TIME 2016 Election

Republican Party Boss: We’ve Got To Be “Just About Perfect” To Win In 2016

Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, participates on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National at National Harbor, Md.
Reince Priebus, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, participates on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National at National Harbor, Md., March 8, 2014. Ron Sachs—CNP/AdMedia/Corbis

A warning to his own party after a winning election about the coming challenge

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the GOP’s victories Tuesday amounted to the “tsunami” he predicted months ago, but predicted a tough road ahead for the GOP if it hopes to win the White House in 2016.

Speaking to reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor, Priebus said the election amounted to more than just a rejection of unpopular President Barack Obama. “It was also the acceptance of conservative Republican leadership across the board,” he said triumphantly.

Under Priebus’ leadership, the GOP has made historic gains to its data and field programs buoyed by record party fundraising, but he said the bar will be even higher in 2016, when the electorate will be more favorable to Democrats. “I think we’re going to have to be about perfect,” he said.

Priebus, who has served as chairman for four years, said he would likely run for another two-year term to helm the party in January.

“I think we’ve got a long way to go to be ready for 2016,” he said. “Granted, we are excited and proud of where we’ve come, but I think we’ve got to be about perfect as a national party to win a national cultural vote in this country. I think the Democrats can be good and win, but we have to be great.”

Priebus acknowledged that many in the party are “tired and tapped out” after the expensive midterm race, but said he is confident that the party’s donors will realize they need to keep their checkbooks open. “They’re going to double down on our program because they know that investing in mechanics is the way that we’re going to be able to win in 2016,” he said.

“I think that our early vote program has to decisively beat the Democrats,” he said. “No nominee is going to have $100 million for a data platform, and no nominee is going to have a yearlong field operation. It’s going to take the RNC to fill that void, and it’s going to be expensive.”

Priebus said the GOP is not pulling out any staffers from presidential battleground states, a change from previous elections. “We’re going to have to be three times bigger than we were in 2014,” he said. “I think it’s going to take a massive amount of money and a huge paid program in the battleground states starting immediately.”

In an effort to keep the party as ‘about perfect’ as possible, Priebus indicated he is willing to take an active role in the upcoming GOP primary process to keep the discourse civil and focused on winning the White House. The RNC has already taken steps to compress the primary calendar and has taken control of the debate process to cut down on the number of intra-party battles after the 2012 cycle.

“I think that there is a very strong feeling among the grassroots and among many of our donors that aren’t going to put up with Republicans slicing each other apart,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a high level of disdain for candidates who spend their time trying to destroy other Republicans.”

“I will be less concerned about my own reputation and refraining from being vocal,” Priebus added, “with candidates that go out of their way to simply just kill each other.”

Priebus highlighted Republican successes in 2014 at reaching out to minority voters, noting the GOP won nationally among Asian-American voters, saying the party will be doubling down on those efforts for 2016.

But Priebus had a stern warning for Obama on immigration reform, calling Obama’s promised executive actions “a nuclear threat” that amounts to “throwing kerosene on the fire.” “What essentially he is telling the American people is that he doesn’t give a darn about Republicans and Democrats working together,” he added, echoing recent comments by Speaker of the House John Boehner and likely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

He added that, as party chairman, he remains opposed to marijuana legalization efforts. “As far as marijuana is concerned, I’m opposed to that,” he said.

He also took a shot at the likely Democratic nominee for President in 2016. “I sure as heck hope we’re running against Hillary Clinton,” he said. “What you just saw on Tuesday night was about as flat of a performance as you could have ever seen from the Democratic Party’s brightest star.”

 

TIME 2014 Election

Outside Spending Propelled Governors to Wins

Florida Rep. Gov. Rick Scott gives his victory speech Nov. 4, 2014 in Bonita Springs, Florida.
Florida Rep. Gov. Rick Scott gives his victory speech Nov. 4, 2014 in Bonita Springs, Florida. Erik Kellar—Getty Images

Outside groups spent around $142 million on governors' races

Nearly all of the governors elected Tuesday dominated the airwaves in TV ads before voters went to the polls, bolstered by their campaign war chests and outside groups that advertised on their behalf.

Candidates outspent on TV ads won in only seven of the 32 races called as of early Wednesday. However, in six of those cases, the winners were incumbents, confident that they didn’t need the help of so many ads.

Of the nearly $550 million spent on ads targeting governors on the November ballot, more than 55 percent supported the winning candidates, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of preliminary data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

The spending also helped Republicans pick up four governorships, while Democrats flipped only one, leaving Republicans holding the reins in at least 30 states nationwide.

The country’s 36 governors’ races accounted for nearly 70 percent of the $832 million spent on television ads aimed at shaping the outcomes of state-level races this cycle, about $100 million more than was spent on the same number of U.S. Senate seats up for election. Only the Wyoming governorship did not have ads airing in markets captured by Kantar Media/CMAG.

The spending this cycle represents a 10 percent decline from 2010, when an estimated $921 million was spent on TV ads in state-level races, including $689 million on governors’ races.

At least 16 gubernatorial winners and supporting groups outspent their opponents by more than $1 million. In some states, such as Florida, the successful candidates and their supporters outspent their rivals by huge margins.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the groups backing him spent $61 million — the most spent supporting any single gubernatorial candidate this cycle — compared with the $34 million spent by Democratic candidate and former Gov. Charlie Crist and his allies. The heavy spending also made the Florida contest the most expensive TV ad war in the country this election.

Scott and his allies spent roughly $21.50 on TV ads for every vote the governor received, according to the Associated Press’s voting totals. Crist and his allies spent nearly $12.25 on TV ads per vote in the losing effort.

Other top spenders included Illinois Republican Bruce Rauner, who, along with his allies, spent almost $21 per vote on his way to unseating Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn. Quinn and his supporters spent about $22.75 per vote.

Rauner’s biggest backer was Rauner. The candidate donated at least $26 million to his campaign, the most of any self-funded candidate this election.

Meanwhile incumbent New York Democrat Andrew Cuomo spent $14.75 for each vote in his successful bid to retain the governorship.

In a race that attracted a lot of national attention, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, beat Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis handily after he outspent her on the Lone Star State’s airwaves $24 million to $15 million.

In Pennsylvania, Democrat gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf unseated unpopular incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, after Wolf and his allies outspent Corbett and his supporters by nearly $10 million on the airwaves — the same margin that kitchen cabinet magnate Wolf donated to his own campaign. He was the sole Democrat to pick up a governor’s mansion.

However one of the biggest upsets of the night was in largely blue Maryland, where Republican challenger Larry Hogan beat Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown despite being outgunned on TV ads.

Up until even the last few weeks of the race, Brown was expected to cruise to an easy victory. What’s more, Brown and the groups supporting him spent $13.5 million on TV ads, compared with the $5.8 million spent by Hogan and his allies.

Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said the race boiled down to what the ads said, rather than how much was spent airing them.

“The economy and taxes were nearly paramount in the minds of Maryland voters this year,” he said. “Hogan really talked about nothing but that issue and Brown avoided it.”

Voters likely conflated independent groups’ ads — 86 percent of which attacked Hogan, according to the Center’s analysis — with those run by Brown himself, Eberly said.

“To the extent that advertising registered with anyone in this election, what registered was that Brown was running a very negative campaign, and I think that hurt him,” he said.

Such independent groups accounted for a quarter of the television spending in governors’ races, often providing the margin that helped boost the winning candidates to victory.

Not counting parties or candidates themselves, the top spending independent groups were the Republican Governors Association ($28.5 million) and the Democratic Governors Association ($17.2 million), national committees that spend and raise millions to elect governors from their parties. The groups also heavily contributed to other independent groups, that spent nearly $11 million on the Democratic side and more than $13 million on the Republican side.

All told, the Republican group was more successful than its Democratic counterpart; of the 21 states where the RGA or its affiliates spent money, Republicans won in 16 races.

By comparison, six out of the 11 Democrats backed on the airwaves by the Democratic group and its affiliates lost.

“It’s a Republican-leaning year, and it’s a good national trend for Republicans that is bleeding down the ballot to governors’ races,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Two independent groups backed by billionaires had mixed results on Election Day. The environmental group NextGen Climate Action Committee, backed by billionaire Tom Steyer, helped knock out Corbett in Pennsylvania but didn’t find success in Florida or Maine where it supported Democrats.

Meanwhile former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Independence USA PAC, which backed political moderates, found success in Michigan, where it backed incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. But it struck out in Maryland, where it backed Brown, the Democrat. The governorship of Connecticut, where the group backed Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy, had not been called as of early Wednesday.

In Florida, Scott won re-election with help from more than $10 million in ads sponsored by Let’s Get to Work, a political action committee with ties to Scott though not technically part of his campaign.

