Roger Stone’s pro-Trump super PAC raised roughly $310,000 in the first quarter of this year, with approximately 80 percent of the money coming from television and film producer John P. Middleton. Stone previously pledged his group would be “funded by small donors.”
Stone is a longtime Trump friend and ally who heads the super PAC Committee to Restore America's Greatness. He is also involved with the newly formed and related 527 group Stop The Steal. Stone and the super PAC have been claiming that Republicans are attempting to “steal” the GOP presidential nomination from Donald Trump; they are also spreading false claims that Trump has been the victim of election fraud. Stone has come under heavy criticism for his plan to release the hotel room numbers of delegates who are purportedly stealing the nomination.
The Committee to Restore America’s Greatness recently filed its quarterly report with the Federal Election Commission. The group states that it raised $310,806 from January through March, while spending $191,063.
John P. Middleton gave the group $250,000 this year, accounting for roughly 80 percent of its total receipts. (Middleton gave $100,000 total and John Powers Middleton Companies gave $150,000.) Middleton, the son of Philadelphia Phillies co-owner John S. Middleton, is a regular Republican donor and activist. He works in the television and film industry and co-produced The Lego Movie and executive produced Run All Night, Bates Motel, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Middleton has promoted Trump on his Twitter account.
Middleton is supporting Stone despite the consultant’s virulent attacks against the Bush family. Middleton hosted a 2015 fundraiser for a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush. Stone has said that Jeb and the Bush “crime family” ran drugs in Latin America; claimed the Bush family was behind the attempted assassination of President Reagan; and attacked Barbara Bush for being “shit face drunk.”
When he helped form Committee to Restore America's Greatness last year, Stone pledged the group would be funded by small donors, telling the Associated Press: "I don't expect large contributions from anybody. This will be funded by small donors who are opposed to Marco Rubio and the establishment Republican candidates.” At the time, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski -- a target of Stone criticism -- called the group "a big-league scam.” Lewandowski’s power in the campaign now appears to have been diminished with the ascendancy of Stone’s former business partner and friend Paul Manafort.
The PAC disbursed $84,000 to a Florida business called Citroen Associates. Citroen is owned by John Paul Kakanis, who is also the registered agent for Roger Stone Exploratory Committee LLC (Stone had explored a run for Marco Rubio’s Senate seat). Citroen received money
The group also spent money on advertising with WND.com ($5,093) and Newsmax ($5,230).
A Media Matters analysis of the broadcast evening and weekend TV news coverage of mass protests against money in politics organized by Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring revealed that the networks devoted only two segments -- a total of 29 seconds of airtime -- between April 11 and April 18 to the week-long demonstrations.
Fox News promoted an anti-Hillary Clinton ad created by American Crossroads, a conservative Super PAC co-founded by Fox News contributor Karl Rove.
On the April 14 edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle praised a new American Crossroads ad, comparing Hillary Clinton to Richard Nixon. After playing nearly the entire ad, Guilfoyle claimed the “dramatic attack ad” came from the “conservative Super PAC American Crossroads,” but did not disclose any other information about the group:
KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE (CO-HOST): Sanders got some unsolicited help today from conservative Super PAC American Crossroads. They put out a dramatic attack ad, depicting his opponent as a modern day Richard Nixon.
ED HENRY: I think it is important that you mentioned the context of the general election in terms of that American Crossroads ad, that’s a conservative group who will undoubtedly be pounding Hillary Clinton if she is the Democratic nominee, talking about the e-mails. But that's a stark contrast to what we are likely to see tonight. Bernie Sanders said at the very beginning of the first debate, he was taking the e-mails off the table. Very few debate moderators have pressed Hillary Clinton over the course of the last several months on that issue. Although there was a little hint from the Sanders camp today that you had both of these candidates yesterday on the picket lines with striking Verizon workers in the New York City area and the Sanders camp was saying, wait a second. It turned out Hillary Clinton was with the workers yesterday. But back in 2013 she gave one of those big paid speeches, over $200,000 paid for by, yes, Verizon. So she was standing up to the company yesterday, on behalf of the workers, but it turns out a couple years ago, was making big money from the company.
Guilfoyle failed to disclose that American Crossroads was co-founded by Fox News political contributor Karl Rove. He joined the network in 2008, and helped create the Super PAC in 2010 where he still serves as an “informal adviser.”
