Thursday, January 5, 2012

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: To those who have the cash…

  The older you get you realize that old adages you heard as a child are actually accurate such as sayings like “if you have your health you have everything.” Golfers will attest that the sporting phrase, “you drive for show and putt for dough” or “it ain’t how you drive, it’s how you arrive” are par for the course.

  The most on point political analogy is that “money is the mother’s milk of politics.” It is generally the truest test of the viability of a campaign. Generally speaking, the best political candidates are the best fundraisers. Many times an incumbent candidate’s large political war chest wards off opposition. A good example would be our senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby. It would be ludicrous for a challenger to take on Shelby, who has a campaign account bulging with $18 million. Shelby should start a fundraising school for aspiring politicians.

  In presidential politics history tells us that usually the best fundraiser is the best politician and that premier politician/fundraiser will prevail. In recent presidential contests this theory has been proven. Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and now Barack Obama were and are prodigious and prolific fundraisers.

  Candidates have always found creative and questionable ways to raise campaign money. Clinton allowed supporters and potential contributors to spend the night in the Lincoln bedroom to help spur donations. Our state’s riddled system of PAC to PAC transfers was nothing more than legalized money laundering. That system was curtailed last year in a special session. However, there are indications that plans are being made to circumvent the system by using political parties as conduits in the 2014 elections.

  Some of the schemes being used by this year’s presidential contenders appear to have been cooked up by organized crime. Minions of President Obama are taking advantage of lax campaign finance laws and a 2010 Supreme Court decision that equated big dollar contributions to free speech. The result is that this year’s presidential race will be a wild west anything goes affair.

  The newest and most nefarious innovation is the use of super PACs. These PACs appear to have no purpose other than to get around the $2,500 donation limits to presidential candidates. These super PAC’s are supposed to operate independently of candidates. That is why they can raise unlimited sums from individuals, corporations and labor unions. However, it is difficult to conceive that the candidate does not know who is giving to these innocuous super PACs when the PAC turns right around and gives their money to certain candidates.

  If the super PAC shell game is not bad enough, some deep pocket donors want to remain anonymous. Last year a mysterious entity called W Spann gave $1 million to a super PAC backing Mitt Romney. The W Spann PAC was set up and dissolved within two weeks solely for the purpose of hiding a $1 million contribution made by longtime Romney supporter Edward Conrad.

  In another effort to hide the name of some donors some groups have used a section of the tax code meant for nonprofit entities to set up sham groups that can accept secret donations. Karl Rove instituted this concept during the 2010 congressional elections. Prominent Democrats have now stolen the concept. Former Obama White House aide Bill Burton has created numerous tax sheltered campaign fundraising havens. His most recent vehicle is labeled Priorities USA.

  The Supreme Court opened the door to these recent campaign fundraising shenanigans with its 2010 ruling. An unwilling and inept Congress has ignored the problem. Likewise, President Obama has turned a blind eye to the dilemma while he gleefully takes advantage of the gaping loopholes in the law. The fact that neither Congress nor the President have moved to close the cracks in the system speaks volumes.

  In the meantime, they are all raising money at a record clip. It is no wonder. They are operating under essentially nonexistent federal campaign finance laws.

  See you next week.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at

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