Campaign Cash: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

  • submit to reddit

If you’re visiting a candidate this summer and looking for a thoughtful house gift, might we suggest a nice super PAC? Thanks to the Supreme Court and Citizens United, they’re all the rage among the mega-wealthy. All it takes is a little paperwork and a wad of cash and presto, you can have, as The Washington Post describes it, a “highly customized, highly personalized” political action committee.

It’s easy — super PACs come in all amounts and party affiliations. You don’t have to spend millions, although a gift that size certainly won’t be turned aside.  Cable TV tycoon Marc Nathanson got a super PAC for his friend, longtime Democratic Congressman Howard Berman from California, and all it cost was $100,000. Down in North Carolina, Republican congressional candidate George Holding received a handsome super PAC that includes $100,000 each from an aunt and uncle and a quarter of a million from a bunch of his cousins. Yes, nothing says family like a great big, homemade batch of campaign contributions.

You can start a super PAC on your own or contribute to one that already exists. Super PACs are available for every kind of race – presidential, congressional or statewide. But there are other ways you can help buy an election. Look at the Wisconsin recall campaign of Republican Governor Scott Walker. At least fourteen billionaires rushed to the support of the corporate right’s favorite union basher. He outraised his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by nearly eight to one. Most of his money came from out of state. More than $60 million was spent, $45 million of it for Walker alone.

Here are just a few of the satisfied buyers:

Wisconsin billionaire Diane Hendricks contributed more than half a million dollars on Scott Walker’s behalf. Her late husband built ABC Supply, America’s largest wholesale distributor of roofing, windows and siding.  Fearful the United States might become “a socialistic ideological nation,” she’s an ardent foe of unions and, in her words, “taxing job creators.” True to her aversion to taxes, she paid none in 2010, despite being worth, according to Forbes magazine, about $2.8 billion.

Before he launched his crusade against the collective bargaining rights of working people, Governor Walker had a conversation with Diane Hendricks, in which she asked, “Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions… and become a right to work [state]? What can we do to help you?”

Walker replied, “We’re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is, we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.”

And so he did.

Walker also hauled in checks for nearly half a million from the Texas oligarch Bob Perry. He made his fortune in the home building business and is best known nationally for contributing four and a half million to the Swift Boat campaign that smeared the Vietnam War record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry back in 2004.

In Texas, Bob Perry is known for his cozy relationship with the state’s Supreme Court.  He once gave money to every one of its nine elected judges.  And guess what?  Those same nine judges later overturned an $800,000 judgment against his building company for faulty construction.  Bob the Builder, who’s naturally eager for help in the cause of tort reform — that is, making it hard for everyday people to sue corporations like his for malfeasance — has so far given four million to the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, and millions to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC.

Then there’s casino king Sheldon Adelson, who gave Scott Walker’s cause $250,000. That’s a drop in the old champagne bucket compared to the $21 million Adelson’s family gave to the super PAC that kept Newt Gingrich in the race long after the formaldehyde had been ordered.  According to The Wall Street Journal, Adelson did not long mourn Gingrich’s passing, and has now given at least $10 million to the Restore Our Future super PAC supporting Romney. By all accounts, what he expects in return is that his candidate hold unions at bay and swear that Israel can do no wrong.

Next up on Scott Walker’s list of beneficent plutocrats: Rich DeVos, owner of the Orlando Magic basketball team and co-founder of the home products giant Amway, which, thanks to Republican leaders in Congress, once shared in a $19 million tax break after a million-dollar DeVos contribution to the Republican Party.  He’s a long-time member of the secretive Council for National Policy, a who’s who of right-wing luminaries.

Let’s not forget cowboy billionaire and born again Christian, Foster Friess, Rick Santorum’s moneyman, who told us about the good ol’ days when women would “use Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.” And Louis Moore Bacon, the billionaire founder of the hedge fund Moore Capital – which in 2010 was fined $25 million for attempted commodities manipulation. A big backer of Romney, he, too came to Walker’s aid in Wisconsin.

So did Dallas oil and gas wildcatter Trevor Rees-Jones, who’s given millions to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, in anticipation of another administration as friendly to taxpayer subsidies for big oil as the Rove-Bush White House. Last year, Rees-Jones’ company, Chief Oil, and a partner sold to Chevron nearly a quarter million acres in northeast America’s Marcellus Shale – the epicenter of the raging controversy over fracking. Estimated price: one billion dollars.

