The American Future Fund, organized under a tax code provision that lets donors remain anonymous, is one of dozens of groups awash in money from hidden sources and spending it at an unprecedented rate, largely on behalf of Republicans. The breadth and impact of these privately financed groups have made them, and the mystery of their backers, a campaign issue in their own right.

Through interviews with top Republican contributors and strategists, as well as a review of public records, some contours of this financing effort — including how donors are lured with the promise of anonymity — are starting to come into view.



The surge of anonymous money is the latest development in corporate America’s efforts to influence the agenda in Washington, following rules enacted several years ago banning large, unregulated gifts to political parties. Democrats first established so-called third-party groups that could legally accept unlimited money from business and unions, though most had to disclose donors. Now, as new laws and a major Supreme Court decision have removed barriers to corporate giving, Republican operatives have embraced the use of nonprofit issue groups that can keep donors’ identities secret.
PFAW

Right-Wing Front Group Attacks Iowa Congressman with Vicious Anti-Muslim Ad

This is sick.

Hatemongering against Muslims has reached the airwaves big time with the Right despicably promoting the view that Muslims exercising their constitutional right to religious freedom is tantamount to military conquest by terrorists.

The Atlantic reports:

The American Future Fund, an Iowa-based free-market conservative group, is airing a TV ad that goes a step beyond most of the criticism leveled at the Cordoba Initiative's Park 51 community center, warning that Muslims build mosques after military conquests and repeating Newt Gingrich's Pearl Harbor parallel.

The ad targets Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley for defending clear-cut First Amendment rights of the Muslims who are engaged in the project.

Watch it:

Think Progress revealed that the producer of this ad also produced the infamously racist Willie Horton ads that helped sink Michael Dukakis's presidential bid in 1988.

The response from Rep. Braley's campaign appropriately calls this effort out for the diversionary tactic it is:

Bruce Braley has been a leading voice for America's middle class families and holding greedy corporations like BP, Toyota and Wall Street executives accountable, so it's no surprise that shadowy special interests are going to resort to smear campaigns against him. Ultimately, voters need to look at the facts themselves and see that Bruce Braley has been listening, working hard and getting things done for Iowa's First District.

PFAW