TIME Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton on Track to Raise Record $45 Million in First Quarter

She beat President Obama's 2011 record

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is on track to raise more than $45 million in the first quarter of the primary race, a Clinton official said Wednesday, far outpacing her Democratic opponents and breaking President Obama’s previous first-quarter fundraising record of $41.9 million in 2011.

For much of the past 11 weeks, Clinton has spent her afternoons and evenings attending house parties for donors, where the former Secretary of State regularly spends about an hour and fifteen minutes schmoozing with guests, taking photos, and delivering her campaign talking points. The parties, which follow a nearly identical format and which Clinton holds in states as far flung as New York, Iowa and California, asks attendees to raise $2,700 and hosts to bring in $27,000.

A crucial measure of popular enthusiasm for Clinton, however, will not be just the amount of money she raises, but the number of small-donor donations to her campaign. In that arena she is likely to be outmatched by Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has raked in about $8 million with an average donation of around $40—which puts him at around 200,000 donors.

Clinton’s campaign has set a goal of raising $100 million to pay for the primary, a target that appears well within reach after just two-and-a-half months of fundraising and seven months to go before the Iowa caucus. The numbers have not been finalized, and the Federal Election Commission is not due to release campaigns’ intake through June 30 until the middle of July.

Clinton officials have not yet released the total number of donors that have given to the candidate as of June 30, but in an email to supporters on Tuesday evening shortly before the midnight deadline, the campaign said there were only “2,109 to go” before reaching 50,000 “grassroots donations.”

According to the campaign, much of Clinton’s donations has come from online and grassroots donations, with 91% of donations at $100 or less.

Hillary for America has also built out a robust online store that includes an array of cheeky apparel and accessories, including a “pantsuit tee” a “Chillary Clinton” beer koozie, and a “Grillary Clinton” barbecue apron. The store will allow the campaign to build out an email list as well as bring in small-dollar donations.

“The campaign has been focused on building an inclusive and diverse group of supporters at all levels,” said a Clinton official, “including longtime Clinton supporters, Obama supporters and some who have never really gotten involved in Presidential politics before.”

In a handwritten note posted on her Instagram Wednesday morning, Clinton personally thanked her donors. “Thank you so much for being part of this campaign,” she wrote. “When the road ahead is tough you need the best people by your side. That’s I’m thankful for you.”

TIME Rand Paul

Rand Paul Becomes First Major-Party Candidate to Court Pot Donors

Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during a campaign stop at an Embassy Suites hotel on June 29, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller—Getty Images Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during a campaign stop at an Embassy Suites hotel on June 29, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

DENVER (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul courted donors from the new marijuana industry Tuesday, making the Kentucky senator the first major-party presidential candidate to publicly seek support from the legal weed business.

Paul’s fundraiser at the Cannabis Business Summit — tickets started at $2,700, the maximum donation allowed for the primary contest — came as the marijuana industry approached its first presidential campaign as a legal enterprise.

The candidate entered the closed-door fundraiser through a private hallway, instead of visiting the convention floor or meeting pot business owners who weren’t donating to him.

But many of the 40 or so people who attended the fundraiser called his appearance at the summit a milestone. The campaign did not release fundraising totals.

“This is a historical moment, that our industry is now working together with a presidential candidate,” said Tripp Keber, owner of Denver-based Dixie Elixirs, which makes cannabis-infused sodas and sweets.

Another fundraiser attendee, Mitzi Vaughn of Seattle, managing attorney for a law firm that caters to pot businesses, said Paul criticized drug war-era policies but didn’t specifically say what would change if he were elected.

“Most of us, despite what others think, are in this to end the drug war,” Vaughn said.

Though legal weed business owners have been active political donors for years, presidential candidates have so far shied away from holding fundraisers made up entirely of marijuana-related entrepreneurs.

Former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson held a fundraiser with the Drug Policy Alliance in 2012 before leaving the GOP and running as a third-party candidate. But that event came before recreational pot was legal in any state.

“It really speaks to how important this issue is and how far it’s come,” said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a major sponsor of legalization campaigns in Colorado, Washington and other states.

“We’re seeing officials at the local, state and now federal level recognize this is now a legitimate industry, just like any other legal industry in many facets,” Tvert said.

Paul has embraced state marijuana experiments, while other candidates have either taken a wait-and-see approach or expressly vowed to challenge state legalization efforts.

Paul has joined Democrats in the Senate to sponsor a bill to end the federal prohibition on the use of medical marijuana. He also backs an overhaul of federal drug-sentencing guidelines, along with a measure to allow marijuana businesses to access banking services.

Asked last year whether marijuana should be legal, Paul said, “I haven’t really taken a stand on that, but I’m against the federal government telling (states) they can’t.”

TIME 2016 Election

Why 2016 Campaign Spending Is Heating Up Now

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announces his candidacy for the 2016 Presidential nomination during a rally a he Pontchartrain Center on June 24, 2015 in Kenner, Louisiana.
Sean Gardner—Getty Images Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announces his candidacy for the 2016 Presidential nomination during a rally a he Pontchartrain Center on June 24, 2015 in Kenner, Louisiana.

As candidates struggle to build national name recognition, their independent friends step in.

If you were running for president at this point in previous presidential races, your instinct was to stockpile cash. With many voters still tuned out, spending money trying to reach them this early in the cycle was wasteful, while building a large campaign war chest was a good way to scare the competition and signal to voters, the press and potential donors that you were a viable candidate. Then, when the race started in earnest in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, you’d burn through a lot of that money on TV ads, automated phone calls and mailers in an attempt to win the nomination quickly.

That’s all changed. With outside groups now able to raise and spend unlimited sums of money, crunch time is coming now, midway through the summer the year before the election. And with an ever-larger cast of characters running for the Republican nomination, candidates are having to work harder than ever to punch through the noise and make the cut for the all-important first debate.

Far from a sleepy time to build up a war chest, the coming month is do-or-die time, especially for candidates near the bottom of the crowded field of GOP hopefuls. That is why so many of the independent groups backing them are willing to spend heavily now, even if it depletes their cash on hand.

For instance, the super PAC supporting Bobby Jindal reported $461,000 going out the door on Tuesday alone to bolster his chances. The Louisiana Governor just last week joined the crowded field and has little name recognition outside of his home state. If he doesn’t improve soon, he could be shut out of the first debate, which is limited to the top 10 contenders based on an average of recent polls.

A TIME review of documents filed between June 1 and midday June 30 shows candidate-specific super PACs shelled out $1.3 million on digital ads, automated phone calls, mail pieces and telephone lines. Spending against Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton from just four outside groups totaled almost three-quarters of $1 million in June alone—a potential sign how much tea party-style Republicans despise her and establishment-minded ones fear her.

While June’s tally pales in comparison to the billions the 2016 White House race will eventually cost, it is unusual to see the outside groups spending so heavily, so soon. After all, the first chance to officially weigh-in on the GOP nominee is the Iowa caucuses scheduled for Feb. 1, 2016.