We could go on and name more, but you get the picture. These are the people who are helping to fund what the journalist Joe Hagan describes as a “tsunami of slime.” Even as they and their chosen candidates are afforded respectability in the value-free world of plutocracy, they can hide the fingerprints they leave on the bleeding corpse of democracy in part because each super PAC comes with that extra special something every politician craves: plausible deniability. When one of their ads says something nasty and deceitful about an opponent — when it slanders and lies — the pol can shrug and say: “Not my doing. It’s the super PAC that’s slinging the mud, not me.”

And that’s how the wealthy one percent does its dirty business. They are, by the way, as we were reminded by CNN’s Charles Riley in his report, “Can 46 Rich Dudes Buy an Election?” almost all men, mostly white, “and so far, the vast majority of their contributions have been made to conservative groups.”  They want to own this election.  So if there are any of you left out there with millions to burn, better buy your candidate now, while supplies last.

  • submit to reddit

BillMoyers.com encourages conversation and debate around issues, events and ideas related to content on Moyers & Company and the BillMoyers.com website.

  • The editorial staff reserves the right to take down comments it deems inappropriate.
  • Profanity, personal attacks, hate speech, off-topic posts, advertisements and spam will not be tolerated.
  • Do not intentionally make false or misleading statements, impersonate someone else, break the law, or condone or encourage unlawful activity.

If your comments consistently or intentionally make this community a less civil and enjoyable place to be, you and your comments will be excluded from it.

We need your help with this. If you feel a post is not in line with the comment policy, please flag it so that we can take a look. Comments and questions about our policy are welcome. Please send an email to info@moyersmedia.com

Find out more about BillMoyers.com's privacy policy and terms of service.

  • Jack W. Scott

    Notice who finally ends up with all this money:  the entertainment-news television Empire!  The money slips through the hands of the hapless politicians into the bank accounts of such tycoons as Sumner Redstone (CBS), Brian Roberts (NBC), Robert Iger (ABC), and the ever infamous Rupert Murcdoch (FOX).  It’s interesting to note that Big Television Corporations got the rules changed along with the new freedoms Citizens United gave them, now they can accept or reject any given ad from a Super Pac.  More discretionary freedom for the Evil Entertainment Empire!  Take a look at Nation of Change for the latest political power move (aside from merely determining the  outcome of the election) Big Television is making, it all means L.A. is firmly in the driver’s seat, the hypnotized population merely following along, swayed this way or that by clever advertising and constant propaganda in every drama,  comedy, and news cast.

  • Rchrdwds3

    I notice there was No mention of Who the great contributors are on the Democratic side, Like the Unions, Hollywood, Maher, Soros, etc. 

  • Mar0462

    This disgust me. I am so ashamed of my country.

  • dc

    Rchrdwds3 – Perhaps this article would be stronger if it mentioned more contributors to the Dem’s side. But the simple fact is that there are FAR more big-ticket contributors to Republicans. The point, then, is that very rich folks buy undue influence in government because of new campaign finance laws, and that most of these folks’ personal financial interests are best served by Republicans, whose policies favor the rich more than they favor the middle class. 

  • Artful1designer

    Instead of a 63 billion drone program perhaps we need a few million for a Guillotine program.

  • Billandjudith

    Richard: If you follow our broadcasts faithfully you will know that we’re as tough on the Democrats as on the Republicans. This week the focus was on the l4 billionaires who backed Walker in Wisconson.  In the same broadcast my conversation with the historian Tom Frank deals with Obama’s fecklessness.  One can’t do everything in one broadcast; keep an eye on the series and the site.  Moyers

  • mountain hiker

    It doesn’t matter what party you’re affiliated with, elections should not be won by big money no matter what side it’s coming from.  What was the Supreme Court thinking??

  • Andrea

    Bill, I try to watch on local KPLU local PBS but you don’t seem to be on there any more. Bumer! Just try to to catch you on Facebook.

  • Andrea

    Whoops. KCTS. Had NPR station…

  • BLONDIE

    SO MUCH FOR YOUR INVESTIGATIVE PROWESS, THERE HAPPEN TO BE MANY MORE DEMOCRATIC BILLIONAIRES AND MILLIONAIRES FOR THAT MATTER . YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY A PRODUCT OF OUR LEFT-LEANING EDUCATION SYSTEM. IF YOU THINK ABOUT YOUR COMMENT OBJECTIVELY, ACCORDING TO YOU THE ENTIRE GOV’T WOULD BE REPUBLICAN. WAKE UP AND STAND ON YOUR OWN TWO FEET–THINK THINGS THROUGH.

