FundRacing: the price of the 2012 US Elections

In the most expensive election season in US history, an extortionate sum of six billion dollars (£3.7 billion) will be spent to send the Republican and Democratic candidates into the White House. This year’s donations from corporations and unions have already surpassed the 2008 total of $300 million – and with seven weeks left until Election Day, the major chunks are yet to be cashed in.

In its latest episode, Al Jazeera Fault Lines travels to Tampa, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina to take a closer look at the grand events that are the National Conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties. Roughly 70 million tax dollars have been spent on both sites and what was once a platform to discuss political allegiance has morphed into a giant fundraiser.

Money has become a political priority. Fault Lines reports that the edges of the conventions are seamed with fundraising meetings and extravagant soirées, luring potential donors into handing over big bucks to support the parties’ activities.

Mitt Romney, one of “Wall Street’s own”, has the big spenders on his side. – Image: Wikimedia Commons

Over the last 15 years, the US has abandoned the system of public financing for election campaigns that placed limits on each donation. While direct contributions to the candidates are still limited to $2,500, the 2010 Citizen United ruling gave individuals, corporations and unions the green light for unlimited donations to so-called “Super PACs”. Those political action committees do not fund parties directly but splurge limitless sums on TV ads supporting or opposing the candidates’ actions and positions. Explicit calls for votes are prohibited.

As of now, there are 844 Super PACs in total and the pro-Republican committees are outspending the Democrats vastly. With Mitt Romney being one of “Wall Street’s own” this does not come as a big surprise. The Republican’s primary Super PAC, Restore our Future, has single-handedly raised almost $90 million so far, accounting for 17% of the party’s total donations. Having raised “only” $25.3 million, the Democrat’s primary Super PAC, Priorities USA Action, lags behind significantly.

But where does all this Super PAC-money come from?

 

Super PAC donations

1% of all Super PAC beneficiaries account for 59% of the total funds raised. Data: Centre for Responsive Politics

Not all donations have to be disclosed, but according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, individual sponsors account for the majority of funds: the top 100 donors, representing only 1% of all Super PAC beneficiaries, account for more than half of the total funds raised.

Among those are many familiar names: DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, Morgan Freeman, Steven Spielberg and Amy Goldman are on the list of top-donors of

Main Super PACs and actions

Super PACs and their main actions. Data: FEC

the Obama-supporting Priorities USA Action. The pro-Romney Super PAC contains less glamorous names but counters with the extraordinary wealth of their sponsors. The top-givers are homebuilder Bob J. Perry who contributed $8 million and Casino magnates Miriam and Sheldon Adelson who have totaled funds of $10 million.

And, of course, the Koch brothers have their fingers in the fundraising-pie as well. They are estimated to spend $400 million in a mission to defeat Obama. David Koch, also a major supporter of the right-wing Tea Party movement, founded the Americans For Prosperity PAC that has already spent $31 million on TV ads. But it doesn’t end there. Earlier this year, Koch hosted a $50,000-a-head fundraising dinner at his seven-bedroom mansion in the Hamptons, piling an additional $3 million onto Romney’s account.

However, the Kochs prefer to keep most of their donations details in the dark. According to Sheila Kraumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics, Super PAC funding is a topic too uncomfortable to discuss. “In part because it puts the connection between donors and political leadership on display, and how these two are mutually dependent,” she told Fault Lines.

Obama takes the lead when it comes to individual contributions – but will they be enough to beat Romney? – Image: Wikimedia Commons

But no pity for the Koch-less Democrats. As municipal workers are pulling mandatory extra shifts to clean up after the 30,000 guests of the Democratic National Convention extravaganza have swept through Charlotte, the Democrats need not worry about their finances. What Obama lacks in PAC-money, he makes up for in individual contributions directly to him: those donations that can’t exceed $2,500 have so far amassed a respectable sum of $348.4 millions.

And although the Democrats have pledged not to accept any corporate cash to fund their National Convention, they have secured a fail-safe loophole: New American City Inc., a special fund, is raising tens of millions of dollars from Charlotte-based donors such as Wells Fargo, Coca Cola and Bank of America, to pay for activities outside the convention and for some even directly related to the event.

Obama’s Campaign Advisor Robert Gibbs told Fault Lines that they were not accepting PAC or special interest donations, but when asked about the New American City fund, his response came slightly flustered – and somewhat defiant: “[It’s] nothing compared to what the Republicans are doing.”

 

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