Yet these super PACs aren’t necessarily targeting the conservative activists in Iowa or New Hampshire. While a good chunk of the change spent in the last month has been there, just as much is going to boost the candidates’ profiles nationally. The super PACs give anyone with a patron with deep pockets a shot, yielding a larger field than during the pre-super PAC era. And that means the television networks hosting the coming debates needed to cull the list of participants.

Enter the super PACs, trying to remedy a problem of their own creation. Their goal is to raise familiarity with each’s preferred contender enough so that he or she qualifies for the first debate. Under the current rules, only the top 10 contenders in national polls—in a crowded field now numbering 14 and expected to climb—will make the stage on Aug. 6 in Cleveland.

It’s why boosters for Jindal, who entered the race last week, are sending cash to his main advertising firms. At the same time, supporters of Rick Perry told the FEC they accounted for $578,000 in June spending; they are trying to make sure the former Texas Governor qualifies for the debates during his second White House bid. Boosters for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas spent $13,126 during the last four weeks, too.

For others, it’s about maintaining a lead. Allies of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky reported spending $240,000 last month on 40 staffers in Iowa, $17,500 for voter contact information and phone calls, and another $3,000 on fliers to leave at potential supporters front doors.

And these totals only account for spending by super PACs, the independent groups that can raise and spend unlimited sums of cash as long as they don’t coordinate strategy with the official campaigns. A network of nonprofit, politically-minded groups are also engaged at this point. For instance, a nonprofit backing Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is running more than $1 million in ads promoting his opposition to the Obama Administration’s emerging deal with Iran on its nuclear program. Because the Conservative Solutions Project doesn’t specifically advocate for Rubio’s election, that group does not face an FEC reporting requirement.

While the race is most dynamic among the Republicans, Democrats are spending cash, too. A group backing former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley reported spending almost $56,000 on Internet ads criticizing a rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and promoting his own record.

Yet the biggest target of all the outside groups is, not surprisingly, Clinton. The former Secretary of State faced roughly $753,000 in spending against her from just four outside groups. The Tea Party Majority Fund reported $400,000 in automated phone calls from Hawaii to Maine to criticize her. The Stop Hillary PAC spent $145,000 to find potential supporters and to send them mail and online ads. The Freedom Defense Fund spent more than $130,000 in June on a national direct-mail campaign. And the Republican National Committee reported $78,000 in spending on an advertising campaign in voters’ mailboxes, as well as on Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter.

In all, June was at least a $3 million investment for the outside groups. And that number does not account for a single dime that the candidates—the folks whose names are actually on the ballot—spent.

TIME Campaign Finance

How Gridlock Is Hurting Campaign Finance Oversight

FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel confers with Commissioner Steven Walther before her first meeting at the Commission's downtown office.
Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc. FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel confers with Commissioner Steven Walther before her first meeting at the Commission's downtown office.

The Federal Election Commission, a bipartisan agency charged with enforcing and administering the nation’s campaign laws, will next month zoom past a fairly preposterous milestone given its mission: two years without anyone leading its nonpartisan legal office.

Such a power vacuum persists amid what will assuredly become the longest and most expensive presidential race in U.S. history, with candidates of all political persuasions waltzing along the increasingly blurry boundaries of what’s legal during federal elections and what’s not.

FEC commissioners parsing the legality of candidates canoodling with their supportive super PACs? Regulating so-called “dark money” flowing freely into elections?

Forget it.

The general counsel stalemate is emblematic of the FEC’s broader ideological cold war with itself, waged by commissioners who, for example, spent much of a recent public meeting debatingwhetherthey’re actually people — or, alternatively, aliens — for the decidedly odd purpose of petitioning their own gridlocked agency to write new campaign finance rules.

Three FEC employees familiar with the general counsel hiring process tell the Center for Public Integrity that conservative commissioners insist on a person who reliably supports political actors’ ability to campaign with minimal restrictions. And they don’t want a bomb-thrower who frequently clashes with them.

Liberals, for their part, refuse to back someone who won’t press for a more tightly regulated election environment. They’d particularly love a general counsel who believes the law compels all organizations — namely nonprofit groups — to reveal their donors when advocating for or against political candidates.

The FEC had, late last year, identified two potential general counsel candidates after what was already an unprecedentedly long search for a top lawyer.

But FEC commissioners couldn’t agree on one of the candidates — it takes four of the agency’s six commissioners to appoint a general counsel — and never put the person up for a formal vote.

The other general counsel candidate accepted a job elsewhere.

Since then, FEC commissioners have made no meaningful progress. Once advertised on the federal government’s jobs website, the general counsel position is no longer posted. The agency’s top Republican and Democrat acknowledged they aren’t formally considering candidates at the moment, and lawyers aren’t exactly clamoring to be hired by an agency deemed by its own leader to be “worse than dysfunctional.”

“It’s extremely demoralizing to the agency and the employees of the agency not to have anyone in this position,” said Ann Ravel, a Democrat who’s halfway through her one-year term as the FEC’s chairwoman and generally backs tighter campaign finance rules. “There was no appetite from the majority of the commission to fill that position.”

Matthew Petersen, a Republican and the FEC’s vice chairman, said that “all of us will agree it’s far from ideal not to have this position filled” and that he’ll work with fellow commissioners this summer to determine “what would be the best way now to go about filling it.”

Further complicating matters is one point on which Ravel and Petersen do agree: The general counsel job doesn’t pay nearly enough.

Congress has ignored requests by FEC commissioners to raise the position’s salary cap — it was last advertised at $147,200 per year, which is hardly workman’s wages, but far less than what prominent private-sector election lawyers make. Consider an assistant general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board stands to earn up to $183,300 annually.

Petersen and Ravel say the position’s relatively modest pay has hurt the agency’s ability to attract good candidates in the first place.

Regardless, general counsel is one of two positions at the FEC (the other is staff director) mandated by federal statutes.

It’s a powerful position. The general counsel’s many functions include overseeing the FEC’s enforcement, litigation, policy, complaints and legal administration divisions. He or she also serves as FEC commissioners’ chief nonpartisan adviser on legal issues, helping determine what matters they prioritize.

It used to be that transitions between FEC general counsels were smooth, even perfunctory.

Until now, the agency had never gone a full year without a bona fide general counsel. Typically, gaps lasted only a few months. Even during times when the FEC lacked a permanent general counsel, commissioners almost immediately designated one of their top staff lawyers as an “acting general counsel.”

And during 2011 — no less a period of ideological turbulence among liberal and conservative commissioners — the commission unanimously appointed lawyer Tony Herman as its general counsel, balancing (among other factors) his history of donating money to Democratic political candidates against his resume representing big business as a private law practitioner.

But Herman quickly grew weary of the commission’s antics. He resigned on July 5, 2013, in part frustrated by constant infighting and the body’s unwillingness to act on variety of legal recommendations his office made to it.

One particularly high-profile matter involved the Herman-led FEC general counsel’s office asserting that conservative nonprofit group Crossroads GPSlikely broke federal law by spending too much money on politics. The commission couldn’t muster the requisite four votes needed to affirm Herman’s finding — and dismissed the matter nearly three years after the FEC first began investigating it.