In fact, neither Scott nor Crist was responsible for much of the $94 million spent on airtime in the race, the most expensive in the nation. The state’s two major political parties accounted for a whopping 76 percent of the ad spending — $72 million. Another $17 million came from other independent groups, such as Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action Committee, the National Rifle Association and other Florida-specific political organizations.

In Illinois, such assistance from outside groups helped Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn nearly match Republican challenger Bruce Rauner, who tapped his wealth for his campaign.

Worth hundreds of millions of dollars, Rauner took advantage of a fortune made in the private equity industry to unseat the vulnerable incumbent, whose popularity was waning. Quinn fought back with help from the labor-funded Illinois Freedom PAC to almost match Rauner’s camp, yet still lost.

“When one candidate starts spending a lot of money on ads, the other side says, ‘We have to match them,’ and it becomes an arms race,” said Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the University of Illinois.

By the day before the election, both sides had each spent just over $36 million on TV ads, making the race the second-most expensive governor’s contest.

In Arizona, former ice cream executive Doug Ducey was buttressed by roughly $4 million in ads sponsored by outside actors, which added to the $5.7 million worth of airtime bought by his campaign. That helped the Republican dominate the airwaves and beat Democratic nominee Fred DuVal.

In Kansas, Sam Brownback was one of at least 15 incumbent Republican governors who won re-election. Aided by at least $5 million dollars in TV ads produced by outside groups, Brownback beat Democratic challenger and state legislator Paul Davis in a tight race. For his part, Davis was buoyed by more than $3.7 million in spending by outside sponsors.

So-called “outside spending” groups have gained significant traction since 2010, the last year in which a comparable number of governorships were in play and the first election cycle after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC ruling, which removed limits on such political spending. Groups independent of candidates and parties sponsored 25 percent of all ads in gubernatorial races this cycle, while outside organizations made up less than 13 percent in 2010.

And the vast majority of these ads — more than 71 percent — attacked candidates, while campaign-endorsed messages were mostly positive.

“Outside groups are always going to do more negative spending than candidates,” said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “It diffuses the blame for a negative message.”

TIME 2014 Election

This Super PAC Was Behind 1 Out of Every 20 Senate Ads

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. faces reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. faces reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 25, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

A super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put out more than 40,000 ads

If Democrats lose control of the U.S. Senate, it won’t be because they didn’t fully unleash the powers available to them in a post-Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission era of politicking.

Senate Majority PAC, the Democratic super PAC dedicated to holding the Senate, has blasted out more than 40,000 Senate-focused television ads this election cycle — more than any other outside spending group.

For context: Senate Majority PAC alone is responsible for roughly one out of every 20 Senate race ads, including those sponsored by candidates and political party committees. In the hotly contested North Carolina Senate race, the super PAC has run more ads than the Republican candidate Thom Tillis, who’s locked in a statistical dead heat with incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

MORE: GOP poised for Senate win

Senate Majority PAC’s dominance this cycle shows Democrats have largely moved past their initial qualms regarding the outside spending frenzy enabled by Citizens United, which empowered corporations, unions and other special interests to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to directly advocate for and against political candidates.

They are now playing the super PAC game to win. The group’s core contributors are a cross-section of Democratic stalwarts, dominated by billionaires and labor unions with reasons for making sure Democrats continue to control the Senate.

Led by seasoned political disciples of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Majority PAC has raised more than $53 million this cycle. As of Friday, it had made $47 million worth of independent expenditures — most in the form of TV ads skewering Republican candidates.

MORE: How 2014 became the “gotcha” election

Nearly two-thirds of the money — about $34 million— came from contributors giving half a million dollars or more, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of contribution records filed with the Federal Election Commission. That’s roughly the same percentage as marquee Republican super PAC American Crossroads, though that group has reported raising just more than $28 million so far this cycle, far less than Senate Majority PAC.

Senate Majority PAC’s spending is a fraction of the close to $700 million the Center for Responsive Politics predicts outside groups will spend on the midterm elections. Overall, CRP expects combined spending by Republican candidates, party committees, and conservative-leaning outside groups to outstrip spending on the Democratic side this cycle.

Senate Majority PAC declined to comment for this story, but those facts may explain why Senate Majority PAC contributors are still talking as if they’re big-money underdogs.

MORE: Kentucky Democrat tears up on campaign trail

“[W]e can’t compete in terms of money,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in an e-mailed response to questions about the union’s support of Senate Majority PAC. “So, our strategy is to leverage long-standing relationships with groups like the Senate Majority PAC to play big in high-priority races.”

The American Federation of Teachers has contributed $1.95 million to Senate Majority PAC so far this cycle, making it one of the group’s largest benefactors.

All the money and all the ads still may not add up to enough for Democrats to hold the Senate. Several of the Senate races that will decide control of the chamber are still far too close to call. Whatever the result, Senate Majority PAC has been credited with keeping the races close and Democrats competitive.

MORE: Sarah Palin plays surprise role in Alaska governor’s race

The results and the lessons of the election are certain to reverberate into the 2016 election cycle, when the White House will also be up for grabs.

Big-dollar donors

Senate Majority PAC’s contributors each have their own reasons for spending to keep Senate Democrats in charge. Take Sealaska Corp., a southeast-Alaska based corporation created by a federal act and owned by thousands of native shareholders. The company contributed $10,000 to Senate Majority PAC in September.

Jaeleen Araujo, the company’s general counsel and corporate secretary, said Sealaska’s board wanted to support the re-election bid of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), the current chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, because Landrieu has supported the land legislation that is Sealaska’s top priority.

Senate Majority PAC has spent more than $2.4 million against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Landrieu’s main challenger.

Sealaska is owed lands under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has sponsored a bill that would allow the company to acquire lands outside of those originally designated under the act. Sen. Landrieu is listed as a co-sponsor on an earlier version of the bill. The current version is now awaiting floor votes in both the House and the Senate.

“If you could even understand the effort we’ve had to put into this land legislation over the past four congresses,” Araujo said, adding that Landrieu’s continued support “is just so important to us.”

Araujo explained that she and others called contacts in Washington, D.C., trying to find out which group was best positioned to take a contribution aimed at boosting Landrieu. Araujo said a Washington, D.C.-based board member heard Senate Majority PAC would be a good option. Sealaska said the money was to be used to benefit Landrieu. “We did specify the direction on the check,” Araujo said.

Senate Majority PAC spokesman Ty Matsdorf declined to discuss how it used Sealaska’s contribution, citing a policy of not commenting on fundraising.

Senate Majority PAC’s largest contributor is environmental activist and former hedge fund investor Thomas Steyer, who together with his super PAC, NextGen Climate Action, which is primarily funded by Steyer, gave $5.5 million.

Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner, the top donor to Democratic super PACs during the 2012 election cycle, gave $5 million, the next largest amount. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an advocate for stronger gun laws who has spent millions of dollars on elections so far this cycle, contributed $2.5 million.

Unions and groups associated with unions have so far contributed about $12.5 million, with the single largest amount — $2.75 million — coming from Working for Working Americans, a political action committee affiliated with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. Trial lawyers, via the American Association for Justice PAC, contributed $925,000.

Senate Majority PAC touts itself as running a “transparent” operation. But the description, while valid in part, belies the seven-figure amounts of support it’s received from “dark money” operations that don’t generally reveal the root sources of their funds.

For example, Patriot Majority USA, a liberal “social welfare” nonprofit that heavily supports Democratic political causes and doesn’t reveal its donors, has provided it more than $483,000 to cover salaries and insurance, FEC records indicate. Patriot Majority USA is led by a longtime ally of Reid, the Senate majority leader.

Senate Majority PAC has also accepted money from Indian tribes and limited liability companies, including $1 million in September from an outfit called HFNWA LLC. It has addresses in Arkansas and Washington, D.C., and is managed, according to Arkansas Secretary of State records, by Franklin L. Haney, a Democratic political patron and real estate mogul.

It also accepted $500,000 from the Campion Advocacy Fund, a “social welfare” nonprofit group that advocates for wilderness protection and an end to homelessness. The group is affiliated with the Campion Foundation, a private, nonprofit foundation founded by Tom and Sonya Campion. Tom Campion is the founder of the Zumiez clothing store chain. The Campions were listed as cohosts on an invitation to a $25,000-per-person Senate Majority PAC fundraiser in July that featured a dinner with President Barack Obama.

Another LLC contributor is listed as Elmendorf Strategies LLC, whose namesake, Steve Elmendorf, is one of the nation’s top Democratic lobbyists. The entity gave $10,000. Elmendorf’s lobbying partner is Jimmy Ryan, a former senior adviser to Reid. Ryan gave Senate Majority PAC $50,000.

Senate Majority PAC is also the driving financial force behind a self-described “nonpartisan” super PAC called Put Alaska First that is supporting Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

Alaskans themselves have little to do with the funding of Put Alaska First: Senate Majority PAC has provided the super PAC with more than $8.6 million, 98 percent of the Alaska group’s total receipts — a fact that’s hardly obvious to Alaskans watching the thousands of TV ads the group has run to primarily bash Begich’s Republican opponent, Dan Sullivan.

