Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Big Donors to Big Super PACs

The Republican Presidential candidates recently released their funding disclosures to the Federal Election Committee current to the end of December 2011.  In this posting, I will focus on the finances for Mitt Romney's Super PAC Restore Our Future, Inc., outline the key donors and how much was spent and received over the past six months.

Here is a screen capture showing the overall financial situation of Restore Our Future on December 31, 2011:

Between July 1 and December 31, 2011, this Romney-supportive Super PAC raised $17.95 million, building on cash on hand at the beginning of the period of $12.21 million.  This gave the Super PAC total assets of $30.16 million.  During the six month period, Restore Our Future spent $6.54 million (mostly on negative advertising), leaving a balance of “only” $23.62 million.  Looking at a summary for the list of donors, we find that a mere 199 transactions raised $17,947,952.77 for an average of $90,190.71 per donor.  I'll break down the donations a bit further later in this posting for your illumination.

When looking through the expenditures, it's interesting to see who benefited during the six month period.  Arena Communications, a Salt Lake City-based political direct mailing firm received $453,001.25 for direct mail services related to mail outs opposing Newt Gingrich.  McCarthy Hennings Media, Inc. of Washington, D.C. received $127,005.94 for media production.  However large as these expenditures may seem, the big one is yet to come.  Mentzer Media Services Inc. of Towson Maryland was the lottery winner, they received a massive $3,536,265 for purchasing media time to oppose Mr. Gingrich (along with Mr. Perry on two media campaigns).  That's a total of $4,116,273,81 spent to oppose a single candidate!  In two states! (other than the $102,000 or less than 2.5 percent that was spent in South Carolina).

Now let's take a look at the major donors.  For this chart, I selected only the donors that contributed $250,000 or more in the six month period (recalling that the average American family brings in about $51,000 annually):

There were 26 donors that contributed one quarter of a million dollars or more, including 4 individuals that contributed a hefty $1,000,000 each.  As well, Melaleuca, through its four international subsidiaries, contributed an additional $1,000,000.  All told, these 26 contributors added $11,475,000 to the coffers of Restore Our Future, Inc. or 64 percent of the total raised over six months with each contributor donating an average of $441,346.15 or about 4.6 times the net worth of an average American household.

You'll notice that there are two names in bold.  According to Forbes, these individuals are billionaires.  The two on the big donor list are accompanied by 8 others who were not quite as generous including Kenneth C. Griffin, Walmart heirs Alice and Jim Walton, Sam Zell, Paul Tudor Jones II, Stephen M. Ross, Steven Roth and Mark J. Rowan.

Now let's pick out a few of the interesting donors who didn't make the big donor list.  First up, Consol Energy Inc., a coal mining company based in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania that donated $150,000 to Restore Our Future on August 15, 2011.  I was rather surprised to see this one on Mr. Romney's list especially when one considers that Rick Santorum was a "consultant" for the company.  Mr. Santorum's  Public Financial Disclosure reveals that he was paid just over $142,000 in consulting fees by Consol in the prior year.  I guess Consol thought that it would be wise to hedge their bet!

Here's another odd one.  Debra Barnes, a Dover Massachusetts homemaker donated a rather hefty $125,000 on July 19th, 2011.  That noted, she seems to share an address with one Stephen Barnes who, oddly enough is a Managing Director at Bain Capital.  He also donated $125,000.  Needless to say, I lumped them together as a $250,000 donation and put them on my big donor list.

One last donor.  Gary Chartrand of Acosta Sales and Marketing actually spent time with the "Big Guy" and bought him lunch at the exclusive and private River Club - a $260.01 lunch.  Gary Chartrand just happens to be the Executive Chairman of Acosta, a leading marketing agency serving consumer packaged goods companies and retailers across Canada and the United States.  Oh yes, and he also donated $50,000.

One thing that did surprise me while I was looking through the list of donors was finding that there are still a few very small, obviously Main Street Americans donors among the elite.  For example, Jon Byron an investor from Reno, Nevada donated $25.00 and retiree Dan Habel of Seal Beach, California donated $25.00 find themselves among a handful of small donors.  More power to them; we may not necessarily agree with their political viewpoint, but it's very hard to argue with their motivation.

It really is quite disconcerting to see just how elitist the political world in the United States has become. With average Super PAC donations of over $90,000 to Restore Our Future in the last six months, there are very few Main Street Americans that would find themselves among the influential when their candidate reaches the White House.  Certainly, Main Street Americans are not so naive that they believe that a donor that makes even a $1000 donation is going to have the same political influence as those who make donations that are in excess of a quarter of a million dollars to any candidate of any political persuasion.  While each vote does have the same value on election day, in the end, after all the votes are counted and the President is elected, each voter does not have the same value and that is where the system needs to be changed.

1 comment:

  1. As an example of the harm created by special interest influence, the banking deregulation and other policies that led to our current economic hardships resulted mainly from lobbying of both Democrats and Republicans by corporations involved in finance and housing. And I suspect that our decisions about if (and for how long) we wage wars are influenced by defense contractors. I'm sure there are many more possible examples.

    People blame the campaign donation money, the two main political parties, the lobbyists, the PACs, the corporate interests, etc.

    But if you really trace the problem back to its source, those are not the root problem. The voters themselves are.

    Public discussion about campaign finance usually has the unspoken assumption that voters won't consider a candidate who does not have tons of advertising and endorsements. That does not have to be true, especially because voters can use Google to easily learn about all the available candidates, and give them equal consideration. Granted, this requires people without Internet-connected devices to go find a way to access the Web. It also requires people to figure out what to type into the Google search box (something like "Presidential candidates"?), and how to dig through the results. My opinion is that it's reasonable to demand that effort of anyone who will bother to vote; people who can't be bothered to look at the full range of choices should not vote.

    There's a saying: "In every democracy, the people get the government they deserve". We're getting abused because we choose the wrong representatives. It's our fault, and it's our responsibility to change that.

    There's also a saying in business: "Management is always to blame." In a republic, the voters are the topmost level of management, because they choose the politicians.

    Instead of considering only Romney and one or two other candidates, Republican voters could broaden their choices to consider somebody like this:
    Notice his $100 donation limit. We must vote for that kind of candidate, to eliminate corruption. And he's a former governor, so it's not like he's an inexperienced oddball.

    If I were a Republican, maybe I would keep casting protest votes for somebody like that, and hope that other voters also will rebel one of these years.

    But the Republican Party would spend corporate donations on his behalf, if he won his party's nomination. He might be mindful of that support, and feel pressured to reward it. So we really need a centrist third party (so both Democrats and Republicans might tolerate voting for its candidates) that refuses all special interest money. Until that happens, I'll keep casting protest votes for random minor party candidates.

    The great problem for that kind of candidate is that he will be thoroughly outspent by candidates who accept influence money and buy lots of mainstream media advertising. Because too many unthinking or lazy voters only consider heavily promoted candidates, most contestants feel compelled to raise as much money as possible, and many media pundits and voters assume that poorly funded candidates cannot win.

    The mutual fear of the opponent's campaign spending is a terrible trap stopping us from removing the corruption. Democratic and Republican voters must recognize this trap we are in, and then stubbornly refuse to allow that fear to push them into voting for bought politicians who seem "electable" because they are heavily marketed.