Paul Waldman of the Washington Post notes that the right is up in arms over campaign finance reform and political action committees. Up until now the screaming has been that the Obama administration was using the IRS to somehow “unfairly target” these groups as political motivation, something Republicans held a billion hearings about that were all smoke and mirrors.
Only it turns out Tea Party PACs actually were “legally” defrauding the hell out of their donors the whole time thanks to the Citizens United ruling.
In the last few years, political organizations of various kinds have proliferated, as all kinds of people seek to take advantage of the post-Citizens United world in which money can flow in so many directions. This has provided a splendid opportunity for the participants in an old game, one in which gullible conservatives are scammed out of their money by a seemingly limitless number of con artists.
Some of those con artists are obscure consultants and operators, but some of them are quite famous, which we’ll get to in a bit. But today, John Hawkins of Right Wing News released a report on a group of conservative PACs that took in millions of dollars in contributions in 2014, ostensibly for the purpose of electing Republicans, but spent almost none of it on actual political activity. Instead, the money went into the pockets of the people who run the PACs and their associates. Jonah Goldberg, reacting to the report, calls this the “right wing scam machine.”
Why, one would think these campaign finance groups should be targeted for increased scrutiny or something. Hawkins gives this situation:
For example, let me tell you how conservatives can be (and have been) ripped off by scam groups. Let’s say Ronald Reagan is still alive and someone starts the Re-Elect Ronald Reagan To A Third Term PAC. Because people love Reagan, let’s suppose that conservative donors pony up $500,000 to help the organization. However, the donors don’t know that Ronald Reagan has nothing to do with the PAC. Furthermore, the real goal of the PAC is to line the pockets of its owner, not to help Ronald Reagan. So, the PAC sets up two vendors, both controlled by the PAC owner: Scam Vendor #1 and Scam Vendor #2. Let’s assume it costs $50,000 to raise the half million the PAC takes in. Then, the PAC sends $100,000 to the first company and $100,000 to the second company to “promote Ronald Reagan for President.”
Each of the companies then goes out and spends $1,000 on fliers. The “independent expenditures” that show up on the FEC report? They’re at 40%. That’s because the FEC doesn’t require vendors to disclose how much of the money they receive is eaten up as overhead. The dubious net benefit that Ronald Reagan receives from an organization that raised $500,000 on his name? It’s $2,000. On the other hand, the net profit for the PAC owner is $448,000. Is that legal? The short answer is, “It’s a bit of a grey area, but, yes, it is legal.”
Which is exactly what conservatives said they wanted, because when Democrats pointed out after Citizens United “Hey, we should probably then change the rules so that there’s more disclosure transparency in what PACs actually give to candidates” it’s people like Jonah Goldberg who happily called campaign finance reform (and everything else Democrats ever did) “liberal fascism” and an assault on “free speech” and went berserk when the Obama Administration turned to the IRS to try to see what the hell these PACs were up to and Democrats suggested that “Hey, we might want to bring in some regulation here.”
Mitch McConnell killed the DISCLOSE Act real quick last summer.
Now, you see, some conservatives think campaign finance reform might be a good idea.