Senate Majority PAC also describes itself as “independent.” But outside observers say the contributor list shows that even though Senate Majority PAC technically is an independent group, its establishment ties and ability to unite Democratic donors under a big-money tent show how closely it is connected to party leaders.

“Senate Majority PAC is run by a couple of Democratic aides, it has close ties to the leadership, to Harry Reid. It’s almost as if this is the return of ‘soft money,’” said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, which monitors money in politics, referring to unlimited contributions to national parties that were banned in 2002. “What this looks like to me really is, if you go back and look at the soft money donors, this is who a lot of them are.”

In all, the Center for Public Integrity reached out to nearly three dozen of Senate Majority PAC’s contributors. Many declined to speak for the record, although others explained why they’re supporting the group.

Heather Podesta, a lobbyist and prominent Democratic fundraiser who said she is on Senate Majority PAC’s board, has herself given $25,000 this cycle. She pointed to the super PAC’s successful record from the 2012 elections as proof of its effectiveness and as something attractive to donors.

“I would say that one of the reasons why these races are as close as they are and we haven’t seen Republicans break out as expected is the hard diligent work of Senate Majority PAC,” she said.

Elizabeth Simons, president of the Heising-Simons Foundation and the daughter of James Simons, the founder and former CEO of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, explained in an email why she gave Senate Majority PAC $900,000, her largest-ever political contribution. Her father, a prominent Democratic donor, gave $2 million.

“This year I felt I had no choice in light of Supreme Court decisions that have collectively had the effect of handing political power to the rich and disenfranchising large swathes of Americans, primarily Democrats,” she said. “I am now a player in this sad game, but the other side has deep pockets, and so I decided to dig into mine.”

Ads keep coming

More than 230 candidates, political committees and nonprofit organizations have combined to run about 908,000 U.S. Senate-focused TV ads through Oct. 27, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from Kantar Media/CMAG, an advertising tracking service.

With nearly 45,000 TV ads through Oct. 27, Senate Majority PAC easily bests all other individual super PACs and nonprofits.

The vast majority of Senate Majority PAC’s ads attack Republican candidates as opposed to promoting Democratic candidates. Only the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — a national party committee founded in 1916 that, as its name implies, exists specifically to elect Democrats to the Senate — has aired more TV ads this cycle than Senate Majority PAC, with more than 51,000 and counting.

Compare Senate Majority PAC’s TV ad sponsorship to conservative nonprofit outfit Crossroads GPS, which has produced about 29,000 ads so far this election and ranks a distant second among super PACs and nonprofits. Conservative, Koch brothers-backed nonprofit Americans for Prosperity, with about 28,300 Senate-focused TV ads, ranks third.

Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for Crossroads GPS and sister super PAC American Crossroads, which has aired more than 16,000 TV ads, declined to comment on Senate Majority PAC.

In North Carolina alone, Senate Majority PAC has aired more than 13,600 ads.

That’s more than any single super PAC, nonprofit or political committee has run in any one U.S. Senate race this cycle. And almost all of the ads have attacked Tillis — and Tillis’ own campaign only days ago cracked the 10,000 TV ad mark.

For perspective: Only five other super PACs or nonprofit groups this cycle have produced as many Senate race TV ads — across all 36 races in play this year — as Senate Majority PAC has in North Carolina alone.

Among TV ad sponsorship in other top U.S. Senate races by super PACs and nonprofits, Senate Majority PAC ranks first in Michigan and second in Colorado, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas and West Virginia. It’s third in Iowa.

Put Alaska First, the Senate Majority PAC funded super PAC active in Alaska’s Senate race, has aired about 9,000 ads through Oct. 27.

Expect Senate Majority PAC to continue its ad barrage through Election Day.

In New Hampshire, for example, the super PAC was already girding in July for close race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and her Republican challenger, former Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

Even though Brown had yet to secure the GOP nomination at that point — he won the Republican primary in September — Senate Majority PAC was booking TV ad time for late October and early November, according to Federal Communications Commission filings.

That includes an around-the-clock presence on WMUR-TV 9, New Hampshire’s only in-state, network-affiliated station, through today, the day before Election Day, FCC documents show.

It’s the same story in North Carolina, where Senate Majority PAC is slated to spend well into the six-figure range roughing up Tillis during the final days of the state’s U.S. Senate campaign.

At WSOC-TV 9 in Charlotte alone, Senate Majority PAC has reserved more than $218,300 worth of 11th-hour air time at all times day and night, during shows that range from “Good Morning America” and the local evening news to soap opera “General Hospital” and crime drama “Castle,” according to filings with the FCC.

And on Thursday, Senate Majority PAC reported spending another $700,000 on media buys and direct mailers targeting Republican U.S. Senate candidates Joni Ernst in Iowa, Brown in New Hampshire and McConnell in Kentucky.

In some ways, it makes sense that Senate Majority PAC has emerged as a dominant force in the world of super PACs.

Senate Majority PAC is descended from Commonsense Ten, one of the groups that originally prodded federal regulators to rule that corporations and labor unions could donate unlimited money to super PACs.

Big money, it turns out, is embedded in Senate Majority PAC’s DNA.

Read next: Republicans See Senate Majority Within Reach Day Before Elections

TIME 2014 Election

Obama Digital Guru to Democrats: Stop Being Lame

Joe Rospars founding partner of Blue State Digital who was a director for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign for President of the United States, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press during Personal Democracy Forum Europe in Barcelona on Nov. 21, 2009.
Joe Rospars founding partner of Blue State Digital who was a director for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign for President of the United States, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press during Personal Democracy Forum Europe in Barcelona on Nov. 21, 2009. Manu Fernandez—AP

Joe Rospars is Founder & CEO of Blue State Digital and was the principal digital strategist for both of Barack Obama's presidential campaigns. He got his start as a writer on Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign, over a decade ago.

The emails and campaign ads of this year's election have exposed a "creative crisis in the Democratic Party"

“With a frequency and desperation matched only by a Nigerian prince selling a Groupon deal for boner pills, the Democrats and the emails will not stop trying to make you give them money.” That’s how Jon Stewart described Democratic efforts to raise small-dollar contributions ahead of next week’s midterm elections. And he wasn’t far off.

The emails are the new punching bag for critics, but their critique is fundamentally the same one that many have about the avalanche of thirty-second television commercials: a lack of creative integrity and a palpable disrespect for the audience. Taken together, the complainers about both kinds of content identify what amounts to a creative crisis in the Democratic Party. And no matter what happens on Tuesday night, we will wake up Wednesday morning needing to confront it.

As an emeritus practitioner of Democratic campaign emailing, having overseen the online fundraising first for Howard Dean and then both of Barack Obama’s campaigns, I find myself conflicted about the deluge in my inbox. My first instinct is to defend the barrage, because I vastly prefer a political party and candidates funded by a no-stone-unturned approach to generating small donations from ordinary people to the alternative. You don’t hear the same kind of frustration at Republican fundraising emails for a simple reason: they don’t send as many, because the Republican Party relies far less on ordinary people contributing to their campaigns.

But no one wants to be treated like they’re stupid. That means people producing both types of content are missing opportunities for potential persuasion and engagement—and creating more cynicism in politics along the way. Many in both the TV and mass email industries will tell you that they’re getting important communication done with their TV ads and emails, and that the complaints are just a cost of doing business.

And part of the increased complaints surely do result from the sheer volume of both types of content. More big money in politics means more TV ads on more channels than ever. And with better data analytics driving ever more precise airtime-buying strategies, you won’t just see ads on the local news. If you’re a targeted voter, the ads will find you watching “Top Chef” reruns or the History Channel. But they are still likely to be the nearly-campy, scary, negative ads with fake-torn newspaper headlines and grave voiceover. Or the old standby of a candidate in a business suit speaking meaningless words earnestly into the camera.

Similarly, the ability to deliver email to supporters has become more mechanized. In 2004, for the Dean campaign to send email to all of its 500,000 supporters, it required technical staff to create the recipient list and build the message in HTML, and then it took 12 hours for all the emails to be delivered after hitting the “send” button. Today, my own company and others provide the ability for campaigns and organizations to have non-technical staff build endless, personalized variations of email to multiple segments of their supporter list, which after hitting “send” get delivered at the rate of more than 20 million an hour.

But while you may be able to get something accomplished through sheer volume of terrible content, people are tuning out and getting angry at the content based on something more than volume.

The truth is that the increase in volume—in particular the ability to segment and deliver more personalized communications—has in many cases eclipsed the creative capacity of the usual players and their organizations. More and better resources need to be devoted to not just shoveling ever more content out the door and hoping for the best, but accounting for the quality, veracity, and cohesiveness of the content. The Democrats should be a party that not only takes pride in winning, which of course comes first, but also seeks to win with a lasting ability to take pride in the work.