It also sparred with him over how much information his office could share with the Justice Department, which, unlike the FEC, has power to pursue suspected election scofflaws with criminal charges.

Herman is now again a partner at Covington & Burling LLP, one of Washington, D.C.’s more prominent law firms.

“It’s all bad — it’s bad for the agency, it’s bad for the staff, it’s bad for the public,” Herman said of the FEC operating without a general counsel. “It’s a reflection of the polarization at the agency among the commissioners.”

Other former top FEC lawyers concur with Herman.

“There was a sense of shame in the past that doesn’t exist now,” saidLawrence Noble, the FEC’s general counsel from 1987 to 2001 and now senior counsel with the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign reform organization. “It’s clear now [commissioners] don’t want anyone making recommendations they disagree with.”

Said Wamble Carlyle attorney Jim Kahl, an FEC deputy general counsel from 2002 to 2007: “Clearly, it’s going to be a challenge to find a general counsel given the state of relationships over there now.”

For now, the FEC’s general counsel duties are shared by the agency’s two deputy general counsels, Gregory R. Baker and Lisa J. Stevenson.

In addition to lacking a firm commission endorsement, Baker and Stevenson, who declined to be interviewed, are hurting for help: Two of the FEC’s three associate general counsel positions, like the general counsel post, are also vacant. They’re filled in the meantime on an “acting” basis by lower-ranking attorneys. FEC fine assessments, once in the millions of dollars annually, havedropped to historic lows.

When someone without a commission mandate assumes a general counsel’s duties, “you’ve upset the agency’s balance, and you’ve weakened the ability of that person to fulfill his or her statutory mandate,” said Larry Norton, a partner at Venable LLP who served as FEC general counsel from 2001 to 2007. “You can’t act with strength and independence.”

The size of the FEC’s Office of the General Counsel has also shrunk in recent years.

During the 2008 fiscal year, it housed the equivalent of 119 full-time positions. FEC officials confirmed that figure is now 110, with 101 of those jobs occupied.

This largely mirrors a years-long trend of staffing declines and stagnant congressional funding that only in the past year began ticking upward again.

Jason Torchinsky, a partner at the Holtzman Vogel Josefiak PLLC law firm who regularly represents conservative political clients before the FEC, singled Stevenson out for praise.

“Lisa Stevenson is doing a fine job of running [the Office of the General Counsel], moving matters along internally and dealing with the litigation and regulatory matters before the agency,” he said.

Other lawyers who regularly work with the FEC disagree.

One is Marc Elias, chairman of law firm Perkins Coie’s political law practice and general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Elias, who’s represented numerous clients including the Democratic National Committee to the FEC, says that “whatever the ideological differences the commissioners have, the legal department would run much better with a leader.”

What’s to be done about the FEC’s general counsel saga?

At the moment, the various government bodies best positioned to exert external pressure on the FEC are in little hurry to do much.

President Barack Obama could immediately nominate new commissioners, who the U.S. Senate must confirm. After all, five of the FEC’s six commissioners continue to serve despite their terms having expired, with Ravel the only one currently with an active Senate mandate.

But Obama has not floated new FEC commissioners since mid-2013, when he nominated Ravel and Republican Lee Goodman, who served as agency chairman during 2014. The White House did not respond to the question about whether Obama will attempt to this year replace current FEC commissioners.

Congress could pass a bill, such as one introduced Thursday by Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., that scraps the FEC’s six-member commission — instituted after the Watergate scandal to defend against partisans dominating the agency — for a five-member body.

An odd number of commissioners — two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent — mirrors Washington state’s reasonably collegial congressional redistricting commission and would be less prone to ideological impasses, Kilmer argues.

“The FEC today makes Congress look comparatively functional,” Kilmer told the Center for Public Integrity. “We, as taxpayers, are paying for an agency in constant gridlock. We can do better.”

But Congress, writ large, isn’t much interested in campaign finance-related bills of late. Most languish in congressional committees and never even get a vote. Kilmer, who has two Republican co-sponsors for the bill, said he’s hopeful both parties will find merit in legislation that makes a government agency more efficient.

Meanwhile, two congressional bodies — the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and the Committee on House Administration — oversee federal election matters, and by virtue, the FEC.

But neither committee has conducted an FEC oversight hearing this year, where lawmakers could formally and publicly question the agency’s commissioners. None are scheduled.

For Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the onus of appointing an FEC general counsel is on the agency’s six leaders.

“It would be preferable to have one in place,” Blunt spokesman Brian Hart said, “but the commissioners need to come to a consensus on a candidate.”

TIME Marijuana

How an Ohio Ballot Measure Could Create a Marijuana Monopoly

Hundreds of thousands of signatures are being collected to put a measure on the November ballot to legalize recreational and medical marijuana in Ohio and give only 10 companies the right to grow the drug wholesale. Here professional signature gatherer Donnie Dawson holds petition booklets he was trying to fill on a recent afternoon in Columbus.
Liz Essley Whyte—Center for Public Integrity Hundreds of thousands of signatures are being collected to put a measure on the November ballot to legalize recreational and medical marijuana in Ohio and give only 10 companies the right to grow the drug wholesale. Here professional signature gatherer Donnie Dawson holds petition booklets he was trying to fill on a recent afternoon in Columbus.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thousands of hastily scribbled signatures fill boxes in the basement of Ian James’ 7,800-square-foot restored Victorian home in the historic Franklin Park neighborhood. James needs these names to win a place on Ohio’s November ballot for a measure to legalize medical and recreational marijuana.

But the political consultant isn’t just gathering the signatures. He came up with the idea for the measure. And he recruited a lawyer to draft a constitutional amendment that would put Ohio’s future marijuana market in the hands of only 10 growers — an arrangement that critics are calling a monopoly.

Meanwhile, he plans to pay his own firm nearly $6 million to run the campaign.

Though James is an extreme example, he’s a member of a much larger and little-known class of professionals that form what could be called Ballot Measure Inc.: a powerful electoral-industrial complex funded by moneyed interests that belies the quaint notion of “citizen democracy” that such efforts are assumed to represent.

Active in the 26 states that have citizen-initiated ballot measures, the network of pollsters, direct mail specialists, lawyers, consultants, signature gatherers and voting data whizzes were paid at least $400 million for 85 statewide measures across the country in 2014, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state records. In presidential election years, state and local measures are a billion-dollar industry, said ballot initiative expert Dave McCuan.

The growth of the industry means that often only those with money can afford to get into the game. In some big states, such as California, where political consultant David Townsend estimates a controversial measure costs at least $25 million to pass, paid signature gatherers are now virtually a requirement to get on the ballot.

And this process of direct democracy sometimes appears to directly benefit only special interests: such as the Native American tribes who gave $107 million in 2008 to win measures expanding their slot machine operations in California; the agribusiness giant Monsanto, which gave $10.7 million last year to block labeling of genetically modified foods in Colorado and Oregon; or the plastics industry, which is currently fighting a plastic bag ban in California.

