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Tag Archive: aggregate limits

Breaking the limit: How the stealthy wealthy engaged in checkbook lobbying

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Striking down the limits on how many federal candidates and party committees an individual can shower with campaign cash--the main issues in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission--would not only open the door to bigger money in politics, it could also open the door to stealth lobbying campaigns on Capitol Hill by well-heeled donors. We know that because it already has happened, when limits were in place but not enforced. More than two decades ago, when Congress considered reforms that would put the brakes on hostile takeovers by corporate raiders, some of them used their checkbooks and their access to derail the effort without ever disclosing their lobbying efforts. Back in 1989, federal election law limited the amount an individual could give to candidates, parties and political action committees to $25,000. That year Texas billionaire and corporate takeover artist Harold C. Simmons contributed $45,500. That year Simmons, a staunch Republican now best known for seven-figure contributions to groups like Swift Boat Vets for Truth and American Crossroads, gave plenty to GOP pols. But, unusual for him, he also wrote $1,000 checks to Democratic stalwarts like Sens. David Boren, D-Okla., Paul Simon, D-Ill., and Max Baucus, D-Mont., as well as a $15,000 check to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Texas billionaire Harold C. Simmons

He contributed even more the year before--nearly $70,000, almost $45,000 over the limit. And he had plenty of company. Ronald O. Perelman, chairman of McAndrews and Forbes and, like Simmons, a corporate raider, gave $32,500 that year. Henry R. Kravis, whose firm Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts led a hostile takeover of RJR Nabisco that closed in December 1988, contributed $62,000 to federal candidates, PACs and party committees. They had good reason to. In 1988, Congress was considering legislation to address leveraged buy outs, or LBOs, through which high flying investors like Simmons, Perelman and Kravis acquired companies using mountains of debt. Most, but not all, raiders then sold off the most profitable divisions of the company, canceled pensions and siphoned off any excess money in the retirement fund, and laid off workers.

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Did almost 600 donors break campaign finance law in 2012?

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As many as 600 individuals appear to have exceeded the $117,000 that they were legally allowed to give directly to federal candidates, political parties and political committees in the last election cycle, records examined by the Sunlight Foundation suggest. But our most troubling finding may how difficult it is determine with legal certainty exactly how many campaign scofflaws there are, or how much over the limit they gave. Like our former Sunlight colleagues, Paul Blumenthal and Aaron Bycoffe of the Huffington Post, we have been curious about the number of donors who appear to have exceeded campaign spending limits, in an era when the Supreme Court has made it possible for wealthy individuals to give in unlimited amounts via super PACs. In addition to those who violated the overall limit for giving to federal campaigns, we identified as many as 1,478 individuals who may have given more than the legal limit of $70,800 to parties and committees and 507 who appear to have given more than the $46,200 legal aggregate limit to individual candidates.

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