The Supreme Court’s decision to gut campaign finance laws in its 2009 Citizens United decision predictably opened the gates of the American electoral system to an influx of corporate money and influence, first in the 2010 midterm elections and then in numerous statewide and local campaigns. In Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states with contentious campaigns, corporations flooded the system with money — in judicial elections alone, just three corporations spent 13 times as much as the labor movement.
Yet, as much as Citizens United managed to jar the political system with its influx of unlimited corporate money, former House Speaker and leading presidential candidate Newt Gingrich may have set a new record for the most audacious injection of big money donors into politics. Gingrich accepted millions of dollars in donations to an independent political committee and used those funds to travel the country in the lead-up to his presidential run. As McClatchy reported today:
The former House speaker appears to have made unprecedented use of a supposedly independent political committee that collected unlimited donations, financing a coast-to-coast shadow campaign that raised his profile and provided a launch pad for his presidential run.
Gingrich’s American Solutions for Winning the Future, which he shuttered in July, shelled out at least $8 million for the chartered jets in which he hop-scotched the nation for public appearances while weighing whether to enter the 2008 and 2012 presidential races.
The committee’s acceptance of huge cash donations — including $7.65 million from Sheldon Adelson, a pro-Israel, billionaire Las Vegas casino owner, and more than $2 million from five energy companies — has sewn concerns that Gingrich would be beholden to his benefactors if he won the White House.
Massive donations, unfortunately, have become common in the wake of Citizens United. A super PAC supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), for instance, took in an undisclosed million dollar donation from a company that dissolved immediately after the donation. Former candidate Herman Cain, meanwhile, was linked extensively to Americans for Prosperity, a conservative organization backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. In the first six months of 2011, just 12 wealthy donors accounted for most of the donations to major super PACs, another example of Citizens United expanding influence of corporations and the wealthy in the American electoral system.
The McClatchy report wasn’t the only big news for Gingrich, however, as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint today with the Federal Elections Commission alleging that his campaign unlawfully used campaign funds when it paid Gingrich $42,000 for his “lucrative mailing list” — a transaction that was not disclosed on his financial report.
The Gingrich campaign responded to the McClatchy report, saying only that the donors gave to him because they agree with his political views, but Gingrich declined to comment on the CREW complaint when asked today in Iowa.