Single-candidate super PACs represented 45 percent of all super PACs that spent at least $100,000 during this election cycle, a new Public Citizen report shows.
The report is the latest installment in a series Public Citizen began in October 2012 critiquing the assumption by the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that outside spending groups are by their nature independent of candidates and political parties.
In Citizens United, the court used this rationale to justify striking down the law prohibiting corporations and unions from spending money from their treasuries to influence elections. The decision led to the advent of super PACs and 501(c) groups that may accept unlimited contributions and use them to influence elections.
Public Citizen released its report in conjunction with a symposium being held today in Washington, D.C., at which eight public interests groups are unveiling research piece on the problem of money in politics.
Although outside groups may not legally coordinate with candidates, decisions by them to devote all of their resources to aiding a single congressional candidate strongly suggest that they are not truly independent. Revelations of ties between many of the personnel behind the groups and the candidates they aided confirm those suspicions.
“The prevalence of single-candidate outside groups, often run by their friends and former consultants, further discredits the Supreme Court’s assumption that unregulated groups would operate independently of the people they support,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and co-author of the report.
Public Citizen’s analysis was limited to groups that spent at least $100,000, which accounted for 99 percent of the spending of unregulated groups – those that are permitted to accept unlimited contributions. The report, titled “Super Connected (2014): Outside Electioneering Groups’ Ties to Candidates and Parties Discredit Foundational Premise of U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United Decision,” shows that:
- At least 61 super PACs devoted all of their resources to backing a single congressional candidate in the 2014 midterm elections.
- At least 66 unregulated groups – including 501(c) nonprofit organizations – spent in support of only one candidate in the 2014 elections. These groups spent a combined $71 million during the election cycle.
Public Citizen also found that an additional eight outside groups with especially deep loyalties to the national parties combined to spend 31 percent of the total spent by all unregulated groups in the 2014 cycle. The unregulated groups that Public Citizen characterizes as “party-aligned” were often formed by former employees of the national parties or congressional leaders. Some of the groups admit that their chief mission is to elect a party’s candidates for office.
Spending by single-candidate and these party-aligned groups represented 45 percent of the money spent by unregulated groups.
Real-world examples highlight how the single-candidate super PACs are linked to candidates:
- All of the $10.2 million that Put Alaska First spent in the 2014 cycle was to support U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) or undermine his opponents. The super PAC was founded by Jim Lottsfeldt, a childhood friend of Begich who had worked for Begich’s campaign for mayor and discussed setting up the super PAC with Begich.
- Kentuckians for Strong Leadership devoted all of the $6.4 million it spent to oppose U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) opponent. A major player on the super PAC’s board was Steven Law, who ran McConnell’s first reelection campaign and later became his chief of staff.
- All the $1.1 million spent by Texans for a Conservative Majority went to oppose U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) primary opponent. The group’s founder, Randy Cubriel, worked for Cornyn in several capacities, as did Cubriel’s wife.
“Unregulated groups that are essentially extensions of the candidates and parties just serve to subvert existing contribution limits,” said Andrew Perez, a researcher for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and report co-author.