“The process has been captured by interests,” said McCuan, a Sonoma State University professor. “It’s been professionalized. It’s expensive.”

This has created a market filled with the promise of profits for those willing to work as mercenaries for a cause — or even come up with their own cause. James isn’t the only one known to have done so. The California lottery was famously created by signature gatherers in 1984, and a Nevada political consulting firm came up with and successfully campaigned for anti-union measures in multiple states, beginning in 2010.

“The honest and most easy response is: I am going to profit from this,” James told the Center for Public Integrity. “If people are upset about me making money, I don’t know what to say other than that that’s part of the American process. To win and make this kind of change for social justice, it does cost a lot of money.”

James’ initiative has drawn considerable heat. The measure would root the 10 marijuana growth sites to particular land parcels, which happen to be controlled by the mysterious companies funding the initiative. They would function as Ohio’s only wholesale suppliers of marijuana, selling to separate retail shops and nonprofit medical dispensaries.

James, a 49-year-old Ohio political veteran, has succeeded at this before. In 2009, he persuaded Ohioans to approve four casinos, also rooted to particular plots of land. For Responsible Ohio, as his marijuana effort is called, James wrangled together investors who are willing to bankroll a $20 million campaign, sink in an additional $20 million to buy the land and $300 million more to build facilities.

The investors have contributed through limited liability corporations with vague names such as Verdure GCE LLC and NG Green Investments LLC, offering few clues as to who’s behind them. Their hoped-for payoff? Guaranteed ownership of a wholesale marijuana market potentially worth more than $1 billion, according to a prospectus to investors outlining the Responsible Ohio campaign budget and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

And once the measure passes, James said he plans to open a consulting company helping launch marijuana retail stores.

Investing in pot

Just off Interstate 71 in Franklin County, Ohio, a 19-acre field on a two-lane road will become an oasis of legal pot if Responsible Ohio’s measure passes.

The field’s owner, Kenneth Campbell, said he signed a contract early this year to take the plot off the market and give an unknown buyer the exclusive right to purchase the field by the end of 2015. When Campbell’s name and plot of land started showing up in news reports on marijuana legalization, he was as surprised as anyone.

“People saw my name,” Campbell said. “They said, ‘Hey Ken, you’re growing some pot!’ And I said, ‘I am?’ ”

Around the state, at least four other sections of land were reserved in the same way — to LLCs that paid for the exclusive right to buy the land by the end of the year or early into 2016. All 10 land parcels will be written into the state constitution should Responsible Ohio get its way.

The Responsible Ohio campaign has trumpeted some of the investors, including minor celebrities such as Nick Lachey, former 98 Degrees boy-bander and ex-husband of singer Jessica Simpson; fashion designer Nanette Lepore; and Arizona Cardinals defensive end Frostee Rucker. Others — such as Chicago investor Ben Kovler and Dayton pain specialist Dr. Suresh Gupta — can only be found after digging through documents. These investors declined or did not respond to requests for comment for this story. James said he’s not an investor.

Responsible Ohio investor Alan Mooney, a financier who specializes in off-shore corporations, said the limited set of investors would ensure Ohio’s marijuana market has the capital to get off the ground.

“I don’t want to throw open the doors like they did in California,” he said. “I know a lot of the street people, the hippies and stoners would love that. This has got be professional business people.”

The pre-arranged, limited list of investors doesn’t sit well with some Ohioans. Words such as “monopoly,” “cartel” and “oligopoly” appear frequently in critics’ speeches and newspaper columns.

Responding to such concerns, some state legislators are working on a counter ballot measure that would block initiatives benefiting only a small group. As lawmakers, they can refer an item to the ballot without gathering signatures.

Major pro-legalization groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance also have distanced themselves from the initiative, despite supporting legalization measures in other states including Colorado, where the number of pot cultivators was not capped.

And some longtime supporters of marijuana in Ohio are actively opposing Responsible Ohio, alongside anti-drug activists.

“This is egregious to me on many levels,” said Marcie Seidel, an anti-drug activist who opposes all forms of legalization and heads Ohio’s Drug Free Action Alliance. “This is basically wealthy individuals, the 1 percent that we always hear about, that are wanting and asking us as Ohio citizens to guarantee in the constitution that they are going to make millions and millions more dollars so they can become even more wealthy.”

Behind the money

It’s not uncommon in the U.S. for moneyed interests who will benefit financially from the outcome of ballot measures to back their campaigns or opposition movements. Corporations and business trade groups gave more than three-quarters of the $266 million contributed by top donors to ballot measure groups in 2014, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis published earlier this year.

For example, in Colorado, competing casinos gave more than $36 million in a fight over a 2014 measure to expand gaming at racetracks.

And Monsanto and other food-company allies raised $36 million to successfully block measures last year to label genetically modified foods in Colorado and Oregon, while pro-labeling groups fueled by money from natural foods businesses raised $7.5 million in the two states.

Ballot measures were the darling of early 20th century progressives, who saw them as a way to circumnavigate corrupt legislatures. South Dakota became the first state to add initiatives and referenda to its constitution in 1898, borrowing from the ideas behind robust ballot measure politicking in Switzerland. By 1918, 24 states and many more cities had adopted ballot measures, according to the University of Southern California’s Initiative and Referendum Institute.

But the provisions played a minor role in American political life until 1978 when Proposition 13, California’s anti-tax initiative, heralded the “taxpayer revolt” and new popularity for ballot measures. Now, measures promoted with expensive TV ad campaigns often bankrolled by wealthy interests or activist groups are a way of life in California, where the ballot measure is most popular, followed closely by several other western states, such as Oregon, Washington and Arizona. Ohio typically sees one or two statewide measures per year.

Moneyed interests don’t always win ballot measure fights, of course. In 2010, voters rejected California’s Proposition 16 that would have made it harder for municipalities to create their own power companies, despite $46 million spent by Pacific Gas & Electric in support, and less than $100,000 spent by opponents. But if big business is going to win, it needs help to create the network that a true grassroots movement would have at the ready. That’s where the pros come in.

‘Not a process for amateurs’

At Responsible Ohio’s headquarters in James’ Victorian home, July 1 looms. That’s the day the campaign must turn in its signatures to the secretary of state — at least 305,591 to get the measure on the ballot. The team has already surpassed that number, but James is hoping to obtain 800,000 signatures and register thousands of new voters — then remind them all to go to the polls in November.

To do this, James has assembled a cadre of professionals. The prospectus for potential Responsible Ohio investors outlines a preliminary $20 million budget for the campaign: $5.6 million for signature gathering, canvassing and operations, paid to James’ firm; $702,000 for lawyers and bookkeepers; $278,000 for polling; $350,000 for public relations; $1.5 million for data analysis by veterans of Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns; $4 million for direct mail and a vote-by-mail program; $7.1 million for TV and radio advertising; and $440,000 for lobbying.

In Ohio, this is what it takes to run a ballot measure campaign: more than 500 people working full-time, and election pros running the whole show.

