New York Times editorial: Super PACs go super toxic in '14

February 20, 2014 

The following is excerpted from and editorial that ran in The New York Times:

If you need something out of Washington and want to give a satchel of cash to a political candidate, no need to give it directly to the candidate. Federal law limits those contributions to $2,600 anyway. The thing to do is to give the money to the candidate's super PAC, where no limits apply, to pay for attack ads against the candidate's opponent.

That's the path chosen by John Childs, a private-equity investor, who gave $250,000 to Sen. Mitch McConnell's super PAC, Kentuckians for Strong Leadership. (Could it have anything to do with McConnell's staunch opposition to a tax increase on hedge fund managers, favored by President Barack Obama and Democrats?) Joseph Craft, a billionaire coal executive, gave $100,000, and Donald Trump gave $50,000 to the same group.

Naturally, McConnell's Democratic opponent in the Kentucky Senate race, Alison Lundergan Grimes, set up her own super PAC, We Are Kentucky, to attract money from those on the left who would love to oust the Senate minority leader. The United Auto Workers gave it $100,000, as did the big plumbing and pipe-fitting union.

This election year will be the moment when individual candidate super PACs -- a form of legalized bribery -- become a truly toxic force in U.S. politics.

Dozens of these groups have been formed, and political professionals predict that virtually every Senate race this year, and many contested House races, will have one or more. They can accept unlimited contributions, and thanks to the Citizens United decision, such donations can come from unions and corporations, too. Strictly speaking, these groups can have no contact with the candidate, but that prohibition is a joke. Most of them use the same voter lists as the campaigns, make the same points in their ads, and often are run by cronies of the candidate.

Remember the Nixon campaign's safe in 1972, so overstuffed with cash and checks that his buddies barely knew how to spend all the money? That's what these super PACs have become, violating the intent of all the post-Watergate reforms.

Fortunately a good reform vehicle exists: the Empowering Citizens Act, a bill introduced by two House Democrats, David Price and Chris Van Hollen, which would limit the spending of super PACs closely aligned to a campaign.

The bill's language still needs improvement. But the act still represents the best chance for ridding politics of special-interest cash and preventing another era of scandal.

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