By Francis Wilkinson
The U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision unleashed the specter of unlimited corporate political donations in U.S. elections. So far, however, it's mostly rich individuals doing the donating.
Given that Citizens United didn't change the law for individuals (though an FEC ruling effectively enabling anonymous donations certainly did), it's hard to blame the court's ruling for the explosion in donations so far, as Dan Abrams more or less shouted from his cyberrooftop yesterday.
According to a study by Demos and USPIRG, 56.6 percent of the money contributed to Super-PACs in 2011 came from individuals, with an average contribution of $8,460. For-profit businesses, the report states, accounted for 17 percent of "total itemized Super PAC fundraising since their inception." Some of those super-rich donors, like Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, have also donated from the treasuries of corporations they control, meaning the influence of individuals is actually greater.
According to Politico.com, super-PACs "raised about $181 million in the last two years -- with roughly half of it coming from fewer than 200 super-rich people."
I asked Jonathan Collegio why a Supreme Court ruling on corporations and unions had initiated a gold rush in donations from individuals. I figured he ought to know. He's communications director of American Crossroads, a super-PAC with an affiliated non-profit arm that accepts anonymous contributions. Founded by Republican operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, the two funds raked in $51 million in 2011.
Collegio said the fundraising boom has little or nothing to do with Citizens United and much more to do with Republicans establishing a highly professional fundraising infrastructure following the retirement of the nation's all-time greatest political fundraiser, George W. Bush.
"Bush's fundraising was so strong that it masked the deficiencies" of fundraising on the political right, Collegio said. Add in the momentum generated by the 2010 conservative backlash to President Barack Obama and you have a recipe for beaucoup bucks. So the conservative super-rich are both motivated and organized. And with nine months to go before the election, there's still plenty of time for corporations to muscle their way into the conversation.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)
For more quick commentary from Bloomberg View, go to the Ticker.-0- Feb/09/2012 21:16 GMT