The 112th Congress is the first since the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. How has that decision—which effectively opened the gates for corporate spending in election campaigns—shaped Congress? MSNBC’s Michael Isikoff and the Center for Public Integrity’s Peter Stone make an important early contribution to this question in a piece they published on Wednesday.
A small network of hedge fund executives pumped at least $10 million into Republican campaign committees and allied groups before November’s elections, helping bankroll GOP victories that this week will change the balance of power in Washington, according to a review of campaign records and interviews with industry insiders by the Center for Public Integrity and NBC News. Bitterly opposed to President Barack Obama’s economic and regulatory policies — including proposals to increase taxes on some of their profits — top Wall Street hedge fund moguls were unusually energized during last year’s election. They held multiple fundraisers and coordinated strategy to direct what appear to be unprecedented sums into the coffers of GOP and allied political committees, according to industry and GOP fundraising sources. Many substantial donations from the hedge fund executives escaped public notice either because they were made late in the campaign (and therefore weren’t reported until after the election) or were funneled through third-party groups, obscure “joint fundraising committees” and newly created political nonprofits that are not required to disclose donors.
Proponents of Citizens United argued that campaign contribution regulations could force disclosure of funding sources. In other words, an astute voter could know who had paid for that barrage of campaign ads that shaped the debate in the last weeks of the campaign. As Isikoff and Stone demonstrate, however, there are a number of ways that skillful funders can avoid being discovered before an election. One is using aggregation mechanisms like Concerned Taxpayers of America or the Republican Governors Association. Another is timing payments so that they come in the vital last days of the campaign. As the report shows, the source of the money probably cannot be kept secret indefinitely, but it can be kept secret from the voter as he enters the voting booth.
The Wall Street hedge fund moguls studied by Isikoff and Stone aren’t a Republican base constituency by any stretch of the imagination. Some of them have a record of giving to Democrats. But their giving is clearly carefully linked to their immediate economic interests. While the amount of money given wasn’t enormous, it was dispensed with tactical acumen.
A prime example is Rep. Scott Garrett, a little known Republican from northern New Jersey who this week is slated to become the new chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee on capital markets, a key panel that has direct oversight of the industry. A staunch foe of the regulation of Wall Street, Garrett has threatened to cut funding for the Securities and Exchange Commission and roll back some provisions of Dodd-Frank.
There’s no doubt that the Dodd-Frank Act is a particular target of these givers. The question is now how their donations influence votes on financial industry reform issues generally, and the effort, already announced, to repeal Dodd-Frank in particular.