Super PACs get Tulsans' cash
BY CASEY SMITH World Staff Writer
Sunday, July 01, 2012
7/01/12 at 7:39 AM
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Contributors with Oklahoma addresses gave more than $5 million to Super PACs as of the most recent date covered in Federal Election Commission fundraising reports, data show.
Almost three-quarters of the total amount contributed came out of the city of Tulsa, a Tulsa World analysis of itemized contributions to Super PACs shows.
Super PACs are independent expenditure-only committees that legally raise and spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for or against federal candidates. They were made possible in 2010 by a Supreme Court ruling and a later D.C. circuit court decision that found federal limits on corporate, union and individual independent expenditures violated First Amendment rights.
Nearly all - 99.5 percent - of the just more than $3.6 million contributed to Super PACs from Tulsa came from three sources, two of them connected. Separate contribution amounts from those sources ranged between $425,000 and $1.25 million, data show.
Contribution dates span from the beginning of the current election cycle, in January 2011, through May 31.
On Monday, the Supreme Court overturned a Montana Supreme Court decision upholding a state law limiting corporate contributions.
The Supreme Court said the state of Montana's arguments for banning corporate independent expenditures had either already been rejected in the case Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission or did not meaningfully distinguish the case.
Money-in-politics expert Adam Skaggs said Monday's decision "shows the Supreme Court is going to ignore reality" that money corrupts politics. Skaggs said the court is going to prevent states' common-sense, anti-corruption measures.
Skaggs is a senior counsel at the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy and law institute at New York University School of Law.
Statewide, Joseph W. Craft of Tulsa made the largest single contribution to a Super PAC during the time period covered, data show.
Conservative Super PAC American Crossroads received the $1.25 million contribution on May 31. Craft contributed $500,000 to Restore Our Future, a committee that supports Mitt Romney, in January.
Craft's titles include chairman, president and CEO of Alliance Holdings GP LP and also president and CEO of Alliance Coal LLC. Craft is also the president and part owner of Alliance Management Holdings III, which is a privately held LLC.
Alliance Management Holdings contributed a total of $850,000 to American Crossroads through two donations, one in December 2011 and the other on May 31, data show.
"Like the vast majority of Americans, I believe our country is headed in the wrong direction," Craft said. "Increased spending, growing government debt and overreaching regulations are stifling job creation and economic growth. I contribute to groups that are trying to turn things around by supporting leaders who believe in the power of the private sector, rather than government, to get us back on track."
Craft believes Romney's track record of solving difficult problems and his ability as Massachusetts governor to work with both political parties instead of dividing people are qualities that would make him a good president, he said.
Romney's understanding of how entrepreneurs create jobs and how private enterprise builds sustainable, broad-based economic growth also means he would make a good leader, Craft said.
The World previously reported Tulsa's Rooney Holdings Inc. gave a total of $1 million to Restore Our Future through two donations in 2011, one in July and the other in December.
Francis Rooney, chairman of the investment company that counts Manhattan Construction Group as a subsidiary, could not be reached for comment.
Super PACs received more than $1.2 million from sources in Oklahoma City, data show.
Harold Hamm, chairman and CEO of Continental Resources Inc., donated $985,000 to Restore Our Future in April. Romney named Hamm his top energy policy adviser on March 1, according to a campaign committee press release.
Hamm did not return a message left last week at Continental Resources asking for comment.
Make Us Great Again, a Super PAC that supported the now-suspended candidacy of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, received $250,000 in 2011 from Chesapeake Energy Corp. sources. The corporation donated $125,000 in September, and its political action committee donated $125,000 in October.
"All of our contributions are strictly according to regulations and law," said Jim Gipson, Chesapeake media relations director.
The Chickasaw Nation, based in Ada, gave $100,000 to Make Us Great Again in January.
"A working government-to-government relationship is integral to achieving our mission of enhancing the overall quality of life of Chickasaw people," said Bill Anoatubby, governor of the nation. "Therefore, the Chickasaw Nation is an active participant in the political process. As such, we support candidates who have similar policy views."