“This is a business,” James said. “What we’re doing in changing the constitution to legalize marijuana will lead to more than 10,000 people working in the state, billions of dollars being generated in new revenue. That money is also going to flow into local communities. But no one creates an industry of that magnitude without being paid for it.”

James has worked on eight state and local ballot measures in Ohio. He got his taste for politics as a kid going to union meetings with his mother, a teacher. Starting in high school, he volunteered or worked on about a dozen candidate campaigns, he said, and later took jobs in the Ohio statehouse and as a lobbyist for the late entertainer and casino mogul Merv Griffin. He focuses now on ballot measures and said he works 80 hours a week on Responsible Ohio’s campaign.

Many other politicos also work exclusively on ballot measures for hefty price tags. Barry Fadem, a California-based attorney, has spent his three-decade career writing ballot measure language. His clients typically need to spend $100,000 even before the measure is filed with the state, he said, just to conduct opinion polls, hire consultants to start organizing the campaign and pay him to craft the legalese.

“The initiative process is just not a process for amateurs,” Fadem said. “It’s really not. Because it’s so hard to win.”

Some industry members claim only to work for causes they care about, but most combine work that supports their political principles with work that lines their pocketbooks, taking on gambling, land-use or other types of measures that pay well.

But industry members said they aren’t getting rich. Michael Arno leads a major signature gathering company, Arno Petition Consultants, that has been paid more than $9.5 million since 2010, according to data from the Lucy Burns Institute and state records.

“If I had a nickel for every nickel people thought I’d had, I’d be retired by now,” he said. “We go through long stretches we don’t have any work.Bottom of Form

Foot soldiers

With clipboards and pens in hand, Donnie Dawson stood on the sidewalk outside the Franklin County Government Center on a recent afternoon, calling to people shuffling into the revolving doors to pay speeding tickets and lawyers leaving to catch a smoke break.

“Legalize marijuana, bro?” he called out to a man in bright red pants.

“I don’t smoke,” the man said as he kept walking. “I sell.”

The man had a point: His current illegal business would be doomed under Responsible Ohio’s initiative, because only the 10 for-profit companies that are also funding the campaign would be allowed to grow and sell pot wholesale, though others could set up retail shops.

But voters may not know that from listening to Dawson try to collect their signatures. “Basically the 10 companies are for the nonprofit medical marijuana, for research for the medical marijuana,” said Dawson when asked what he tells potential signers curious about the alleged monopoly. “They’re there to do the research and invent different strands of weed to help.”

That leaves out a piece of the picture. Though it’s true the 10 wholesalers would supply nonprofit medical dispensaries, the wholesalers are presently organized as for-profit LLCs and would also supply for-profit retailers. “While maybe not artful, it is accurate,” James said of Dawson’s words.

A stream of Ohioans signed Dawson’s petition. None of them read the entire 24-page measure; many of them didn’t seem bothered by the wealthy investors behind it.

“It goes hand in hand. It’s kind of like Philip Morris and cigarette companies,” said 36-year-old warehouse employee Jorrel Carse, who also said he didn’t know much about the petition when he signed it. “It’s all just a part of business.”

Josh Sword, a construction worker and self-described “street pharmacist,” said he has grown marijuana in the past and would grow it again if Responsible Ohio’s measure passed.

Ohio’s potential marijuana market even inspired a copycat measure. But the Better for Ohio group seeks to authorize 40 growth facilities instead of just 10. The right to operate those sites would go to owners of certain $100 bills, with their serial numbers listed in the ballot measure. Better for Ohio said it would assign ownership of the bills at a later date.

The backers of the measure aren’t joking — they hired Arno’s California-based firm to gather signatures but will be aiming for the 2016 ballot after running out of money to pay Arno to qualify this year.

Massive signature drives, though fraught with claims of fraud and deception over the years, remain the hallmark of the initiative process. Though some measures can still rely on volunteers for the labor-intensive job, at least $20 million was paid to 21 firms gathering signatures for the 2014 ballot, according to data from the Lucy Burns Institute and state records.

But Dawson, a professional signature gatherer, isn’t making millions. The 42-year-old father of five did not say how much he makes, but James said signature gatherers are paid a base rate of $9.50 per hour, with the chance to earn more if they bring in many valid signatures.

Voices unheard

Responsible Ohio is attracting a motley crew of opponents, from anti-drug activists to pro-pot voters hoping to get other, less restrictive versions of marijuana legalization on the ballot.

Mary Smith, a marijuana activist and the former owner of what she called a “run-of-the-mill hippie department store” in Toledo, said she isn’t backing it because she doubts Responsible Ohio’s wealthy investors have genuine empathy for medical marijuana patients.

“This is completely about greed,” she said.

But so far opponents are without a broad coalition and have yet to muster significant funding to go up against the $20 million campaign from Responsible Ohio. Anti-drug activist Seidel said she thinks some sort of opposition group will form but doesn’t know where the money will come from.

Vermilion resident Aaron Weaver and about 20 other pro-pot critics of Responsible Ohio are trying to put up a fight. In April, they formed a new nonprofit, Citizens Against Responsible Ohio.

So far the group exists as a website, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. And they are paying out of their own pockets to promote Facebook posts criticizing the measure. Encouraged solely by a tweet from comedian Drew Carey, an Ohio native who voiced skepticism about Responsible Ohio’s plan, Weaver drafted a letter asking him for money. “With your assistance, we can turn the tide and put a stop to these well-polished thugs in their tracks,” Weaver’s letter reads.

In an initiative process intended to be the voice of the people, the people are struggling to find the money to get their voices heard, while moneyed interests can afford to pay top dollar for the ballot professionals. It’s an irony not lost on the professionals themselves.

“To be quite honest, it’s a lucrative business, but there are certainly questions we all have about the efficiency, and what’s good for democracy and what’s not,” said Paul Maslin, a pollster who has worked on initiatives for 20 years. “Because let’s face it: Sometimes ballot measures can be the purview of special interest groups that may not be linked up with the public interest.”

Others are unmoved, even upon hearing that Ian James plans to pay his own firm $5.6 million to promote the idea he created.

“It’s America,” said David Bruno, an Akron-based consultant who has helped James attract investors. “Good for him. And for the people that want to criticize that, it’s a shame they didn’t try to do it first.”

But for Weaver, Responsible Ohio would crush his version of the American dream: opening a marijuana farm that would double as his business and a retirement plan for his parents if legalization ever came to Ohio.

“It’s an absolutely unfair fight,” the 28-year-old administrative assistant said. “It’s a perversion of our process in the state of Ohio and I think any state, really. I mean putting your business plan into the constitution of a state? That’s unheard of. That’s ridiculous.”

Data reporter Ben Wieder contributed to this story.

This story is from The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative media organization in Washington, D.C. Read more of its investigations on the influence of money in politics or follow it on Twitter.

TIME jeb bush

Florida Politicians Back Jeb Bush’s Super PAC

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, speaks during a campaign stop outside a residence in Washington, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 17, 2015.
Bloomberg via Getty Images Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, speaks during a campaign stop outside a residence in Washington, Iowa, on Wednesday, June 17, 2015.