  • BLONDIE

    THE PROBLEM LIES IN THE FACT THAT MONEY TALKS AND BULL-HIT WALKS. THE CONCEPT OF THE POWER OF ONE BILLION DOLLARS ITSELF IS NEAUSEATING. YOU WOULD HAVE TO WORK AT SPENDING THE INTEREST ON THAT SUM. UNFORTUNATELY SINCE MONEY SEEMS TO MAKE THE WORLD GO ROUND THESE DAYS, WE NEED TO COME UP WITH A BETTER PROGRAM TO INDICATE SOMEONE’S VALUE TO SOCIETY.

  • Gergrif

    What can we do to reverse the Supreme Court decision which allows these super Pacs?

  • Jdhughes122

    The key is “thinking”. No, the Court is become a political tool. Any big, deeply wrought decisions lately? The ‘Roberts Court’ will be the worst historically. We will be decades recovering what Koch toadies Scalia and Thomas have done.

  • Anonymous

     Soros is not contributing to any political campaigns this year….and the Unions have little money because they’re being shut down daily by Republican governors like Walker, and the mere million from Maher and the few million from Hollywood are just a drop in the bucket alongside the $100 million plus promised by Adelson alone and the untold millions from the Koch Bros, KKKarl Rove, Bob Perry, Ms. Hendricks, oil companies, big banks, etc., who have unlimited cash to pour into the Republican pols’ pockets.  I think you’d better re-group that idea that Dems have equal money coming in.

  • Edie

    Thanks for informing us who the rich donators are in your essay. please have as your guests, Bill Bradley, EJ.Dionne, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Charles Ferguson, and Robert Reich. They all are providing accurate and informed information to our concerns and the issues.

  • Rmrobert

    With this infamous decision the Supreme Court of the United States has tipped the balance… Where is the justice ? Certainly not on the side of the people and democracy .

  • Patches04

    The unions are nearly non existant, Soros is not giving, Maher doesn’t hold a candle to the republican big wigs. The big money has and always will be with the big corporations and big businesses.

  • Billandjudith

    Edie: They’re all on our list of potential conversations…Thanks. Bill

  • Billandjudith

    Gergrif: There are several efforts underway to reverse Citizens United.  Google “Reversing Citizens United.” Or, for example, go to http://www.freespeechforpeople.org, one of the most vibrant organizations in the field. Check out http://www.thebrennancenter.org.  Take it from there and get engaged.  Bill

  • Billandjudith

    The majority (4 rightwingers joined by the confused Justice Kennedy) that Big Money should win.  Bill.

  • Billandjudith

    I think we were prempted for Pledge. Give the station a call and let them know what you think.

  • Edie

    Your naming the billionaire donars to Republican candidates is like sunshine on  the dark money you discussed in your program and in your essay. If progressives and democrats started calling the Repubicans and letting them know that we want the disclosure act passed and jobs act of the Pres. passed, and every bill they are holding up before the election, it would let them know we are angry at their obstruction and power grab and not serving the Americanpeople. We are not using our power of our voices. If the tea party people used their protests to their advantage why shouldn’t be more vocal and target Republicans, McConnell and Boehner and Cantor with our disastisfaction on their tactics.

  • Mleonjanssen

    Becoming angry at the rich solves absolutely nothing.   It is like being angry with nature for tornadoes, earthquakes or hurricanes.   The human species has always been greedy from the time of Columbus and before that.   There was probably some cave man who thought he could get more by doing away with his competition to win a woman for procreation.
    If we think we can change human nature then we may as well think we are going to find another planet to live on after we have screwed this one up. 

  • Mleonjanssen

    We all live with an illusion that what we are told is the truth.
     This is done to keep everyone outside of the 1% group in line and in our place while the upper 1% gladly take advantage of our ignorance of the facts.
    The less we know the better it is for them.
    Ignorance is bliss as they say and stupidity feeds off of ignorance.
    Shall we pray or shall we remain ignorant until it is too late to do anything about it?
    Do not forget that the churches need your money too to keep the rest of us in line and to line their own pockets with your hard-earned cash.  

  • Mleonjanssen

    Do you think?

  • Boglefish

    I would like to know why no one calls the situation were in by it’s real name ? I think that would get more attention . The word  is tyranny. (when any  group or part of the government is so powerful that the people no longer have a voice. The tyranny of the extra wealthy is so great that the people no longer have a voice. 
     The longer it is before we take our government back the worse things are going to get. That’s a fact of history.
     I didn’t pick this time in our history to live, neither did anyone else , but it’s our responsibility to defend our constitution and keep america free . The military took that oath , the police take that oath, the people who sold us out took it too, and there is no punishment too harsh for those who sold us out!
     LET’S END THIS TYRANNICAL RULE!