Karl Rove’s Plan to Buy the Presidency and the Senate Faces Legal Challenges from Democrats

WASHINGTON – Buying American elections has now become possible due to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. However, the nakedness by which it’s being done is alarming and as usual it’s Republicans who have managed to rig the game in their favor. Democrats just aren’t as good at this stuff and in 2012 it could make the difference, not just in the presidential race that is currently deadlocked, but tipping the Senate to Republicans as well. That’s why the Obama administration has already filed a complaint, and now the DSCC is filing a complaint to stop the onslaught they’re facing, because they believe Republican groups are flouting election law.

The complaint cites Crossroads GPS, co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove; Americans For Prosperity, supported by the billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch; and 60 Plus, which bills itself as the senior citizens’ conservative alternative to AARP. The three groups have all told the IRS they are social welfare organizations, just like thousands of local civic groups and definitely not political committees. Canter said they’ve collectively spent about $22 million attacking Democrats in Senate races this cycle. – Democrats Say Anonymous Donors Unfairly Influencing Senate Races [NPR]

Today in Roll Call reports on just how wide and deep Crossroads GPS, the so-called “social welfare” arm of Rove’s machine, as well as American Crossroads, the Super PAC, will be involved to turn the Senate over to Republicans, but also what amounts to a slush fund of cash he controls, which is being mimicked in other anonymously funded Republican-aligned groups like the Koch Bros. and 60 Plus.

American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS spent a total of $70 million during the 2010 cycle, including $50 million on Senate races and $20 million on House contests. This year, their proposed $70 million expenditure on the Senate represents less than a quarter of a planned $300 million budget that includes a heavy focus on the presidential race and limited investment in House races. Last cycle, the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent about $105 million. [Roll Call]]

It’s hard to imagine anyone believing Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS is an innocent “non-political,” “social welfare” organization and not a political committee. On NPR, the spokesman for Rove’s group claimed their ads simply utilize the First Amendment to talk about unemployment and government overspending, trying to make the case that it would be censorship to disallow what they’re doing. But as you’ll see in the ads below by Crossroads GPS, they don’t just talk about issues, they target Democrats while doing it.

“These groups’ major purpose is to influence elections,” said the complaint filed by DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil. “These organizations are actually claiming that they are no more political than a church, a synagogue, or even the American Cancer Society. It is patently absurd and we certainly expect that the FEC would take action.”Koch and Rove Groups Facing New Legal Challenge from Democrats [Bloomberg]

Would you believe the Koch Bros. would anonymously give millions of their money to a “social welfare” group like Americans for Prosperity, which can legally hide their involvement and massive donations, with altruism as their guide? A report back in May revealed the Koch Bros’ association with AFP raised over $55 million for the 2010 election, which delivered a Republican Congress. Oh, and of course, the Koch Bros. expected nothing in return. This graphic outlines how Joe Sestak along with other Democrats were targeted through anonymous multi-millionaire donations. Are we to believe the Koch Bros. simply want to dump millions of dollars into ads for the welfare of society, without getting political payback for it by electing more Tea Party conservatives?

A group called 60 Plus doesn’t get much attention for their “social welfare” advocacy, but it’s interesting to note that they have no “dues paying members.” Here’s what appears at the bottom of a letter sent to the House Ways and Means Committee:

The 60 Plus Association is a 19-year-old nonpartisan organization working for death tax repeal, saving Social Security, affordable prescription drugs, lowering energy costs and other issues featuring a less government, less taxes approach as well as a strict adherence to the Constitution. 60 Plus calls on support from over 7 million activists. 60 Plus publishes a newsletter, SENIOR VOICE, and a Scorecard, bestowing awards on lawmakers of both parties who vote “prosenior.” 60 Plus has been called, “an increasingly influential senior citizen’s group” and since 1992 “the conservative alternative to the AARP.”

“Saving Social Security” is a red flag, especially when it comes with the chaser of “less taxes approach.” It’s why the ultra conservative Pat Boone is one of their spokesmen. Oh, and let’s not forget it’s all done in “a strict adherence to the Constitution.”