A sneak peek at his fundraising haul

The earliest donors to Republican Jeb Bush’s pre-presidential campaign machine include prominent Florida politicians, the state’s chamber of commerce and even a labor union, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of Florida campaign finance filings.

Together, these Sunshine State lawmakers and special interests have donated nearly $250,000 to a controversial super PAC that Bush, a former Florida governor, controlled prior to his formal presidential announcement on Monday.

The pro-Bush Right to Rise super PAC has not yet filed reports with the Federal Election Commission detailing its funders, and it won’t until next month.

The state campaign finance disclosures reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity offer a preview, however limited, of who in a crowded presidential election field has already committed cash to Team Jeb.

Among the most generous Florida-based political groups already backing Bush: The Committee for a Stronger Florida, which is associated with former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

To date, it has given $75,000 to Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC. Weatherford has praised Bush for having “one of the most successful records as governor of anybody I’ve ever seen.”

In February, Weatherford was also among the hosts of a fundraiser for the Right to Rise super PAC staged at the Grand Hyatt in Tampa, Florida, according to a copy of an invitation obtained by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates for government transparency.

Weatherford’s Committee for a Stronger Florida, in turn, has collected most of its money since its inception last July from the Florida Republican Party.

Meanwhile, the Treasure Coast Alliance, operated by influential Republican state Sen. Joe Negron — who is vying to be the next Senate president — has donated $51,000 to Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC, records show.

And the PAC of Florida’s current GOP House Speaker Steve Crisafulli — known as Growing Florida’s Future — has donated $25,000.

Other Florida Republicans whose PACs have donated to Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC during the year’s first five months include:

  • state Rep. Seth McKeel ($13,000)
  • Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam ($10,000)
  • state Sen. Jack Latvala ($5,000)
  • state Sen. Wilton Simpson ($5,000)
  • state Rep. Dana Young ($5,000)
  • state Rep. Brad Drake ($1,000)
  • and state Sen. Anitere Flores ($1,000)

Additional donors to the pro-Bush super PAC include political groups run by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Professional Firefighters labor union and the health care industry.

Prior to his presidential announcement, Bush for months traveled the country raising money for his Right to Rise super PAC — which last week was renamed Right to Rise USA — and a companion political action committee also called Right to Rise.

People on both the left and right have criticized Bush for working too closely with these purportedly independent groups, which are now prohibited from coordinating their expenditures with Bush since he officially declared his candidacy. The groups are run by close Bush surrogates who are familiar with his campaign plans and objectives.

The Associated Press recently reported that an internal firewall between the campaign and the super PAC went into effect on June 4.

The Sunlight Foundation has obtained invitations for more than three-dozen fundraisers for the Right to Rise super PAC, which reportedly hopes to raise as much as $100 million by the end of June. Officials with the super PAC have derided that figure as inaccurate but stressed that the group’s first campaign finance filing next month will show “very formidable numbers.”

By law, super PACs are allowed to accept contributions of unlimited size from individuals, companies, labor unions and other groups.

Bush’s official presidential campaign committee, in contrast, is barred from accepting direct contributions from labor unions and companies, while contributions from individuals are capped at $2,700 and donations from PACs are capped at $5,000.

This story is from The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative media organization in Washington, D.C. Read more of their investigations on the influence of money in politics or follow them on Twitter.

TIME Hillary Clinton

White House Race Has Already Sparked $1 Million in Negative Ads

Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the Inaugural Barbara Jordan Gold Medallion at Texas Southern University on June 4, 2015 in Houston, Texas.
Thomas Shea—Getty Images Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the Inaugural Barbara Jordan Gold Medallion at Texas Southern University on June 4, 2015 in Houston, Texas.

Nearly all of it was spent against Hillary Clinton

The 2016 presidential election has already unleashed more than $1 million in negative ads, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of federal campaign finance filings.

Only 515 more days until Election Day. In the meantime, expect the price of presidential mudslinging to rapidly hit eight, then eventually nine figures, as the already crowded race for the White House escalates.

To date, nearly all of the negativity has been directed at Democratic Party frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who announced her candidacy in mid-April.

This month alone, Clinton has been attacked by the Republican National Committee and a host of other conservative groups, including the Stop Hillary PAC and the Citizens United Super PAC.

“Getting in early was the only way to go given the enormity of the opposition,” said Dan Backer, treasurer of the Stop Hillary PAC.

“That strategic move will ultimately help defeat her,” Backer continued. “A lot of groups have recognized the coming storm and are getting themselves and their audiences ready.”

Clinton campaign staffers did not immediately respond to a request for comment, although Clinton supporters have launched a massive, rapid-response operation called Correct the Record.

And other left-leaning political groups, including the Democratic National Committee, have turned Clinton’s embattlement into fundraising opportunities of their own.

Johanna Dunaway, an associate professor of political science and mass communication at Louisiana State University, said early advertisements are important for several reasons, including fundraising and establishing a candidate’s reputation.

“Early ads are critical to defining candidates and what they are all about — from their personal bio to their policy positions,” she said.

 

So far, just one Republican candidate — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — has been targeted by attack ads, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission by party committees, nonprofits, political action committees and super PACs.

Not captured by these reports: so-called “issue ads” that cast candidates and their policy positions in a negative light that are not disclosed to federal election regulators this early in the campaign process.

Huckabee has witnessed about $100,000 spent against him so far — all by the conservative Club for Growth, an anti-tax organization that has played a prominent role in the careers of several of Huckabee’s Republican rivals, including Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.

Earlier this year, David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, warned that his group would “make sure that Republican primary voters thoroughly examine [Huckabee’s] exceptionally poor record.”

In an email, Club for Growth spokesman Doug Sachtleben stressed that the Club for Growth had not officially endorsed anyone in the race but praised Cruz, Paul and Rubio for having “walked the talk.”

Huckabee has long feuded with the Club for Growth, which he says has “utterly misrepresented, distorted and outright lied” about his record as governor.

Huckabee could also face trouble from a new super PAC, Truth Squad 2016, which was formed this week by 2012 Republican presidential also-ran Fred Karger. The committee’s organizational paperwork specifically names Huckabee as a candidate it exists to oppose.

Some political groups, however, are opting to introduce their preferred candidates in a positive light.

Paul, the libertarian-leaning senator from Kentucky, for instance, has benefited from super PAC Concerned Voters for America spending more than $250,000 on field organizers to promote his campaign.

Concerned Voters for America has, in the past, received the bulk of its funding from a nonprofit organization that grew out of the failed 2008 presidential campaign of his father, former Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

Meanwhile, Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas who announced his presidential run on June 4, has been praised in more than $200,000 worth of TV ads in Iowa this month by a supportive super PAC called the Opportunity and Freedom PAC.

Jordan Russell, a spokesman for the group, said the ad buy was a “chance to reintroduce Gov. Perry’s record to voters” and was a way to help Perry “build momentum.”

