DC at Night

DC at Night

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Is It Now the Best Election Money Can Buy?

Trevor Potter advises his SuperPac client Stephen Colbert
Trevor Potter has been called by the American Bar Association "hands-down one of the top lawyers in the country on the delicate intersection of politics, law and money".  He has served as chairman of the Federal Election Commission and twice as general counsel to GOP presidential candidate John McCain. But today he is probably best known as the legal adviser to TV political satirist Stephen Colbert and Colbert's SuperPac Making a Better Tomorrow Tomorrow.

As is completely in line with Colbert's satirical outlook, Potter also happens to be one of the nation's most articulate critics of the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision equating corporations with people and allowing the creation of SuperPacs, which can use unlimited sums of money to campaign for political candidates of their choosing.

Potter was joined recently by Time magazine White House correspondent Michael Scherrer and Mark Schmitt, senior research fellow for the New America Foundation, for a panel discussion entitled Beyond Sticker Shock: How Is Big Money Changing Politics in 2012 sponsored by the New America Foundation.

The essential question posed by the Citizens United ruling Potter says is "who gets to determine who our leaders are?"

"We want a Congress and a president who represent the will of the people," Potter said. "You don't want the Senator of Standard Oil; you want the Senator who represents New Jersey."

Potter said one of his greatest concerns is that the huge flow of money the SuperPacs can produce allows them to air a plethora of skewed, misleading, and sometimes blatantly false political ads that can determine an election. "You want an engaged electorate. What you don't want are voters dazed by the war of the airways," he contended.

Scherrer, who has been reporting on the financial part of the 2012 campaign, said the unleashed SuperPacs are definitely affecting this year's races around the country. "What does this mean for politics? Outside money makes easier access to the airways right before an election," Scherrer said. "I think the peak of the power was in the primaries. It really transformed the Republican primaries. They were much more prolonged than expected. Gingrich and Santorum couldn't have stayed in as long without a millionaire or a billionaire backing them."

He said that with an incumbent in President Obama, the Democrats didn't see that same effect since they didn't hold primaries. "But in 2016, it will be a concern for their primaries. It is difficult to see how any candidate can get into the race without a few wealthy friends," Sherrer said.

Even though the reliance on SuperPacs appears to lead to an increasing control of the political process by wealthy individuals and corporations with their own agendas, Sherrer said that there may be some drawbacks to relying too heavily on such funding in a presidential race..

"They have been shown to have clear weaknesses," Sherrer said. "Since the ads can't be coordinated with the campaigns, early on the Romney ads didn't follow a single narrative like the Obama campaign did. The FCC also charges SuperPacs more for ads, which means they are spending up to 6 times as much as a  (regular) campaign for the same amount of time. And small donors are giving more now as we get closer to the end."

But Schmitt, who has been studying the political financial picture for the New America Foundation, said that if the Citizens United ruling isn't changed by Congress, the Supreme Court, or a Constitutional amendment, then our political process of equal weights on votes is in jeopardy. "We're creating a system where a candidate can be wholly or largely dependent on a single donor," Schmitt said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
If you want to read more about what Potter has to say on campaign finance, here are links to 3 articles where he addresses the issue:


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