Fox News has a history of failing to disclose the ties of its hosts and contributors. And during the September 21, 2014 edition of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace invited Karl Rove to discuss the 2014 midterm Senate races, without disclosing Rove's super PACs that poured millions into influencing the outcomes of the Senate races Rove was invited to discuss.
NPR’s Peter Overby highlighted new analysis from Public Citizen pointing out that presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle “have raised a combined total of around $1 billion,” but that out of 1,000 debate questions and 21 debates so far in this campaign, only 15 questions related to political money have been asked and none addressed “candidates' views of the system or ways they would change it.”
Despite polls showing Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the post-Citizens United campaign finance landscape, most news outlets still provide little coverage of the current impact of money in politics and possibilities for campaign finance reform. A lack of questions on campaign finance reflect a larger trend of debate moderators not asking about substantive issues or policies, such as the impact of -- or plans to combat -- climate change.
In an April 8 article, Overby quotes Public Citizen’s Congress Watch director Lisa Gilbert saying, “There's a disconnect between voters and the media, who are not paying attention to something that's front-and-center for most Americans as never before. They're unwilling to press the candidates on solutions":
The politicians who would be president have a lot to say about money, at least when they're soliciting it.
They and their sidekick superPACs have raised a combined total of around $1 billion, according to NPR calculations from data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
But when it's time for a TV debate, the candidates aren't so eager to expound on their fundraising, the big donors they court for superPACs, or the legal rulings that give the wealthy more avenues for giving.
A new analysis by the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen finds that Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump accounted for 92 percent of all commentary about political money and special interests in the 21 presidential primary debates through March 24.
The analysis, called The Elephant in the Room, also found that Sanders, Clinton and Trump were also the only candidates to talk about repairing a campaign finance system that has unexpectedly become a flashpoint for voter anger in this election cycle.
Public Citizen criticizes the debate questioners. In the 21 debates, they asked about political money in 15 of more than 1,000 questions. The analysis found no questions on candidates' views of the system or ways they would change it.
Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch, said she was surprised that the candidates and questioners made only 13 mentions of Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that has come to represent the surge in big-dollar politics.
"There's a disconnect between voters and the media, who are not paying attention to something that's front-and-center for most Americans as never before," she said. "They're unwilling to press the candidates on solutions."
Fox News' Neil Cavuto allowed Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to praise Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump without disclosing her controversial past with Trump which includes a $25,000 contribution from Trump to support Bondi's re-election and Bondi refusing to investigate Trump University for fraud.
On the March 17 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, host Neil Cavuto interviewed Bondi about her recent endorsement of GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. Bondi, who once touted her relationship with Fox News in a pitch to win votes, appeared with Cavuto to explain why she endorsed Donald Trump for president.
During the interview, Cavuto failed to question Bondi on her decision in 2013 to "declin[e] to prosecute one of Trump's businesses, Trump University, which faces fraud charges in New York."
In March, The Miami Herald reported that as Bondi "was preparing for a re-election bid" in the fall of 2013, Trump University "had just been sued by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman." In September 2013, "the Donald J. Trump Foundation ... contributed $25,000 to And Justice For All, a political committee controlled by Bondi."
A spokesperson for Bondi claims the decision to not open an investigation "didn't involve Bondi directly" and the Trump campaign has yet to respond to questions regarding this matter. Her endorsement made her "the first big-name Republican official in the state" to endorse Trump.
As President Obama reportedly prepares to announce Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, media should be prepared to hear from several right-wing groups dedicated to opposing the nominee, no matter who it is. These advocacy groups and right-wing media outlets have a history of pushing misleading information and alarmist rhetoric to launch smear campaigns against Obama's highly qualified Supreme Court nominees, using tactics including, but not limited to, spreading offensive rumors about a nominee's personal life, deploying bogus legal arguments or conspiracy theories, and launching wild distortions of every aspect of a nominee's legal career.
A Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial dismissed money's impact on U.S. elections by taking a campaign finance reform advocate out of context while ignoring the overwhelming instances where money has played a crucial role in the election process.
The March 9 editorial claimed that the theory that "money buys elections ... has never been the case" and that "the facts continue to shatter the myth," citing the presidential campaigns of former Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Scott Walker, well-funded candidates who dropped out of the race. The editorial continued:
The hard reality has led even some of the nation's most persistent campaign-finance scolds, such as Rick Hasen -- author of "Plutocrats United" -- to concede that "In spite of the rhetoric of some campaign reformers, money doesn't buy elections." Others still insist that it does, or will, someday -- just you wait. Big-donor money hasn't bought the 2016 election, says The New York Times -- "yet."