Furthermore, Cruz, the Texas senator beloved by many tea party activists, has been lauded to the tune of about $50,000 to date by a political action committee called Make DC Listen, a name that stems from a popular phrase in his speeches.

Make DC Listen is led by John Drogin, who managed Cruz’s 2012 U.S. Senate campaign, when he unexpectedly prevailed over GOP establishment favorite David Dewhurst.

Overall, groups not controlled by the candidates have spent about half as much on positive ads so far this year — roughly $575,000 — as negative ones, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis.

Most presidential candidates will file their first campaign finance reports with the FEC next month.

TIME Campaign Finance

Senate Bill Would Limit Lobbyists From Bundling Campaign Donations

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, D, joined other law makers during a walk though inspection of the new VA hospital construction site in Aurora, April 24, 2015.
RJ Sangosti—Copyright - 2015 The Denver Post, MediaNews Group U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, D, joined other law makers during a walk though inspection of the new VA hospital construction site in Aurora, April 24, 2015.

Sen. Michael Bennet, former leader of the Democratic Party’s Senate campaign arm, is sponsoring a bill that would make his successor’s job even harder.

Under Bennet’s leadership, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee accumulated nearly three times as much “bundled” money from lobbyists than its counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal campaign finance filings.

The DSCC reported raising roughly $4.3 million from lobbyist-bundlers during 2013 and 2014, compared to $1.5 million reported by the NRSC.

But Bennet’s bill would severely limit high-octane lobbyists’ ability to “bundle” campaign contributions — the act of raising money from people and delivering it to campaigns in one bundle. It’s a move that could further handicap his party’s effort at next year winning back a Senate majority — and has invited cries of hypocrisy from Republicans.

Matt Connelly, a spokesman for the NRSC, said the legislation shows Bennet “says one thing and has done another on the issue.” Connelly declined to comment on the substance of Bennet’s bill.

Sadie Weiner, the DSCC’s national press secretary, declined to comment on Bennet’s proposal. The office of Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who now leads the DSCC, did not respond to a question about whether the DSCC will continue to accept unlimited money from lobbyist-bundlers.

Asked whether Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, would personally continue to accept contributions bundled by lobbyists, Bennet spokesman Adam Bozzi said the senator wishes campaign finance rules were different and is fighting for reforms, but “until then he will continue to abide by the rules.”

In an emailed statement, Bennet himself said members of Congress’s attention has for too long “been distorted toward lobbyists and special interests, rather than the people who elected them and they represent … we can take significant steps to returning the power to the American people by preventing members of Congress from chasing down tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists while they should be doing their jobs.”

Already, lobbyists who raise above a certain threshold must be identified by campaigns on reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Bundlers who are not lobbyists are not required to be publicly disclosed.

Bennet’s legislation would require lobbyists to count money they raise from other people against their own personal contribution limits, which vary for different kinds of political committees.

For example, a lobbyist could only bundle up to $2,700 for a single federal candidate per election.

Beyond restricting how much money lobbyists may bundle, Bennet’s bill would also prohibit members of Congress and candidates from soliciting contributions from registered lobbyists while Congress is in session. It would furthermore force more people to register as lobbyists by eliminating certain regulatory thresholds.

Bennet, who faces re-election in 2016, introduced similar legislation during the 113th Congress, but it failed to even reach the Senate floor for a vote.

Several groups that promote campaign finance and lobbying reform, including Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center and the League of Women Voters, have endorsed the bill.

But the legislation’s prospects are equally dim this time around, Bennet and others acknowledged. A divided Congress has been unable to pass almost any campaign finance or ethics bills of late.

Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, which advocates for campaign finance and lobbying reform, said he expects the 2016 elections to be the “ messiest federal election that we’ve ever seen,” which could spark new calls for reform.

“Hopefully, some action will come of it later,” Holman said.

At least some lobbyists wouldn’t mind if the bill passed.

“I’m in favor of banning not just lobbyist bundling but lobbyist contributions” said Tony Podesta, the founder of lobbying firm the Podesta Group.

Podesta, a high-profile Democratic donor whose dozens of clients include Google, T-Mobile and Wal-Mart, bundled nearly half a million dollars for the DSCC during the 2014 election cycle. That’s more than any other single lobbyist bundled for the committee.

Asked about the legislation’s odds of passing, Podesta wryly nodded at lawmakers’ historic reluctance to pass legislation limiting their own ability to raise money.

“I would say they are 2,700 to one.”

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit investigative news organization based in Washington, D.C. For more political investigations, go here, or follow the Center for Public Integrity on Twitter.

TIME Hillary Clinton

Half of Hillary Clinton’s Speaking Fees Came From Groups Also Lobbying Congress

Hillary Clinton Campigns In Iowa, Meeting With Small Business Owners
Scott Olson—Getty Images Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts a small business forum with members of the business and lending communities at the Bike Tech bicycle shop on May 19, 2015 in Cedar Falls, IA.

Groups with giant lobbying budgets gave Clinton big speaking fees ahead of 2016 presidential campaign

Almost half of the money from Hillary Clinton’s speaking engagements came from corporations and advocacy groups that were lobbying Congress at the same time.

The Democratic presidential candidate earned $10.2 million in 2014, her first full calendar year after leaving the State Department. Of that, $4.6 million came from groups that also spent on lobbying Congress that year, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

In all, the corporations and trade groups that Clinton spoke to in 2014 spent $72.5 million lobbying Congress that same year.

Asked Tuesday if there were conflicts of interest in speaking to these groups, Clinton was curt with reporters in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “No,” she said.

“Obviously, Bill and I have been blessed and we’re very grateful for the opportunities that we had but we’ve never forgotten where we’ve come from,” she added.

But the speaking fees were more about where they were going next.

Name 2014 Lobbying Spending Clinton Speaking Fee
General Electric $20,085,000 $225,500
Biotechnology Industry Organization $10,186,000 $335,500
Qualcomm Inc $9,530,000 $125,000
Pharmaceutical Care Management Assn $4,284,916 $225,500
National Auto Dealers Assn $3,657,000 $225,500
Cisco Systems $3,450,000 $325,000
Advanced Medical Technology Association $3,392,000 $265,000
Ameriprise Financial $3,390,000 $225,500
Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals $3,008,000 $125,000
eBay Inc $2,544,325 $315,000
Xerox Corp $1,435,000 $225,000
Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries $1,380,000 $225,500
Premier Health Alliance $1,258,696 $225,000
Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers $1,083,180 $225,500
United Fresh Produce Assn $1,040,000 $225,000
Salesforce.Com $610,000 $451,000
National Council for Behavioral Health $600,356 $225,500
Corning Inc $600,000 $225,500
Deutsche Bank AG $600,000 $280,000
California Medical Association $350,000 $100,000
Total $72,484,473 $4,575,000

For critics, the arrangement shows that many of people who booked an appearance saw it as another way to gain influence with a leading contender to become the next President.

“It’s big money. They’re spending it because they have far greater sums riding on those decisions that they’re trying to shape,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “Corporations or associations must justifiably make these investments because everyone knew for many years that Clinton would always remain a power broker. Every man or woman on the street thought Hillary Clinton would run again.”