Case splits court, country
The Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate and union contributions to the independent expenditure-only committees split the Supreme Court justices 5-4.
It also split the country. Some agreed with the court's decision that the federal contribution limits in question violated freedom of speech and should be nullified. Others believed the court's view that independent expenditures lead neither to political corruption nor to the appearance of corruption was a grave, democracy-threatening mistake.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the court's majority opinion that the federal code prohibiting corporate independent expenditures banned speech, violating the entities' First Amendment rights.
"Speech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people," Kennedy wrote.
Craft said the groups he supports are a needed counterweight to the hundreds of millions of dollars that labor unions and other special-interest groups pour into politics.
"There is no perfect campaign finance system," Craft said. "However, the current approach protects free speech and allows voters to judge the merits of political expression."
But there are many who criticize Super PACs, perhaps most notably Republican Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 GOP presidential nominee.
Super PACs are going to have real policy effects post-election, Skaggs said.
"The government will be working for wealthy special interests and not working for the public," he said.
Once they are in office, elected officials will be much less likely to think about the public interest, Skaggs said. Instead they will worry about decisions they need to make, and decisions they can't make, to respectively attract large amounts of money or prevent large amounts of money from being spent against them.
Despite the technical distinction, Super PACs are de facto arms of a candidate's campaign, Skaggs said.
"They're these shadow arms of the campaigns that are closely connected, yet there are no contribution limits," he said.
The committees make candidates less accountable, he said. Super PACs can act as a campaign's attack arm, allowing candidates to deny any connection to a false, misleading or negative ad the committee runs, he said.
Super PACs are transparent because they must report their receipts and disbursements to the Federal Election Commission like other committees, Skaggs said.
The often-cited secrecy that surrounds contributions arises in cases where nonprofit organizations - known as "501(c)(4)s" after a tax code section - act as Super PAC sister organizations, he said. Political nonprofits set up under the tax code as social welfare organizations, 501(c)(4)s do not have to disclose donors.
"It's sort of a money-laundering thing they're doing," he said.
Contributions are made to the 501(c)(4), and then the group makes the actual contribution to the Super PAC. The social welfare organization's name is then the only name on the Super PAC donor disclosure report for that money.
"A lot more money has been given to the (c)(4)s than the Super PACs," Skaggs said. "It demonstrates that whether they're corporations, unions or individuals, the contributors want to stay secret."
What is a Super PAC?
Super PACs are independent expenditure-only committees that legally raise and spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for or against federal candidates.
They were made possible in 2010 by a Supreme Court ruling (Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission) and by a later D.C. circuit court decision that found federal limits on corporate, union and individual independent expenditures violated First Amendment rights.
The Federal Election Commission has issued an advisory saying candidates may not coordinate activity directly with Super PACs.
Direct presidential campaign contributions
Mitt Romney’s campaign received approximately $828,000
in itemized receipts from Oklahoma in May.
That amount marked the most given in a single month since
the former Massachusetts governor began his presidential bid,
Romney’s campaign has received approximately $551,000
from Oklahoma City sources and approximately $364,000
from sources in Tulsa, a Tulsa World analysis shows.
The campaign raised approximately $1.7 million from
sources in the state between the start of the election cycle and
May 31, data show.
The campaign’s total statewide receipts are more than
double the approximately $679,000 contributed to President
Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in that time period, data
Obama’s campaign brought in approximately $85,000
from Oklahoma sources in May, the second highest monthly
receipts for the campaign, data show. The campaign received
nearly $90,000 statewide in August 2011, the most contributed
so far in a single month.
Obama’s campaign has received approximately $120,000
from Oklahoma City sources and approximately $229,000
from sources in Tulsa.
Casey Smith 918-732-8106
Joseph Craft III: The CEO of Alliance Holdings gave $1.25 million to American Crossroads, which was the largest single donation.
Francis Rooney and Harold Hamm: Rooney is chairman of Rooney Holdings Inc., which gave $1 million to Restore Our Future in 2011. Hamm, who is the chairman and CEO of Continental Resources Inc., donated $985,000 in April to Restore Our Future, a Super PAC that supports Mitt Romney for president.