A post over at Blogging While Blue piqued my interest on April 10. The post, which correctly points out how candidates like Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and others have benefited from the use of Super PACs (often funded by single or few individuals), also implied that Super PACs could spell the end of state parties. Well, maybe elsewhere, but not in Georgia.
The Blogging While Blue post states:
Traditional PACs and the Parties
Super PACs are unencumbered by donation limits and the disclosure process for contribution reporting is lax. State parties on the other hand have strict limits on contributions and how they spend their money and disclosures are strict. If individuals or corporations are interested in influencing an election it would be a lot easier to create your own entity instead of dealing with the usual drama of state party politics where technically the money cannot be directed to one specific candidate or race.
Moving forward, how will state and local parties compete with these new organizations? The short answer is they can’t.
In spite of having similar names, Super PACs are very different organizations from traditional Political Action Committees. So says Wikipedia:
The 2010 election marked the rise of a new political committee, dubbed the “super PAC”. They are officially known as “independent-expenditure only committees,” because unlike traditional PACs they may not make contributions to candidate campaigns or parties, but rather must do any political spending independently of the campaigns. Also unlike traditional PACs, they can raise funds from corporations, unions and other groups, and from individuals, without legal limits.
The Blogging While Blue article references limits on contributions to state parties. Some states do have such limits, but Georgia is not one of them. If you want to give the DPG $1,000,000 — go right ahead. The state party is subjected to federal contribution limits, so that $1 million couldn’t be spent to save John Barrow or re-elect Barack Obama, but it could be spent to help elect a Democratic Governor, Commissioner of Insurance, etc… In the General Election, the DPG can take your cool million and spend it on any group of non-federal candidates they like. This is the function of a little known entity within the DPG and other state parties called The Unified Campaign Committee. As for avoiding the “usual drama of state political parties”, there they have a point.
The Democratic Party of Georgia is clearly no longer the money king. Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta, Georgia’s remaining Democratic Congressmen and of course OFA all outshine the DPG. A typical Governor’s race, for example, will raise more than the DPG raises in a decade. But with all due respect to our political leaders, people come and go, they bow out, they get old, they’re perishable. Political parties can falter but are (thankfully) made to survive more than one leader. Long after OFA has faded, the DNC and DPG will still exist as they’ve done for over 100 years.
Super PACs do not spell the end of political parties, but they have changed the financial game, at least until their reporting rules are eventually brought more in line with other political entities. Even then, a Super PAC will never be able to qualify candidates, offer ballot access, encompass the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses, funnel theoretically unlimited funds directly into a campaign or campaigns, coordinate with campaigns, elect DNC Members, elect Delegates to the convention, build a statewide network, or perform any of the 50 other tasks expected of state parties. Nor will they ever wield the political power potentially available to a state party that is firing on all cylinders. This doesn’t mean that PACs and Super PACs don’t serve an important role.
The folks over at Better Georgia, an affiliate of Progress Now, are putting their stuff together but aren’t firmly established quite yet. So far, they have been a force for good and already have some successes under their belt. However, there are plenty of conservative organizations in opposition to them and more pop up every month. To think the same thing that happened in Colorado could happen here in Georgia is to misunderstand the political landscape. Democratic and Progressive PACs can help our candidates win, but unless there are changes in Georgia’s Election Code, their role will always be supportive. In Colorado and some other states, political parties have had their hands tied by election laws that severely limit their ability to fund raise, but so far, here in Georgia those laws are limited to federal races.
Finally, the Blogging While Blue article certainly makes some good points, especially in regards to the massive drop off in high dollar fundraising the Democratic Party of Georgia has experienced over the past six years. The launch of every new political organization means the DPG’s share dwindles further. This, combined with lackluster high dollar fundraising performance has left the DPG down, but it will never be completely out.
Unfortunately, the finances of the DPG are even worse than have been reported. The BWB post relied on a report from the AJC’s Political Insider, in which Galloway misses a key fact. According to Galloway, the DPG has $149,095 in cash on hand, but the actual number is far lower. The error is due to reliance on the state ethics reporting system, which counts not only the Democratic Party of Georgia but also the Georgia House Democratic Caucus and Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus. For more accurate numbers, you have to consult the Federal Elections Commission. The Republican Party of Georgia’s March report is already on file and the DPG’s March report is expected by the end of the week. Only there will we see the full extent of the damage.
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