The Obama campaigns built the biggest grassroots fundraising base in political history, in part through relentless testing and optimization. Our staff would dream up endless variations and approaches to inspiring someone to click and donate. But we didn’t just throw anything at the wall to see what stuck; there was a creative filter applied to all that experimentation. That is, our success was driven by tactical innovation that happened within the confines of the kind of organization we wanted to be and the kind of relationship we sought to build with our supporters.

From what we see in this midterm cycle, that model is by no means a given for the candidates and campaigns that come after. The 2016 campaigns will be the front line of determining what kind of party and movement we’re going to be. And those 2016 candidates will face decisions about what kind of campaign they want to have—whether they’ll embrace the cheap, the misleading, the disingenuous, or whether they’ll aspire to do something better.

I feel obliged to note that, for my part, as someone who came up doing the digital work, I see the emails as the lesser evil. The carpet-bombing of terrible TV ads is the single biggest driver of the endless money-for-influence machine in politics. At least the email scoundrels are raising money, and doing it the right way, rather than spending it.

And I want to be clear not to let the Republicans off the hook here. The GOP’s content isn’t any less annoying, disingenuous or over the top—it is often far worse, and has even more serious consequences. The race-baiting TV ads are in full force, and some of the most reprehensible language you’ll see used in public by the right surfaces in their campaign emails. They get away with it because there just aren’t very many people on those lists.

It’s also important to note that despite all the noise on both sides, you can see glimmers of great content out there. Take Senator Al Franken’s emails—a delightful mix of holiday recipes from the Franken household and a human, thoughtful approach to engaging his supporters on the nuts and bolts of campaigns (a recent appeal promised frugality: “Pizza for our volunteers? Sure. But minimal toppings.”). Over time, I suspect that the churn-and-burn approach to online fundraising will be bested by the respectful, playful, urgent approach of organizations like Franken’s. Short of Franken moonlighting as Creative Director for his fellow Democratic Senators, though, the path ahead for the Democrats will be difficult. The overdrive of the social-media news cycle will pull campaigns and organizations toward more content, rather than better content.

Meanwhile, the relentless arms race of TV ads and the ratcheting up of fundraising targets to fund them puts the front-line producers of content in a terrible position. Almost anyone you speak to who makes their living cutting an ad or producing an email would prefer that things were different, but they’re working around the clock and barely keeping up. They just want to get through the cycle and help the good guys win.

So in 2016 it will be up to candidates and campaign managers to fight the madness and put the resources in place to create more compelling messages on TV and the web than ever before. Resources alone won’t be enough, though. The campaigns will need the right leadership and structure in place with the creative chops, political judgment and frankness to enforce a commitment to a single, overriding content priority: Don’t Be Lame.

Joe Rospars is Founder & CEO of Blue State Digital and was the principal digital strategist for Obama for America in 2008 and 2012.

 

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME 2014 Election

Straw Into Gold: Candidates Trade Leadership PAC Dollars for Campaign Cash

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., right, joined by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., left, urges funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency as the agency is on track to run out of disaster relief funds after responding to a spate of natural disasters this year, most recently Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., right, joined by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., left, urges funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency as the agency is on track to run out of disaster relief funds after responding to a spate of natural disasters this year, most recently Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Senate contenders find mutual benefit by shuffling money back and forth between accounts

With just a few days remaining in the first quarter of 2014, Mary Landrieu did something generous: The embattled Democratic senator from Louisiana, herself in the midst of an exceedingly tough re-election race, used her leadership PAC to give $5,000 to the campaign of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who at the time expected a competitive race of his own and had won in 2008 by just 312 votes.

The contribution from Landrieu’s Jazz PAC came on March 28, three days before the Federal Election Commission’s filing deadline for candidate campaign finance reports, and plumped up Franken’s fundraising numbers — figures that would be seen as an indication of the former Saturday Night Live star’s ability to attract the money he needed to win.

Landrieu’s action looks less altruistic, though, considering what happened next: Franken’s leadership PAC, Midwest Values PAC, gave $5,000 to Landrieu’s campaign on March 31 — the very last day of the reporting cycle. As with Franken’s, Landrieu’s fundraising numbers were goosed just a bit as a result.

The trade appears to have been no coincidence. Landrieu engaged in 21 such exchanges through Sept. 30 of this midterm election cycle, giving $96,000 from Jazz PAC to other candidates’ campaigns. Within seven days before or after each donation, she received exactly the same amount back from the leadership PACs of those same candidates. Most of the activity occurred shortly before an FEC reporting deadline. Some of the trades happened within the very same day.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has boosted her campaign account by nearly $100,000 using an increasingly popular maneuver involving leadership PACs.

And she’s not the only one. Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Mark Udall (Colo.) also all had at least 20 such swaps, each of which took a week or less to complete. All are in squeaker elections. Other Democrats who had more than 10 transactions: Sens. Franken, Chris Coons (Del.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Tom Udall (N.M.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Mark Warner (Va.), and Reps. Bruce Braley (Iowa) and Gary Peters (Mich.), both of whom are running for Senate seats.

On the Republican side, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky engaged in 14 of these exchanges, transferring $70,000 out of his Bluegrass Committee PAC to other GOP candidates who then used their PACs to donate $67,500 to his campaign, all within seven days. Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.) did the same thing 11 times in this cycle using his Preserving America’s Traditions PAC.

In an era of multimillon-dollar donations to outside spending groups, the sums involved here may seem like small potatoes. But for candidates forced to gather contributions under hard-money limits — they can take no more than $2,600 per election from individual donors — every little bit counts. And if the contributions are the larger sums that PACs can give, so much the better. For an indication of how anxious candidates are to scoop up every dollar, look no farther than the desperate emailed fundraising appeals they send out as, each quarter, reporting deadlines approach.

“The totals aren’t huge, but this is an example of the ‘leave no stone unturned’ principle of campaign finance,” said Bob Biersack, senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics and a 30-year veteran of the FEC. “This is going to pretty amazing lengths.”

And some think the swaps are little more than an attempt to evade legal limits, since leadership PACs can give no more than $5,000 per election to their own sponsor’s campaign.

leadership shuffle

“What you’re looking at clearly strikes me as an abuse of leadership PACs that undermines the integrity of basic contribution limits,” said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. The transactions — even though they don’t involve exactly the same dollars circling back to the original donor — could be considered a form of money laundering, he added.

Said another campaign finance lawyer who asked not to be named: “This appears not to be happening by spontaneous combustion.”

Landrieu and the others have also used their leadership PACs to support candidates who did not partner with them in quick-turnaround reciprocal contributions. Her Jazz PAC has given a total of $266,500 to House and Senate Democratic candidates, for example. But a substantial portion of that has come back to her in the form of contributions from the leadership PACs of the recipients of her donations.

Neither Landrieu’s campaign press office nor the campaign’s attorney responded to multiple requests for comment.

These are the top 2014 cycle practitioners of exchanges within one week, through Sept. 30:

DonatedVsReceived

 

Building goodwill — and more

Leadership PACs date back to the late 1970s, when Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) set one up, with a nod from the FEC, and used it to win the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health by giving out tens of thousands of dollars to his committee colleagues. This cycle, with Waxman retiring, two lawmakers who want to fill his slot as the top-ranking Democrat on Energy and Commerce are using their PACs to woo support from other members of the panel.

And supporting endangered members of their own party is certainly another way that lawmakers use these structures. Landrieu has hauled in more leadership PAC money than any other candidate this cycle, receiving a total of $446,500. Also among the top 10 are Pryor, Hagan, Warner, Shaheen and Mark Udall — all Senate Democrats whose re-election bids are no walk in the park. Below are the top 10 recipients of leadership PAC funds this cycle:

 

Viveca Novak

The win-friends-and-influence-people model of the leadership PAC isn’t always the one that’s followed, though. In fact, there are few restrictions on how a leadership PAC’s sponsor can spend its cash. Sometimes they’re used as little more than slush funds, taking in contributions of up to $5,000 per year from lobbyists and special interests who have already maxed out to a lawmaker’s campaign committee and spending the money on travel, greens fees or nice meals for that same lawmaker – at times in the company of the very interests that donated the loot in the first place.

Most leadership PACs don’t donate to their own sponsor’s campaigns. That may be because, even though they may do so within the limits, the FEC hasn’t made the rules easy to discern. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is one of the few senators to have done so in the 2014 cycle, and he did it big, giving his campaign the maximum $5,000 permitted for each of his races: primary, general and — a special circumstance — his primary runoff contest. He sent another $5,000 to his legal fund to help fight his primary opponent’s challenge to Cochran’s victory.