So, how is this “conservative alternative” to AARP funded? From the same letter referenced above:

Technically, it is true 60 Plus has no ‘dues paying members’. From its creation, no dues have been assessed to any person wishing to be affiliated with 60 Plus, because many of the over 7 million senior activists we represent are on limited incomes, and so many of them struggle daily to meet the costs of basic living. Therefore, we do not feel that they must ‘pay to play’; even the poorest seniors amongst us deserve to have their voices heard and their interests considered. [...] [Sincerely, Roger H. Zion - Former Member of Congress 1967-1975 Evansville, IN]

We are to believe 60 Plus simply “publishes a newsletter, SENIOR VOICE, and a Scorecard, bestowing awards on lawmakers of both parties who vote ‘prosenior’” and does all this work for 7 million “senior activists” for the “social welfare” of America. Who pays for the messaging of “saving Social Security” and the “less taxes approach” advertising?

If 60 Plus, along with Rove and the Koch Bros’ groups, couldn’t use the “social welfare” label they’d have to disclose their donors, making a lot of very rich Republicans, Sheldon Adelson perhaps, a lot more squeamish about forking over tens of millions of dollars, because they’d be named.

Anonymity is the linchpin leading to large amounts of cash, with “social welfare” the scrim behind which Rove, the Koch Bros., 60 Plus and other groups hide while acting very much like a political committee.

NPR’s report on Tuesday focused on the brazen tactics being utilized by Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, and AFP, as well as 60 Plus:

At Crossroads GPS, spokesman Jonathan Collegio said their ads talk about things like unemployment and government overspending. “Those are all issues and advertising that’s protected by the First Amendment, and it would … be de facto censorship for the government to stop that type of advocacy from taking place,” says Collegio. And on Fox News recently, Rove said the Crossroads organization is prepared to defend itself and its donors’ anonymity. “We have some of the best lawyers in the country, both on the tax side and on the political side, political election law, to make certain that we never get close to the line that would push us into making GPS a political group as opposed to a social welfare organization,” says Rove.

Few voters are aware of the legal distinctions when they watch a negative ad. Is that a “social welfare” spot or a political committee targeting a Democratic politician? No one asks if the negative ads they’re watching are legal under election law. By the time the dust has cleared the ad has done its job and no one really cares whether it’s being done fairly and legally. It’s confusing as hell even for professionals.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s director Matt Canter was on NPR explaining what’s happening, announcing the DSCC complaint with the FEC “accusing a trio of ‘social welfare’ groups of actually being political committees.” From the complaint:

Each group shields its donors from disclosure by disavowing political committee status under FECA, and claiming exemption from tax under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. None has a legitimate claim. On June 27, The Wall Street Journal reported: “The Internal Revenue Service is taking initial steps to examine whether Crossroads GPS, a pro-Republican group affiliated with Karl Rove, and similar political entities are violating their tax-exempt status by spending too much on partisan activities.”

Crossroads’ application for (c)(4) exemption remains pending, and the IRS’s recent disposition of similar claims by other groups raises the
likelihood that it will be denied on the grounds of its massive political activity.

Outrageously, 60 Plus and AFP each told the Internal Revenue Service on its 2010 Form 990 that it engaged in no direct or indirect activities on behalf of or in opposition to candidates at all during the bulk of the 2010 cycle.

These claims are risible on their face, given what is known publicly about these groups’ activities.

These examples below are considered “social welfare” ads by Rove’s Crossroads GPS, allowing them to accept anonymous donations from Republican fat cats to help them get on the air, while looking an awful lot like the actions of a political committee instead. They’re going to run for 10 days in battleground states, with “issue advocacy” how Rove’s Crossroads GPS gets to keep its donors secret and the millions upon millions undisclosed, while slamming Democrats under the cloak of “social welfare,” which the Obama administration and now the DSCC calls political committee actions.

Crossroads GPS is a 501(c)4 nonprofit group, meaning most of its money must be spent on issue advocacy. As such, it does not disclose the identities of its donors; its sister group, the American Crossroads super PAC, does. – ABC News







The ad below is from Karl Rove’s Super PAC, American Crossroads, a registered political committee, which can target politicians openly. See if you can tell the difference in the ad below, which is political, and the ads above that are considered “social welfare” or “issue advocacy” ads.

Can you tell the difference in motive, “social welfare” versus “political committee”? The purpose is the same and I’d say the distinction is without much of a difference in these particular ads.