But while unions, nonprofits, and businesses can talk themselves hoarse, they can't cast ballots. Only the voters can do that -- and they often vote in ways that resoundingly reject the efforts of so-called big money. Just ask Jeb Bush about that.
First, the editorial selectively quotes UCLA professor Rick Hasen, whose piece in The Washington Post explains that while "money doesn't buy elections," it "increases the odds of electoral victory and of getting one's way on policies, tax breaks and government contracts." His article continued:
And the presidential race is the place we are least likely to see money's effects. Looking to Congress and the states, though, we can see that the era of big money unleashed by the Supreme Court is hurtling us toward a plutocracy in which the people with the greatest economic power can wield great political power through campaign donations and lobbying.
Hasen's argument was backed up by a recent release by U.S. PIRG, which found that "87.5% of higher fundraising candidates won their congressional [primary] race and now head to the general election."
Even the New York Times piece the Times-Dispatch's editorial dismisses is grounded in reality. In the 2012 election, a majority of the money spent in the election by both parties and super PACs spiked in October, the month before the general election. The Times piece argues -- again in a section left out of the Dispatch's editorial -- that major donors "like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will come off the sidelines" in the general election.
There are real impacts to more money in politics. When elected members of the judiciary know their rulings could be used against them during an election, they are less likely to rule in favor of defendants and more likely to hand down longer sentences. And as the Brennan Center for Justice explained in a blog post, even though there is a scientific consensus around man-made climate change, those who are less likely to believe the scientific consensus are more likely to receive money from "dirty energy sources."
On March 1, The New York Times' editorial board pushed back against the notion that the 2016 election cycle has disproved the influence of money in elections. Contrary to other media outlets that have pointed to the failure of candidates with the backing of well-funded super PACs, The Times argued that mega-donors have simply yet to invest and could have a major impact on the general election.
Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Scott Walker are often used as examples to question whether big money has played the overwhelming role some feared it would since the Supreme Court ruled on Citizen's United and to doubt the influence of super PACs on this year's election.
However, the Times' editorial board refutes the idea that money won't make a difference, writing that, "With only two nominees [in the general election] to back, tens of millions more from big donors will come sweeping into the race" and that big donors "like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will come off the sidelines." From The New York Times:
It would be soothing to think that the primary season's bizarre twists and turns have shown the limits of the influence big money can have on the conduct and success of a political campaign. Jeb Bush blew through more than $100 million in campaign and "super PAC" money, and still dropped out early. Remember Scott Walker? Big backers didn't help him. Chris Christie ran out of money about the same time he ran out of mojo. Donald Trump says he's self-financing his campaign, a ploy that also involves leasing his plane and office space to himself.
So what's the problem? The general election.
With only two nominees to back, tens of millions more from big donors will come sweeping into the race. Big Republican backers like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson will come off the sidelines; other millionaires and billionaires will step up their super PAC giving. The Democratic National Committee just lifted the ban on lobbyist contributions; that means that if Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee, individual lobbyists will be able to contribute more than $300,000 each to the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fund-raising committee established in partnership with the national committee. And those maxed-out donors? Come the general election, they'll all be able to kick in another $2,700.
"If you look at the primary you can get the false impression that the super rich are losing," says Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, who has worked for campaign finance reform for three decades. "But all these people are going to double down in the general election."
The result: one winner who most likely will emerge in a position of obligation and dependency on big-money donors. For those who think it's a step toward campaign finance reform that a businessman, who won't release his tax returns, is running his campaign as a quasi-profit-making venture, there's somebody out there who'd like to sell you a Trump University diploma.
In the wake of Donald Trump's resounding victory in South Carolina, and Jeb Bush's exit from the presidential race, some in the media rushed to declare that money does not play the dangerous role in politics many feared it would in the wake of Citizens United. These media voices claimed that voters were effectively "overturning" the Citizens United ruling by supporting non-establishment candidates: Trump, who reportedly rejected the super PACs that had formed to support him, and Bernie Sanders, who has raised record amounts from small donors. But this view underestimates some of the unique qualities about this election cycle and ignores the importance of money in congressional, state, and judicial elections.