Other than those outright, strictly limited donations, though, campaign activities can’t be paid for by a candidate’s PAC. According to the FEC, a leadership PAC financed and controlled by a candidate or officeholder is “neither an authorized [campaign] committee nor affiliated with the candidate’s authorized committee.”

But the swaps appear to be a way to work around the limits. “The net effect is to turn leadership PAC money into campaign money, campaign finance lawyer Kenneth Gross, a former head of the FEC’s enforcement division.

More money each cycle

In this election cycle, 531 leadership PACs — most of them associated with current lawmakers but some linked to former members or candidates — have raised a total of $144.7 million, giving about 36 percent of it, or $52.4 million, to candidates and party committees.

As leadership PAC wealth has grown with every election cycle, so has the rate of short-term exchanges between candidates. During the 2008 cycle, 32 candidates made a total of 71 trades that were completed within seven days. So far this cycle 170 of them have occurred among 56 candidates.

The amount of money changing hands has increased sharply over the past four elections cycles as well — growing from $674,400 in 2008 to $1.28 million so far this cycle. The 2014 number expands to $1.7 million when the lens is widened to look at exchanges within 30 days, rather than seven. But the overwhelming number of such round trips — 75 percent of the ones that occurred within 30 days — have happened within a week.

While more candidates, 92, conducted these exchanges during the 2012 cycle, this cycle’s top traders appear to have perfected the process. Prior to the 2014 races, no candidate made such an exchange more than 14 times. There’s also more money involved this time; the 2012 total was $1.07 million.

Senate Democrats seem to have dominated the practice this cycle, but during the 2010 midterms it was GOP Senate candidates making the majority of short-term exchanges. Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and John Thune (S.D.) topped the list as the Republicans picked up six seats in that election.

Same-day turnarounds

Democrat Coons is not in a competitive race, but he has been party to 18 transactions with a round trip time of less than seven days during this cycle — shelling out $55,000 from his Blue Hen PAC and receiving $58,000 in return.

When reached for comment, Coons’ campaign dismissed the possibility of quid pro quo.

“Senator Coons has supported Democratic candidates, including a number of his colleagues in the Senate, through his campaign account and leadership PAC,” campaign spokesman Jesse Chadderdon said in an email. “Many of his colleagues have been supportive of his re-election campaign as well. Whether or not another candidate has supported him or will support him down the road just isn’t part of the evaluation process. It’s about helping the best people win difficult elections.”

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire has the most single-day turnarounds of leadership PAC exchanges.

Even though it’s not surprising to see candidates showing good will for their party colleagues by way of their checkbooks, this explanation seems to fall short of clarifying exchanges made between candidates in the same 24 hour span.

During the 2014 election cycle, candidates have traded leadership PAC funds for campaign cash on the same day 37 times using this mechanism; 28 of them involved the exact same amount coming and going. The sum exchanged most frequently was the maximum allowable $5,000, though lesser amounts that nevertheless matched up also went back and forth.

Shaheen is the leader in this category, sending money from her A New Direction PAC to colleagues’ campaign coffers and receiving leadership PAC checks in her campaign account on the same day on eight occasions. On June 24 of this year alone, Shaheen managed to complete this cycle twice — with Coons and Reed.

Her campaign did not respond to OpenSecrets Blog’s request for a comment or explanation of the acitvity. Nor did more than a dozen other campaigns that were called and emailed.

Several campaign finance experts we asked about the pattern of activity mentioned former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) conviction for taking corporate contributions raised by a state-level PAC and sending them through the Republican National Committee, which then contributed to state candidates named on a list that was given to the national group along with the money; Texas law prohibits corporate money from going to candidates, and the GOP leader was charged with money laundering. His conviction was ultimately overturned.

While the leadership PAC exchanges differ in many ways from the activity DeLay orchestrated, the transactions similarly feature attempts to replicate the peculiar talents of the fairy-tale Rumpelstiltskin.

“Moving money around to try to change it from cash that isn’t useful, into cash that is, has always been part of the fundraising game,” said Biersack. But the leadership PAC-to-campaign committee swaps, he said, are “an illustration of how to game the system in every conceivable way.”

Center for Responsive Politics researcher Andrew Mayersohn contributed to this story. To read more from the center, click here.

TIME 2014 Election

Mega-Donors Give Big in State Elections

Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner exits the polling place after voting in Winnetka, Ill.
Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner exits the polling place after voting in Winnetka, Ill., March 18, 2014. Andrew Nelles—AP

Donors gave millions in races for governor, especially when they were the ones running

At least 29 donors have given $1 million or more to state-level campaigns so far this election, with a dozen of the big givers made up of self-funding candidates, according to an analysis of campaign finance data.

The other big donors to state campaigns in the 2014 election include billionaires, corporate giants, unions and nonprofit political groups. Each donor has shelled out more than 19 times the country’s median household income.

According to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state records collected by the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics, top donors include:

  • Illinois Republican candidate Bruce Rauner, who has given more than $14 million (* see below), mostly to fund his own campaign for governor;
  • Pennsylvania Democrat Tom Wolf, who has used $10 million of his own money in an attempt to unseat unpopular incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican;
  • The Republican Governors Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that has given at least $9.6 million to gubernatorial candidates in at least six states;
  • Arizona gubernatorial candidate Christine Jones, who gave more than $5.3 million, nearly all to fund her own campaign, only to lose in the Republican primary;
  • And Chicago-based hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who has given more than $4.7 million, mostly to Rauner in Illinois.

The analysis is preliminary — the totals will only go up as more contribution reports are filed in the states. In addition, the National Institute is still processing reports that have already come in. Less than 80 percent of those reports have been processed thus far this election cycle. Rauner (*) alone, for example, has given at least $12 million more for a total of $26 million, state records show.

Despite those limitations, the Center still identified at least 29 of these million-dollar donors who have given more than $84 million out of the more than $1 billion in the two-year, 2014 election cycle. The Center looked at reports processed by the National Institute through Oct. 29.

While the race for U.S. Senate has grabbed most of the national election headlines this year, much of the action is at the state level. Thirty-six governorships are on the ballot in addition to more than 200 other statewide races and thousands of statehouse contests.

And unlike at the federal level, some states allow unlimited contributions to candidates. In addition, several states also allow direct contributions from the treasuries of corporations and unions.

Seeding their own chances

Rauner, Wolf and Jones are just three of at least 12 candidates for state-level office who have poured at least $1 million into their own campaigns.

States can limit contributions to candidates, but there are no such limitations on how much a candidate can give to his or her own campaign. That gives wealthy individuals with political aspirations an advantage over less wealthy opponents, said Bill Rosenberg, a political science professor at Drexel University.

“If an individual wants to run for public office, and they can be self-financed and the parties view them as reasonable candidates,” Rosenberg said, “a lot of times the party will just step out of the way because they can take those financial resources and put them into other races.”

In the case of Rauner, his early contributions to his campaign may have helped him attract even more cash to his joint campaign with running mate Evelyn Sanguinetti, including at least $4.5 million from Griffin and $7 million from the Republican Governors Association.

“The millions reassured prospective donors that the Republican Party wasn’t going to have a flash in the pan here, that he was going to be in until the end, that he wasn’t going to get outspent,” said Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the University of Illinois.

Limitations on influence

But other donors who give directly to candidates often face strict limits.

In 21 states, corporations cannot give money to candidates’ campaigns, and 16 states ban unions from giving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. (Unions and corporations can give through their political action committees, though contributions may be limited.)

Thirty-eight states cap the amount a person or group can give to a single candidate.

And until recently, donors in more than a dozen states were limited in how much money they could give overall in an election cycle. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits at the federal level in April, with its ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. States such as Connecticut and Wisconsin have pledged to not enforce the limits in state elections this year.

It’s not yet clear how far-reaching the impact of the decision may be on this election. Still, the existing contribution limits largely shape the way money pours into elections.

The two states seeing the highest number of donations to candidates from the mega-donors so far are Texas, where individuals and political action committees can give candidates as much as they want, and Illinois, whose governor’s race allows unlimited contributions this cycle.

Six-figure donations are the norm in marquee races in Texas.

This cycle, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican running for governor, received at least $900,000 from Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, who died in December 2013. Energy tycoon Kelcy Warren has given Abbott at least $450,000, while telecommunications executive Kenny Troutt along with his wife, Lisa, has given him at least $350,000.

Such large-scale giving does not carry a stigma in Texas of trying to buy access, according to Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. Instead, he said, it is “simply par for the course” in the Lone Star State.

“Large donations have little to no political blowback,” Jones said.

Under Illinois rules, if a candidate for statewide office contributes more than $250,000 to his or her own campaign, or if an outside group spends that amount supporting a candidate in the race, caps for contributions to a single candidate are thrown out in that race.

At first Rauner, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, avoided giving his opponent the chance for limitless fundraising by injecting $249,000, just below the threshold, into his campaign in March 2013.