As with routine political donations, it’s hard to suss out a direct cause-and-effect from the speaking fees.

Take the Pacific trade deal being negotiated by President Obama. In all, groups and corporations that are pushing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership to be approved spent almost $3 million to hear from Clinton. The signatories to one pro-trade letter, dated March 2014, paid more than $1 million in speaking fees in 2014.

Yet Clinton, who backed the deal as Secretary of State, has since hedged her support in light of criticism from liberal stalwarts such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Critics argue that the harm comes from the perception of improper influence rather than from textbook-definition corruption.

“Some of the damage is already done,” said Larry Noble, a former counsel to the Federal Election Commission and a current adviser to the reform-minded Campaign Legal Center. “It undermines the credibility of our elected officials. Let’s say she becomes President and she takes a position that is pro-Wall Street. Even if she in her heart of hearts believes it’s the right way to go … people won’t believe it.”

The speaking fees were not the only way that companies and trade groups sought to curry influence with Clinton.

San Francisco-based tech company Salesforce.com, which backs the trade deal, paid Clinton $451,000 for speeches in February and October of 2014. Separately, its employees gave the grassroots Ready for Hillary group $55,250. (By contrast, it spent a relatively modest $610,000 lobbying Congress.)

And Cisco, the San Jose-based technology company, paid Clinton $325,000 for a speech in Las Vegas and spent another almost $3.5 million lobbying in 2014. That same year, it again gave to the Clinton Foundation, brining its cumulative total to somewhere between $1 million and $5 million. The Foundation does not detail annual contributions and reports lifetime totals only in broad ranges.

To be sure, there is nothing illegal or improper about a retired politician giving a speech. Ex-government officials hit the speaking circuit and write memoirs all the time. Clinton’s predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, earned $150,000 for some of her speeches after her four years as Secretary of State under Republican President George W. Bush.

“The idea of leaving office and giving speeches is not new. What’s new is that you may come back to office,” Noble said. “If she had retired after being Secretary of State, there’d be much less issue with it.”

Source: Center for Responsive Politics, Hillary Clinton – Personal Financial Disclosures (2014).
With reporting from Tessa Berenson, Michael Scherer, Pratheek Rebala and Chris Wilson

TIME Campaign Finance

Meet the Man Who Invented the Super PAC

David Keating of the Center for Competitive Politics testifies during a Senate hearing highlighting abuses in the public financing of campaigns on May 7, 2013, in Albany, N.Y.
Mike Groll—AP David Keating of the Center for Competitive Politics testifies during a Senate hearing highlighting abuses in the public financing of campaigns on May 7, 2013, in Albany, N.Y.

The plaintiff in a landmark campaign finance case wants to loosen regulations even further

The mastermind behind the super PAC has no regrets. “My only regret is the backlash,” David Keating says with a wry smile.

Keating is one of the most influential political activists you’ve never heard of. He was the architect of a federal lawsuit that ended in a landmark 2010 court ruling that reshaped the way elections are run. The case, SpeechNow.org vs. FEC, scrapped annual limits on individual contributions to campaign advocacy groups, ushering in the era of super PACs—political-action committees that can raise unlimited sums as long as they don’t coordinate directly with parties or candidates.

Five years later, campaigns are only beginning to harness the power of Keating’s creation. In the 2016 presidential race, virtually all of the candidates will have companion super PACs, many of which will wield more influence than the campaigns themselves. Candidates have leveraged super PACs to supercharge fundraising, pay for staff salaries and trips to primary states and even assume the duties once reserved for the campaigns themselves, from running TV ads and organizing supporters to direct mail campaigns and digital microtargeting.

Many of these innovations have surprised Keating, a soft-spoken man with a graying beard. But he delights in watching how, year by year, political strategists are using super PACs to refine the mechanics of elections. Using a super PAC specifically to promote a candidate “just never entered my mind,” he says. “But it’s totally obvious when you think about it.”

Not everyone is so sanguine about the impact of his creation. Political critics, campaign-finance watchdogs and even some candidates argue that super PACs have invited an avalanche of outside spending that gives the wealthy outsize influence and makes a mockery of the limits established by the FEC.

“We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all,” Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton said recently. But it’s a sign of the super PAC’s power that Clinton has nonetheless embraced a group of her own. Despite her stated objections, she plans to personally court influential donors, according to the New York Times.

Keating celebrates such changes. A longtime conservative activist, he believes in an unfettered right to political speech, and decries caps on campaign donations as an infringement of First Amendment rights. Now the president of the Center for Competitive Politics, an independent group that works to loosen campaign-finance regulations, he says his mission was “to do for the First Amendment what the NRA did for the Second.”

Keating casts super PACs as a better way for ordinary citizens to organize and exercise their First Amendment rights. “It comes down to speech,” he says. “If you don’t like [others’] speech, start your own group and talk to people.” And he argues a system that allows the super-rich to pump a gusher of cash into elections is a testament to a thriving democracy.

“That’s how we elected all our great presidents,” he told TIME in an interview Tuesday in his office in Alexandria, Va., ticking off leaders from Lincoln to Eisenhower who took office after elections held under looser campaign-finance regulations. “Rich people have always had the ability to spend whatever they want.”

SpeechNow came on the heels of Citizens United, its more-celebrated brethren in the annals of campaign-finance deregulation. “After Citizens, our case became a total slam dunk,” he says. Though lesser known, SpeechNow significantly widened the impact of Citizens, making it the arguably the more important of the two landmark cases. The combination paved the way for an election that has already seen significant evolutions in super PAC usage.

The two most interesting innovations in 2016, Keating says, have been the quartet of interlinked super PACs backing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and the approach taken by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has delayed his campaign launch to stockpile his Right to Rise PAC. The group has effectively supplanted Bush’s campaign-in-waiting as the hub of his political operation. “What Jeb is doing takes a lot of discipline” due to the prohibitions on direct coordination, Keating notes, though says he is confident that Bush’s lawyers have kept him on the right side of the law.

Though a staunch conservative—he was formerly an executive at groups like the National Taxpayers Union and the Club for Growth—Keating appears to admire the political innovations of the super PAC era no matter where they come from. He notes that Correct the Record, a research group originally formed to defend Clinton, has relaunched as a pro-Clinton super PAC that says it is able to coordinate with the likely Democratic nominee because it will restrict itself from paid media campaigns.

“Here is another innovation–a Super PAC that can legally coordinate with a candidate,” he wrote in an email Tuesday evening. “The reason why they can do that is because they will not make any public communications, as defined in the regulations. Mass mailings do not include e-mail.

“Clever,” he concluded.

But maybe not. About an hour later he emailed again. “This … issue is actually pretty complicated,” he noted, “and it’s not clear they can do what they say they want to do. There isn’t enough detail about their plans to determine if what they plan to do is OK or not.”

It seemed a fitting testament to the murkiness of this new campaign-finance landscape that even its creator can’t always be sure what’s legal.

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