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Friday, November 2, 2012

PACs and facts  

PACs and Super PACs are in the news as the campaigns “round the final turn.” Heading into the home stretch, to continue the metaphor, we might reflect on how the PACs influence election results. Political Action Committees, or PACs come in several flavors, but the basic categories (from Wikipedia entries) are:

“Connected PACs: those that raise money from people employed by a corporation or in a trade union, and,
 "Unconnected PACs" (also known as "Independent PACs") which raise money by targeting selected groups within society.

PACS can spend any amount on a candidate’s behalf provided that the expenditure is not made in collaboration with the candidate. They buy lots of advertising.

The information by PACs has been largely negative during elections and seems to concentrate on condemning the opponent of the person they are supporting rather than on highlighting the achievement and policies of their own candidate.

Why so negative

One advantage of the negative approach is that it avoids appearances of collaboration with the candidate. Another advantage is deniability; the candidate didn't say his opponent was a thief and a jackass. Some of his supporters did, and we know he can’t tell the supporters what to say, right?

Candidates and groups in Costa Mesa’s election are vigorously asserting that they don’t receive union money – no, they may not. Yet. However, there’s the matter of having their views advertised, distributed, and sold with union money from PACs. But, technically, they haven’t received funds from a union.

A current council member was seated at least partly because of mailers in great volume printed and distributed by Big Labor – although she didn't receive any money directly from labor, as she repeatedly insists.

Soft and Hard money

Then there’s the issue of “soft” vs. “hard” money. Because soft money is not regulated by election laws, donations in any amount to a political party are allowed for the purpose of "party building." Per Wikipedia, “Party building may include ads that educate voters about issues, as long as the ads don't take the crucial step of telling voters which candidates to vote for.”

For example, a political group can solicit funds to “educate” voters about their position on an issue such as Costa Mesa’s Charter. The group’s spending is limited only by the amount of money available. On the other hand, if they advertise “Vote No” on the Charter they must use hard money. Hard money has limits on donation size, and in some states, on expenditures.

For example

Let’s go back to the “pretend” issue we used before to illustrate the workings of political maneuvers. This time our group, that wants to see fewer cats in Costa Mesa, is going to solicit funds and place ads. Remember that the organization was started by one wealthy individual who didn't like cats, and it worked through two committees, “Birds deserve to live, too” (BD2L2), and an "Institute for Stopping Coyote Attacks Now” (I4SCAN) (see the 25 Oct blog). Both groups conceal the movement’s real purpose, which is to keep cats out of public view.

The groups register as Political Action Committees and the leader of the movement hires sales people for them. The groups use their hard money from the leader to directly support the cause. For example, BD2L2 sponsors an ad for the coming election that warns, “If you don’t want birds to suffer and die from cat attacks, vote for Measure B. (That's a “pretend” measure appearing on the ballot stating all cats in the City must wear bells and be licensed as feline predators by the city (same blog).)

Their salespeople collect “soft” funds from bird watching groups (so this is an Independent PAC). These funds cannot be used for the ad mentioned, but can be used for another (they are printed and mailed together, but paid for separately) that advises: “Birds suffer untold horrors under the paws of cats that sneak up on them.” This ad doesn't advocate directly for or against the measure, it “educates” the populace. 

Mislead -- Lie" -- it's OK

What if the “education” were false? That’s OK, under the rules; soft money in unlimited quantities can still be used.

So, the organization, which, remember, had three members, appears to be a large, well-funded group, and voters are donating to support its views. This is a “pretend” campaign, but it’s similar the real one.

For real, now

In Costa Mesa right now we have half a million dollars, apparently all from “connected” Big Labor PACs, pouring in to defeat the Charter. The dire, although false, message of some flyers is “the Charter puts Costa Mesa at risk.” That flyer could be paid for with unlimited “soft” money. The “Vote No on Measure V” flyer would be paid for with hard money, which is collected and distributed under more demanding rules.

The 3M’s, Mensinger, McCarthy, and Monahan, and the Charter (Measure V) advocates are being outspent exponentially (about 10:1 at this time). The great majority of the money spent to defeat them is coming from labor unions headquartered in Sacramento.

Protect us from -- whom

Big Labor has developed an intense interest in “protecting” Costa Mesa from a Charter. Protecting is the arguable term. And who is protecting Costa Mesa from the union propaganda and disinformation – and bankruptcy sooner or later?

Obvious answer

I guess we pretty well have to vote for Mensinger, McCarthy and Monahan, as well as "Yes on V” to protect ourselves. But we already knew that.

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