But before the end of that year, Rauner gave his campaign another $1 million, pulling the plug on caps in the race. By now, the Republican nominee has contributed more than $26 million of his own money to his campaign, according to Illinois campaign finance records.

Rauner’s campaign did not respond to the Center’s request for comment.

His self-funding also cleared the path for incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn and his running mate to accept more than $3.6 million from the Democratic Governors Association, more than $755,000 from Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner and millions from unions, including more than $1.2 million from a branch of the Service Employees International Union.

Getting around the limits

Even in states with contribution restrictions, well-heeled donors have found ways to give generously — and legally — to the candidates they favor.

In Pennsylvania, for example, corporations and unions can’t give directly to candidates, but they can give unlimited amounts of money if they establish a political action committee in the organization’s name. That’s how the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a state teachers union, gave $500,000 to Wolf’s gubernatorial campaign.

In New York, wealthy individuals can donate through multiple limited liability corporations to dodge the state’s $60,800 per cycle contribution limit for such businesses. Real estate magnate Leonard Litwin, for example, has given at least $1 million to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo using this method, according to a recent report by the New York Public Interest Research Group. The original sources of such contributions, though, are not reflected in the National Institute on Money in State Politics’ data.

A representative for Litwin did not respond to requests for comment.

Sometimes the best way around the rules is to avoid them altogether by giving to independent groups instead of candidate campaigns. Thanks to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and subsequent rulings, there is no limit to what a person, corporation or union can give to independently acting political organizations.

The tactic is widespread this election. Roughly a fifth of the television ads airing in state-level races this cycle were paid for by groups that operate independently from candidates’ official campaigns, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

But many donors this cycle have given directly to candidates and helped fund outside political efforts beyond state-level races.

Eychaner, for example, may not make a list of million-dollar donors to candidates for state-level office this election. He has so far given at least $755,000 to Quinn in Illinois. But he has also given about $8 million to federal super PACs this year, according to the Federal Election Commission. In 2012, he was the largest Democratic donor to independent spending groups, having given $14 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

A representative for Eychaner declined to comment.

On the other side, Griffin was one of the five largest donors to the Washington, D.C.-based Republican Governors Association in the first nine months of this year, according to the group’s latest tax filing.

A representative for Griffin declined to comment.

Why do they give?

For individual donors, there are several likely reasons why they may give to candidates’ campaigns, said Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt.

For some, political ideology is a motivating factor, Levitt said. For others, large contributions are a way for donors to thrust themselves into the public consciousness. Still others are looking to gain favor with the people who could end up regulating their business interests. Sometimes, it’s a combination of the three.

Though some corporations are ideologically motivated, most businesses’ political donations are effectively “bet hedging,” he said.

Cable television giant Comcast Corp. parceled out at least $1.2 million in donations to candidates for state-level office in 36 states, often with as little as $100 given to the campaign of a legislative candidate.

“We believe that it’s important to be involved in the political process,” said Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice. “There are probably thousands of bills and regulatory state actions every year that affect the company.”

Fitzmaurice said the company tends to give across party lines and mostly to incumbents.

The company gave to Democrats in 28 states, Republicans in 31 states and at least one independent in Alabama, the Center’s analysis shows.

Where the company directs its political donations could depend on factors such as whether an election could shift party control of a state legislature or whether a state is considering regulatory action, Fitzmaurice said.

“For a corporation, making a donation may well be laying a bed of good will for legislators or regulators down the line, either to prevent unfavorable legislation or to try and get favorable legislation,” Levitt said. “It’s not uncommon at all for legislators, at least, to do a mental check of whether they’ve received a contribution before they decide exactly how badly they want to schedule a particular meeting.”

Liz Essley Whyte contributed to this report.

TIME 2014 Election

Corporations, Advocacy Groups Spend Big on Ballot Measures

A still from an advertisement payed for by Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban, a group backed by agricultural giants Monsanto and DowAgroSciences YouTube

Spending on TV ads soars to $119 million ahead of Election Day

Correction appended: October 26, 2014

Bonnie Marsh is worried that many of her neighbors’ health problems stem from big companies farming genetically modified crops around her in Maui County, Hawaii. So she helped collect enough signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot that would ban growing such crops until an environmental study is done.

“We’ve come forward because we feel there’s a real threat to the health of the Earth,” said Marsh, a nurse who focuses on natural remedies. “We are done being an experimental lab.”

Marsh said her group, Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the ‘Aina, has raised about $76,000 so far for what is the first-ever citizen-initiated ballot measure in Maui County. They’ve used about $17,000 of it to buy TV ads to help get the word out. But Marsh’s group is being outraised and outspent by business-supported opposition.

Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban, a group backed by agricultural giants Monsanto and DowAgroSciences, has already spent more than $2 million — or $23.13 per registered voter in the county — on television ads arguing that the ban would kill jobs, cost the local economy millions of dollars and block crops that have been proven safe.

And more ads could be on the way — the group has not yet filed a report with the state to say how much it has raised, nor would it volunteer the information to the Center for Public Integrity.

More has been spent on television time on that measure than any other local initiative in the nation. It’s also more expensive than more than 100 statewide measures, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of preliminary data from media tracking service Kantar Media/CMAG.

Across the country, large companies and national advocacy groups are putting big dollars behind committees with benign-sounding names that support or oppose ballot initiatives on issues as varied as minimum wage increases in Alaska and recreational marijuana in Florida.

The committees are using that money to put their message out in expensive ads featuring family farmers, concerned doctors and smiling teachers. Voters may not readily be able to identify the patrons behind the millions of dollars in ads, but a who’s who of corporate America — soda king Coca-Cola, agriculture magnate Monsanto and malpractice insurer The Doctors Company — are among them.

Through Oct. 20, TV ad spending on ballot issues totaled roughly $119 million, including $11.3 million on local initiatives such as the one in Maui County.

Four of the five most expensive ballot initiatives feature at least one corporate patron duking it out over the airwaves, getting involved in the initiative process that was designed as a way to give voters a direct voice on public policies.

· The two most expensive propositions were in California. Proposition 46 has drawn more than $23 million in ad spending, while Proposition 45 has attracted $20.5 million. Almost all of it has come from two groups: No on 45 — Californians Against Higher Healthcare Costs and No on 46 — Patients, Providers and Healthcare Insurers to Contain Health Costs. The “no” groups are backed by doctors and insurance companies, including The Doctors Company and Blue Shield of California, fighting to stop measures that would force doctors to undergo drug testing and insurers to get new approval for rate hikes, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state campaign finance records.

· Coming in third place was a Colorado amendment to expand gambling, which has drawn about $12 million in ad spending. Of that, $6.4 million came from Coloradans for Better Schools, a group backed by a Rhode Island casino company, Twin River Casino. Competing casinos in Colorado are helping fund $5.7 million in ads opposing the measure through a group called Don’t Turn Racetracks Into Casinos.

· Ranking fourth were two California measures that have been touted as an inseparable duo: Proposition 1, which would authorize a bond issue for water infrastructure projects, and Proposition 2, which would change the state’s “rainy day fund.” Most of the $7.6 million spent on ads supporting the two measures came from California Gov. Jerry Brown. The Democrat has not run any ads for his re-election bid, instead buying $5.6 million in ads through his campaign committee to back the propositions.

· Rounding out the top five, with $5 million in ads, was an Oregon measure that would require genetically modified foods to be labeled. The No on 92 Coalition, fueled by groups such as Monsanto and the J.M. Smucker Company, is battling natural food companies funding the Vote Yes on Measure 92 committee.

Fewer but costlier initiatives

This year voters have fewer ballot measures to decide than they did four years ago, when a comparable number of offices were up for election. In 2010, voters considered 184 statewide initiatives compared with 158 this year.

Even California voters, well acquainted with lengthy ballots, have only six measures to read through this November.

But this year already has 2010 beat in terms of TV ad spending. In 2010, ballot measure backers and opponents spent about $87 million on ads for the entire election cycle, compared with this year’s $119 million through Oct. 20.

Citizens in 26 states can gather signatures and put a proposal on the ballot that would create a new law or veto an existing one. Every state but Delaware offers voters the chance to weigh in on constitutional amendments approved by the legislature. Once the initiative is approved to go before voters, the ad deluge begins.

Ballot measure opponents and supporters use a number of tools to influence voters — door-knocking, direct mail, digital advertising and more — but television spots have the highest profile influence on such direct democracy.

“TV ads are a very effective way of getting out a message,” said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida professor who has studied ballot measures for more than 20 years. Advertising can be used “devastatingly well,” he added.

But those ads — and the money behind them — aren’t necessarily a bad thing if it gets people talking, he said, even if a few of them are confusing or misleading. “Increased money usually means there is more information, more awareness of ballot measures,” he added.