Democrats now have a federal appeals court ruling behind them to make sure the distinction is honored. Again from NPR:

But last month, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., said the FEC has the power to tell a social welfare organization that it’s advertising like a political committee and it has to play by those rules.

The Supreme Court unleashed anonymous donations legally and in large amounts, with all sorts of ways to keep donors giving without being named. Karl Rove, the Koch Bros., and 60 Plus are mining it for election gold, while Democrats fight to keep up and make Republicans follow the law.

Meanwhile, the buying of the 2012 election by an elite group of unknown, anonymous millionaires is underway, while the American electorate sits watching the negative ads fly by getting madder and madder at a system they don’t even understand in a country that no longer belongs to them.

Taylor Marsh, a veteran political analyst and former Huffington Post contributor, is the author of The Hillary Effect, available at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon. Her new-media blog www.taylormarsh.com covers national politics, women and power.

Flag/cash image used by permission, via Shutterstock.

11 Comments

  1. Recent union reports to the Labor Department indicate the unions have spent $4.4 billion after all types of political spending is included.

    Reports to the FEC are undercounted.
    The traditional measure of unions’ political spending-reports filed with the FEC-undercounts the effort unions pour into politics because the FEC reports are mostly based on donations unions make to individual candidates from their PACs, as well as spending on campaign advertisement.

    So lets call a spade a spade. Weither a corporate PAC, a private PAC or a union, they are all tryiong to buy the election and the elected officials.

    If they were not all bought off, they would make decisions good for America and not their contributors.

  2. That 4.4 billion is from 2005 to present.

  3. Yes, but unions are different. Unions represent large groups of middle class Americans. Corporations do not. They are two completely different animals. Many of the laws on the books slapping down regulations are there to protect us from Corporations. They wish to overturn them so they can go back to doing whatever they want, historically to the detriment of the people. I simply don’t get this attempt to draw an equivalency between unions and corporations.

  4. 501(c)4s should be cleaned up.

  5. I have not seen one ad from those groups that weren’t attacks on Democratic candidates.

  6. The Catholic Church is NOT ALLOWED to name candidates w/o risking the loss of their protected status. How the HELL are those ads allowed to do so?

  7. I listened to the interview on NPR today, and heard the Rove surrogate mention how they’re just exercising their 1st Amendment right to free speech.

    On one level, he’s correct. Anyone should be able to go out and spend tens of millions of dollars advertising for whatever they want to sell, even if it is a candidate or political party.

    What was not brought up during the discussion is the fact that the real issue isn’t “free speech” at all. The real issue is access and influence.

    As a taxpaying, registered voter, I have almost no access to my elected officials or the candidates who are seeking to unseat my elected officials.

    I could write to my Congressman, but would likely only get a form letter in response. I know. I’ve been there and done that.

    But if I had a million dollars lying around that I could donate to the “non profit” 501c4 behind Rove’s “non-partisan” super PAC, I’d probably wind up having at the very least a photo op with Romney the next time he comes to town, a meeting with him if he gets elected, and American Crossroads would have me on speed dial for years to come.

    That’s not free, and it ain’t speech, either.

  8. cjjack: one other thing you forgot about–they are getting to do it TAX FREE! That is that part that really burns. That they do it anonymously is actually somewhat minor in comparison.

  9. Bingo, RC.

  10. @Jim Satterfield says:

    I have not seen one ad from those groups that weren’t attacks on Democratic candidates.

    That’s *exactly* why Democrats have filed their complaints.

    I put the ads in this column so everyone could see for themselves. It’s very clear.

    @RP – What Rove’s group, Koch, as well as 60 Plus are doing is worth investigation, because it’s quite clear to some of us, including experts on campaign finance law, that what’s being done is illegal. THAT’S the issue.

    I don’t think anyone can argue the 2012 election is not for sale. SCOTUS just made it easier. That Democrats are bad at it compared to Rove, Koch, et al. is obvious.

  11. I think its absurd that this all hinges on a terminology that is obviously being abused. Clearly these “social issue” organizations are political propaganda machines. How can they not set guidelines that make sense and define them. In my ideal fantasy land, a court would so just that, and the 100′s of millions of dollars locked up in these groups would be forced to be spent on actual social issues, no doubt much to the dismay of the donors. Koch brothers accidentally funding a few thousand soup kitchens and whatnot.

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