Bush's exit from the race after his super PAC had raised nearly $100 million led parts of the media to draw the conclusion that outside money has less influence than was thought. While interviewing Sanders on Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd asked, "The guy who had the biggest super PAC of all time had to drop out of the race. ... [Aren't] the people already overturning Citizens United?" Fox News host Tucker Carlson made a similar statement on Fox & Friends Weekend, saying Bush's defeat and Trump's victory are "basically the end of the meaning of Citizens United. Money is supposed to determine the outcome in politics; the opposite has happened here."
If this sounds familiar, it's because much of the same was said back in September when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made an early exit from the Republican presidential race with millions still left in the super PAC supporting him. Like with the Bush backing Right To Rise PAC, media pointed to the millions raised by the Walker-supporting Unintimidated PAC as proof of "the idea that the power of super-PACs and their billionaire boosters has been overstated." But both Walker's and Bush's cases demonstrate that weak candidates and mismanaged campaigns can doom a campaign whether or not super PACs have a chance to flex their financial muscle.
Much of Walker's early failure was attributed to bungled management that left his campaign struggling to make ends meet while the super PAC was raising millions. The New York Times reported, "Super PACs, Mr. Walker learned, cannot pay rent, phone bills, salaries, airfares or ballot access fees." In Bush's case, his failure to connect with the party's base and a questionable management strategy within his super PAC demonstrated that fundraising is only so valuable without the right candidate or staff.
Plus, dismissing the influence of money in this presidential campaign ignores some of the special circumstances that are unique to this election cycle. Trump's celebrity and the media's infatuation with his campaign have reduced his need for outside support from a super PAC. Super PACs spend much of their money on advertising, but any free air time candidates can generate allows them to push their platforms without spending a dime and counterbalances their opponent's paid efforts.
Trump's star power and his ability to generate media through outlandish comments have translated into massive amounts of free air time. Fox News has devoted more than 28 hours to the candidate since May 1, 2015, and other outlets like MSNBC provided him with exceptional opportunities to be in the media without having to buy advertising. And while Bush and others have been relatively ineffective despite super PAC fortunes, history shows that a major portion of outside spending in the post-Citizens United presidential races is saved for the general election.
Citizens United Impact Not Limited To Presidential Race
When media cite the failures of Walker and Bush as signs that the Citizens United decision allowing a flood of corporate political spending had an overestimated impact on politics, they are ignoring a major portion of the decision's influence. Congressional, state, and judicial races have all seen significant increases in outside spending as a result of Citizens United.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan public policy institute, "Outside spending on Senate elections has more than doubled since 2010, increasing to $486 million in 2014." This money is having a real impact on campaigns as corporations and unions target competitive races, accounting for more spending than that of either candidate campaigns or political parties in 10 of the races analyzed. Furthermore, candidates who won 11 of the most competitive Senate races in 2014 benefited from outside money that was donated without disclosure of the donors -- so called "dark money." This dark money made up over 70 percent of the nonparty outside spending made on behalf of winning campaigns.
Political spending does not just distort national races. Since 2010 there has been a concerted effort by Republicans to take over state legislatures in order to push conservative agendas on a more local level. The effort has been successful as the GOP has won "historic majorities in state legislatures," according to Vox. Research by professors at the University of Alberta and Emory University has shown that Republicans were helped in their efforts by Citizens United, especially as the ruling overturned laws banning corporate and union spending. They report, "Citizens United is associated with a significant increase in Republican election probabilities in states that banned corporate or union independent spending prior to 2010."
Also troubling is Citizens United's impact on judicial elections and the impact outside money is having on the justice system. According to the Brennan Center, the decision led to "special interest groups and political parties [spending] an unprecedented $24.1 million on state court races in 2011-12 -- an increase of over $11 million since 2007-08." Much of this money is spent on negative advertising by outside groups. Experts note that justices who face negative ad campaigns are "less likely to rule in favor of defendants in criminal appeals" and that judges facing re-election may hand down longer sentences in an attempt to appear tough on crime. Furthermore, law advocates have found that "empirical evidence suggests that campaign contributions to candidates for judicial office can affect judicial decision-making and case outcomes."
Across all nightly network broadcasts, PBS has consistently provided the most coverage of the crisis of money in politics and campaign finance reform over the last 16 months. During Thursday night's debate, PBS can continue its much-needed emphasis on the issue by asking the candidates what steps they will take to address money in politics if elected president.