Corporate titans rule the airwaves

In California, competing messages about the drug-testing-for-doctors proposition are abundant on the airwaves. Recent transplant James VanBuskirk, a 34-year-old marketer for a property insurance company, says he sees one every time he watches prime-time TV.

Prop 46 tops the ballot measure spending pile in this election, with $23 million spent on thousands of ads across California.

Consumer Watchdog, a national advocacy group, teamed up with trial lawyers to back the measure. Trial lawyers stand to benefit from Prop 46 because, in addition to testing doctors for drug use, it also increases the maximum judges can award for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits. Groups backed by them spent $3.9 million so far on ads supporting the measure.

Consumer advocates and the California Nurses Association have also thrown their money behind Proposition 45, which would require insurers to receive approval for rate hikes from the California insurance commissioner, an elected regulator. Ballot committees supporting the measure have aired more than $679,000 on ads so far.

But their messages have been crowded out by those of insurers and doctors, who are spending big to oppose both measures on the airwaves — with more than $38 million spent on ads so far, about $19 million on each measure — nearly a third of the total amount spent on ballot measure ads nationwide. And there are likely many more ads to come: Groups opposing the two measures together have raised more than $100 million, according to California campaign finance records.

“It’s definitely in the upper stratosphere of California fundraising,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that produces online voter guides.

That doesn’t mean the insurance companies are necessarily going to win. In 2010, a group backed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spent almost $14 million on ads supporting a ballot measure that would require local voter approval for any new government-backed utilities. The electric company lost, even though its opponents did not buy any airtime.

Casinos versus casinos

In Colorado, casinos are waging the nation’s third-most-expensive ballot fight over the airwaves this year.

It’s casino versus casinos, according to an analysis of state campaign finance data. One Rhode Island gambling company, Twin River Casino, wants to offer slot machines, blackjack and other games at a racetrack in Aurora, Colorado. In ads, the committee backed by the company promises $100 million of new gambling revenue will be sent to an education fund every year. The ads have run more than 5,500 times, at a cost of about $6.4 million.

But already established gambling operations in Colorado that don’t want more competition have backed a group that has kept pace, spending $5.7 million on ads opposing the measure. “Amendment 68 is not about education. It’s a Rhode Island gambling scheme,” one opposition ad says.

Most Coloradans likely have no idea that casinos are backing the ads on both sides, said Kyle Saunders, associate professor of political science at Colorado State University. Colorado has clear-cut competitive U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, he said, while ballot-measure backers are “muddying the issues.”

“It’s a difficult environment for voters to know everything about a particular ballot measure anyway, in a normal election,” Saunders said. “You have to actually do some digging or find that article on the Internet or newspaper that has that in-depth information, and that’s actually a pretty demanding task for low- and medium-information voters.”

Gambling is also on the ballot in Massachusetts, with a casino-backed group spending about $3.3 million on ads.

In total, gambling-based ballot measures are responsible for $17.5 million in ad spending nationwide.

Food industry food fight

Even soda is getting in on the political ad contests. The American Beverage Association, whose members include Coca-Cola and Pepsi, has pumped millions into a group opposing a Massachusetts ballot measure that would raise fees for beverage distributors and expand the state’s bottle deposit to cover more types of bottles. The beverage lobby-backed group has spent about $2.5 million on TV ads, while pro-initiative forces have not bought any airtime.

The California branch of the beverage-makers group has also backed a group trying to defeat a local initiative in San Francisco that would tax sugary drinks; so far the group has spent $1.8 million on ads, making the measure the second-most expensive local measure in terms of television spots, behind Maui’s initiative.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are also teaming up with other big food businesses like Monsanto and the Hershey Company in their effort to keep Oregon and Colorado from requiring labels on food that contains genetically modified organisms. Groups backed by the team of food companies have spent about $3 million on ads in each state, arguing that the measures would raise food prices and hurt farmers.

“Farming is hard enough. The last thing we need is Measure 92, a bunch of complex, costly regulations that don’t exist in any other state,” says a plaid-shirt-wearing farmer in an ad opposing the Oregon measure.

Proponents of labeling in Oregon, backed by natural food companies, have spent $2 million on television ads in the state. “I want you to be able to trust the food you feed your family,” says another plaid-shirt-wearing farmer, who favors the measure. Proponents in Colorado have not aired ads.

Winning hearts

Corporations aren’t the only big players in state ballot measures this year. National advocacy groups are also tugging at heartstrings on the airwaves.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have teamed up to oppose anti-abortion measures in Tennessee and Colorado. In Tennessee, a group backed by the pair has spent about $1.3 million on TV ads against a measure that would give the legislature more leeway to regulate abortion. Proponents of the measure, backed by Tennessee Right to Life, have spent about $606,000 on ads.

In Colorado, a Planned Parenthood-backed group has spent $477,000 on the airwaves to oppose an amendment to the state constitution that would redefine “person” to include the unborn. The ads say the move would effectively ban all abortion in the state. Proponents have aired no ads.

Other initiatives attracting interest from advocacy groups include:

· In Washington, television viewers have already been treated to more than 4,000 ads about a pair of conflicting ballot measures concerning background checks for gun purchases, with most of them coming from a group supporting expanded background checks. That organization — backed by Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety fund, early Amazon investor Nick Hanauer and a handful of Microsoft executives, according to state records — spent an estimated $3 million on ads. The other side, backed by gun enthusiasts and sporting clubs, is trailing behind, with only about $58,000 spent.

· In North Dakota, the Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society, among others, have lent their support to a measure that would dedicate some of the state’s oil tax revenues to land preservation. North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks has ponied up nearly $485,400 for ads—more than double the cost for all the ads run by candidates for state offices this year. The group’s opponents have spent about $134,000 on ads so far.

· In Maine, voters are considering a ballot measure that would ban traps, bait and dog chases in bear hunting. The Humane Society has backed a group that has spent about $860,000 on ads favoring the ban so far. The other side, Maine’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Council, has spent about $713,000 on ads.

Attracting voters with pot and money

Marijuana is on the ballot in the District of Columbia and three states, spurring $4.5 million in ads. In Oregon, voters have watched some 1,825 ads worth more than $1 million run by supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana. That effort’s backers include the family of Peter Lewis, a longtime marijuana legalization advocate from Ohio and chairman of Progressive Insurance, who died in 2013. Another backer is the Drug Policy Alliance, an anti-drug-war nonprofit backed by liberal financier George Soros. (Soros’ Open Society Foundations are a financial supporter of the Center.)

The ads argue that legalizing the drug will allow police to focus on solving murders and finding missing children. Opponents have aired no ads so far, but a similar measure failed in Oregon in 2012. In Alaska, supporters of marijuana have aired just $8,210 worth of ads.

In Florida, opponents of a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana have spent roughly $3.2 million on ads. But the players in that fight might care less about marijuana than the governor’s race. Analysts say the marijuana legalization effort in Florida is really a tactic to get more young and left-leaning residents to turn out and vote for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Billionaire casino operator Sheldon Adelson has given $4 million to the anti-pot campaign, while the pro-pot side is backed more than $3.8 million from the personal injury lawyer John Morgan and his firm, which hired Crist after he left office. So far, however, the marijuana advocates have only spent about $195,000 on TV ads, according to Kantar Media/CMAG data.

Ballot measures are a reliable way to motivate a party’s base. For instance, liberal groups helped get measures to raise the minimum wage on five states’ ballots this fall. Yet only Nebraska’s appears to have drawn TV ads: a paltry $79,000 worth.

“That totally makes sense,” said Neil Sroka, a strategist for progressive groups and the communications director at the Howard Dean-founded Democracy for America. “I wouldn’t count the lack of spending on ads to be indicative that they’re not incredibly useful in driving out votes.”

Sroka told the Associated Press that polls show overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage, including among independents and Republicans. Liberal activists looking to motivate voters can use the minimum-wage measures as a way to get perhaps reluctant voters talking and then tell them that the Democratic nominees for office also support higher wages.

“These ballot measures are great ways to talk to voters who might not want to talk to Democrats,” Sroka said.

Money talks but does it win?

For some corporations and national advocacy groups, investments in ballot measure ads have already paid off. This summer, oil companies won an August vote after dishing out nearly $900,000 to buy about 8,000 TV spots in Alaska to keep special tax breaks. “We need to stay in the game,” said a hockey coach in an ad that likened the sport to the oil industry.

In Michigan, manufacturers almost hit the $2.8 million mark on ad spending for an August ballot measure designed to eliminate a double tax on industrial property, while also rerouting an existing tax to fund local budgets. Though observers worried the measure was too confusing for pessimistic Michigan voters, who turned down every single initiative on the ballot in 2012, the manufacturers walked away with a victory.

But for others, ad spending was for naught. In Missouri, construction companies spent about $1.2 million on TV ads but still lost an August vote that would have authorized a sales tax to fund road construction.

