Super PAC donors have been highly influential in the current presidential campaigns. In my last post, I highlighted who they were and the specific GOP candidates they supported. Many people had a positive response to this post but wanted to know where the money was being spent. While many Super PAC funds are used to create negative television advertisements, a ProPublica diagram portrayed over 200 other paid sources in A Tangled Web.
A Tangled Web is portrayed in a Sankey Diagram showing a flow of information from one side to another. Campaigns and Super-PACs are on the left while Payees are on the right. When a person clicks on either the Campaigns or Super-PAC sections, he or she can see which Payees receive money from them. This diagram even offers a breakdown of the individual Payees and the specific amount of money they received from each source. In fact, one could even click on the Payees side of the diagram and see the flow of information towards the Campaign and Super-PAC portions. The ProPublica chart is a compilation of data from the Campaign Finance API of the New York Times website and FEC filings retrieved by Kim Barker and Justin Elliot of ProPublica. While this Sankey Diagram may be hard at first, proper usage of it sheds keen insight on how third-party sources received Super PAC money. For example, I highlight the payees of “Restore Our Future” and “Winning Our Future” below:
“Restore Our Future” for Mitt Romney
Paid $32,511,954 to:
- Mentzer Media Services, Inc. – a GOP advertising firm – $24,670,253
- Arena Communications – a GOP direct mailing firm – $3,620,678
- Podium Capital Group, LLC – a Romney fundraising group – $1,938,520
- NMB Research – a Republican polling group – $803,512
- Actuate Strategies, LLC – a political consulting firm – $469,858
- TargetPoint Consulting, Inc. – a GOP voter targeting firm – $441,750
- McCarthy Hennings Media, Inc. – GOP media consulting firm - $421,747
- Clark Hill PLC – political law firm headed by Restore Our Future – $144,902
- Cambridge Offset Printing – a political merchandise firm - $736
”Winning Our Future”for Newt Gingrich
Paid $15,442,410 to:
- Media Advantage, LLC – a Pro-Gingrich media advertising buyer – $6,745,257
- Marketel Media, Inc. – marketing firm – $6,016,978
- Intelimarc, Inc. – Internet and email advertising – $888,650
- Election Connections, Inc. –a GOP phone bank - $757,797
- Cicero Media LLC –a political consulting and media firm - $367,700
- Empire Creative –a TV production company supporting Gingrich – $194,370
- Synovation Solutions, LLC –media advertising and phone calls firm -$162,875
- Craft Media/Digital –media firm that makes ads and websites -$154,580
- Victory Media Group, Ltd. –a phone-calling firm -$137,709
- Piryx, Inc. –a fundraising company using major Social Networking Sites to attract donors -$16,493
What do these numbers mean? Well, ProPublica found that over $306 million has been spent on third-party sources by the Super PACs and the candidates. ProPublica also discovered that the same people running Super PACs tended to be the same recipients of such hefty cash. For instance, “Restore Our Future” gave almost $145,000 to the Clark Hill PLC, which is a political law firm headed by this Super PAC. Meanwhile, “Winning Our Future” was created around the same time Empire Creative, a Pro-Gingrich TV production company, was formed. Another common practice by such Super PACs entail a specific candidate and their corresponding Super PAC receiving consultation from the same source. Target Point Consulting, LLC gives “survey research” to Mitt Romney while also providing “direct mail service” to “Restore Our Future”. This has raised legal questions among some campaign finance lawyers because the candidates and Super PACs are prohibited from explicitly working together. Nevertheless, they pay the same source to connect with voters and promote their respective messages. In turn, ProPublica’s “A Tangled Web” showed how complex and expensive presidential campaigns really are.
After all, it is so common for people to say one’s vote counts in the ballot, but watching how campaign financing unfolds in the Citizens United age makes me think otherwise. Even though I may have an impact on who eventually wins the election through my vote, chances are that my decision could be influenced by the plethora negative ads and payees hired by Super PACs. Since many of the Super PAC donors represent narrow interests, concerns that an average citizen like me could have may be less important to potential policy makers. This has been a concern raised by various sides of the Citizens United debate that will continue in the future.
On the other hand, campaigns are very expensive. If a candidate wants to be a household name, they are going to need substantial money to have their voices heard. Wealthier sources can help them in this area because the Supreme Court said they could use their money to support candidates through the Free Speech clause. The fact that so much campaign finance information is available online is hopeful, but many other donors and payees remain unknown. ProPublica noted that many of the marketing firms paid by Super PACs either had no websites or reported little information to the FEC. The websites created by the even Super PACs themselves give no explicit information about their founders or the list of donors provided by other online news sources. In response, some Congressional leaders have called for the passage of the DISCLOSE ACT, which would require all sources to be publicized. In my next post, I will focus on this piece of legislation and how some public advocacy groups are working to track money in politics.