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Officials from the Koch brothers' funding arm have announced a new "venture philanthropy" project called Stand Together, with aims of "strengthening the fabric of American society," and focusing on "poverty" and "educational quality," according to USA Today. Media should know that: previous Koch-backed poverty and education efforts have been coupled with ideological proselytizing, Stand Together's executive director is a Koch veteran and former Republican congressional candidate who repeatedly fearmongered about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the group's top collaborator is associated with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan's sham "anti-poverty" efforts.
Six Years After Citizens United, Coverage Of Campaign Finance Reform Has Room For Improvement
On the sixth anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, PBS remains the gold standard for coverage of campaign finance reform while other broadcast networks show room for improvement, according to a Media Matters review of their evening and Sunday news shows over the past 16 months. While coverage of the subject has increased across the board, with CBS in particular showing a substantial increase, a sizable fraction of the increase is due to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raising the issue in interviews on Sunday programs, rather than proactive efforts by journalists to cover campaign finance reform.
It's true: campaign finance law is absurdly difficult for media to explain to American voters. The numbers are abstractly large, the rules are complicated, and everyone wonders if American voters actually care.
The polls certainly seem to say Americans are concerned. Across the political spectrum, voters consistently tell the media the tidal wave of money in politics is a grave problem and the case that opened the flood gates -- Citizens United -- should be overturned. Whether it's Republicans complaining about the "special interests" of Washington, D.C. or Democrats warning about the billionaires running our campaigns, the message is clear: clean elections matter.
The editorial boards and television pundits seem to agree. Like clockwork, with every new discouraging development handed down by the courts on campaign finance law, every new revelation of the monied power brokers pulling politicians' strings, every new failure to effectively enforce the election regulations on the books, solemn editorials are written and monologues are delivered warning American voters that the system has become at-risk to rampant corruption and conflicts of interest.
And yet here we are: live on Fox Business Network during their televised presidential debate, under questioning from FBN's Maria Bartiromo, a major presidential candidate just admitted he violated a basic campaign finance transparency rule in a fashion that runs antithetical to his core political image and he seems to think no one cares. He certainly doesn't seem to be afraid of the media calling him out, although some are trying. How else do we describe the embarrassing image of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), ostensibly one of the most intelligent legislators in Congress, brazenly admitting in a live presidential debate he broke the law as a senatorial candidate by taking a roughly million dollar campaign loan from Goldman Sachs and Citibank without properly disclosing the sources to the Federal Election Commission (FEC)?
Maybe the reason Bartiromo didn't follow up her original question with anything more than a "thank you" was that she was as stunned as the rest of us.
Yes, the candidate also misled about the details of his election violation on national television and media fact checkers duly called out the bait-and-switch after. Disclosing the possible conflict of interest in receiving a million dollars from Goldman Sachs (this Goldman Sachs) and Citibank while you're campaigning as a man of the people railing against the big bad establishment is not the same thing as disclosing the possible conflict of interest after you've been elected, a conflation the candidate nevertheless attempted to sell with a straight face during the debate. That's like a voter explaining they didn't properly register before they cast a ballot but did so afterwards, so it's all good.
That's not how it works.
Election disclosure laws are supposed to inform Americans before they vote so they can make an educated decision. In fact, this principle of mandated disclosure may have been the only reason Citizens United was allowed in the first place -- as a counterbalance to the obvious conflicts of interest the Supreme Court was about to tempt politicians with. The entire point behind the legal argument that led the conservatives on the Supreme Court to allow the 1% more unfiltered access to campaigning politicians was the idea that at least Americans would know who was potentially buying influence. In the case of Cruz, who rails against big money and the elite as a point of pride, such information may have been particularly interesting to the Tea Partiers who voted for him.
But again, here we are. A major presidential candidate seems to think either voters are idiots, or the media are.
So it's a challenge. The number is a cool million, easy for the typical news consumer to grasp. The case law and implementing disclosure regulations are cut and dry -- if you take money from a bank for your campaign, you have to identify the bank to the FEC. It boils down to the third problem of campaign finance reporting -- does the American public care? They say they do, over and over again, and the media keeps telling us this is an important part of American democracy, so what's the disconnect, if any?
With this ridiculously clear campaign finance violation on display for all to see, we're about to find out.
If media can't get the American public to understand why this sort of behavior, certainly not unique to Cruz, is a big problem, it's no longer the fault of the American public. They aren't the experts. It's the media's job to provide the expertise. But if the media can't effectively explain this one to its audience -- it's time to rethink how campaign finance reporting is done.
After all, Cruz is basically daring you.