The bulk of the measures, though, will come before voters on Nov. 4, so a flood of advertising is on the horizon. Then the implications of voters’ decisions will begin, affecting individuals’ lives and companies’ bottom lines.

In Hawaii, approval of the Maui County GMO ban would be a blow to Monsanto, which can produce up to four crops of corn seeds a year in Hawaii’s lush environment.

The state’s seed industry, including Monsanto’s corn, has grown rapidly in recent years, and last growing season was worth $217 million, outpacing sugar cane and pineapples. The corporate-backed Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban argues that small farms and big alike would be hurt by the ballot’s ban.

“More than 600 people would lose their jobs,” the group’s spokesman, Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, said in an email. “The purpose of the TV ads is to educate voters about the flawed, costly and harmful initiative.”

Natural remedies nurse Marsh doesn’t know whether her side can beat the Monsanto-backed ads; she said fliers against the GMO ban show up in her mailbox every day. But the ban advocates have a great volunteer network, she said, and at the very least they’ll get to make themselves heard. “We’re just trying to make them be held responsible for what they’re doing,” she said.

Associated Press reporter Philip Elliott contributed.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the amount Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the ‘Aina has raised to back the ballot measure banning GMO farming. It was about $76,000.

TIME 2014 Election

GOP Wields Romney Fundraising List in Senate Battle

A potent tool for raising cash

If Republicans retake the Senate next month, they’ll have done it with a lot of help from Mitt Romney.

The former GOP presidential nominee’s digital operation may have been a generation behind President Barack Obama’s effort, but his email list has proven to be a potent fundraising too for the party as it looks for victory this fall. “It’s easily our most successful digital fundraising source,” said Matt Lira. executive director of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm. “As far as our fundraising is concerned, there’s the Romney list and there’s everything else.”

In the past week, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has emailed the list no fewer than 16 times, many times with emails addressed from Romney himself, while the National Republican Congressional Committee, House Republican’s campaign arm, has used it at least once.

Maintained in a nondescript office overlooking the Potomac River in Alexandria by his former digital consulting firm Targeted Victory, the list is one of the Republican Party’s most valuable assets, containing millions of email addresses and records of more than 1.5 million digital donors to that campaign. “This is the largest donor base in the history of politics on the right,” said Zac Moffatt, a co-founder of the firm and the former Romney campaign’s digital director.

Moffatt’s firm maintains day-to-day control of the list and takes a cut of the fundraising proceeds and list maintenance fees, according to people familiar with the arrangement. The firm, which has been paid millions by the NRSC for its digital fundraising work, transferred more than $100,000 into Romney’s campaign account in June for the rights to use the list.

“Governor Romney is excited that Republican candidates and committees are making use of the Romney for President email list for fundraising and [get-out-the-vote purposes this cycle,” said Romney aide Kelli Harrison. “Hopefully access to this tool will make a difference in races all across the country.”

The value is clear, Lira said. “It’s the largest list of people who are predisposed to donate, predisposed to volunteer, predisposed to vote Republican,” he said. “The Romney donor base is broader, compared to some more ideological lists.” When donors give through the Romney list, it both freshens the underlying list and provides the NRSC with a new contact for its internal lists.

Renters have the option of reaching out to the entire universe of donors, or just segments, like those who purchased merchandise or participated in contests on the Romney campaign, in hopes of generating greater return on investment.

In 2012, the Romney campaign, flush with cash, rented almost every GOP email list available so it could build its own list of contacts and donors, making it the most comprehensive collection of GOP emails, outstripping even the Republican National Committee according to industry sources.

“Email is king to online fundraising,” said Vincent Harris, whose firm Harris Media works for clients like Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell. He added the Targeted Victory arrangement “brings about a big point that candidates don’t think of: who owns their data?”

Lira declined to say how much the NRSC has raised off the Romney list; the committee has been massively outraised by its Democratic counterpart.

The Romney approach differs from that used by Obama, whose campaign also maintains control of the his small-dollar donor and volunteer lists for the use of Organizing for Action, the nonprofit issue advocacy group he has thrown his name behind. Obama transferred his data and other lists to the Democratic National Committee.

While the Romney list remains fresh, don’t look to it as evidence that the two-time White House hopeful will make a third bid. The list has also been used by potential 2016 candidates like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and Rick Perry.

TIME Campaign Finance

FEC Clears Doubling of Donations With Convention Ruling

US Campaign 2012
The Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 30, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Charles Ommanney—Getty Images

Separate convention funding will allow parties to tap as much as $250,000 per donor every four years

Four weeks before the midterm elections, the Democratic and Republican Parties set aside their political differences to celebrate a development they could both agree on: raising more money.

The rare bout of bipartisanship follows a Federal Election Commission decision to allow the parties to raise extra cash to put on their increasingly irrelevant quadrennial prime time love-fests: the presidential nominating conventions.

Congress decided earlier this year to strip each party’s convention of public financing—$18,248,300 a piece in 2012—in hopes of diverting the funds to fund pediatric medical research.

As a result, the committees faced the prospect of funding the conventions from their existing “hard money” accounts, taking dollars out of field campaigns or television advertisements to pay the expensive three- or four-day long events.

To get around that problem, the parties jointly asked the FEC to let them set up separate committees to raise funds and pay for the conventions.

Last week the FEC’s attorneys prepared dueling opinions for the commission to vote on. One argued that the separate convention committees would be arms of the party and should be subject to the same limit. That opinion lost. The other argued the parties should be allowed to have a separate limit. Democratic Vice Chair Ann Ravel joined commission Republicans to pass that option by a 4-2 decision.

The result was a big win for both parties. Instead of tapping core budgets, which are built on maximum donations of $32,400 per donor annually and fund nearly everything the party does, the parties can double dip, raising another $32,400 from the same donors, just for the convention.

Campaign finance reform advocates blasted the outcome Thursday, noting that individuals can now cumulatively donate over $250,000 to the RNC or DNC each presidential cycle. “This is a disgraceful and activist decision that ignores the laws passed by Congress to combat corruption,” said Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center in a statement. “One has come to expect such efforts to dismantle the current contribution limits brick by brick from the current Republican Commissioners, but Vice Chair Ravel’s vote to give the national party committees a new way to tap wealthy donors is incredibly disappointing and irresponsible.”

The Campaign Legal Center warned in comments submitted before the meeting that it could lead to a slippery slope where different party functions are broken off into separate accounts with their own contribution limits, subverting longstanding laws designed to limit the amount of money in the nation’s political system. (The Republican National Committee has filed suit to lift those individual contribution limit to national parties.)

The RNC and DNC celebrated the ruling as “an important, if modest, first step for the parties in continuing to meet their historic responsibility to conduct conventions, which play such a vital role in our democratic process.” But in recent decades the carefully-scripted conventions have become increasingly irrelevant to the political process, as nominees lock up the required delegates well before the gatherings and the party platforms are frequently ignored by candidates for president on down. And while they are opportunities for each party to promote its message on television for a week in prime time, viewership is down and they rarely move the polling dial to lasting effect. Indeed, nominating conventions have become little more than expensive opportunities to reward party insiders with swanky parties and access to political figures.

In fact, the new convention funds are separate from the tens of millions raised by both parties’ “host committees” which are exempt from FEC contribution limits and accept millions in corporate and individual donations. The FEC justifies this separate fund arguing that the host committees are primarily engaged in promoting the cities in which the convention is held, not nominating the party’s presidential candidate. But that distinction is tenuous, at best, particularly when the party’s candidate is asked to step in to help close a shortfall, as Mitt Romney was asked to do in Tampa in 2012. Not to mention longstanding research showing that conventions don’t actually boost the economic development of the host cities.

President Barack Obama’s 2012 host committee secured a loan from Duke Energy that was later forgiven by the Charlotte, NC-based energy company, skirting the candidate’s pledge not to accept corporate funds.

“We appreciate the FEC’s recognition that, as the party convention committees adjust to the loss of public funding, they have authority to raise funds that will help pay the costs of their national conventions,” both parties said in their unusual joint statement.

TIME Campaign Finance

Ginsburg Says Citizens United Was Supreme Court’s Worst Ruling

"I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be"

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says in a new interview that the Citizens United ruling paving the way for more unfettered campaign spending by corporations was the current court’s worst decision ever.

Ginsburg told The New Republic that she would overturn the 2010 ruling if she could.

I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be,” she said. “I think members of the legislature, people who have to run for office, know the connection between money and influence on what laws get passed.”

She also expressed concern that modern feminists take their rights for granted.

“The women of my generation and my daughter’s generation, they were very active in moving along the social change that would result in equal citizenship stature for men and women,” Ginsburg said. “One thing that concerns me is that today’s young women don’t seem to care that we have a fundamental instrument of government that makes no express statement about the equal citizenship stature of men and women. They know there are no closed doors anymore, and they may take for granted the rights that they have.

Read the full interview at The New Republic

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