The one remaining stronghold of campaign reform, in light of the Citizens United decision, has been that direct contributions to candidates remains restricted, that corporations could spend freely in elections but not directly contribute to political parties. In a lawsuit filed last week, as reported by the Washington Post, the Republican National Committee is attempting to overcome even this restriction, allowing the parties themselves to accept unlimited, unaccountable and anonymous donations.
The suit’s goals are to eliminate caps on donations to the central party committees, allowing them to become Super-Duper PACs as it were. With these restrictions lifted, the parties would gain the power of the SuperPAC without the restrictions that prohibit the SuperPAC’s from directly aiding a particular candidate. As it is right now, a donor is limited in the maximum amount he can supply to any particular political party, in order to prevent the laundering of funds to any particular candidate. With these limits removed, the central committee can funnel funds from any number of donors to whichever race it is chosen, unfettered.
The center of this is Alabama conservative activist Shaun McCutcheon, who wishes to donate more than the $70,800 limit currently in place. Mr McCutcheon is rabid in claiming himself a small business owner, but upon investigation, he is the owner of Coalmont Electrical Development, a large supplier of electrical and coal mining equipment. Mr McCutcheon is active in his Tea Party group, financed by his business interest. The lawsuit filed on Mr. McCutcheon’s behalf is being handled by Najvar Law Firm in Houston, Texas as well as DB Capitol Strategies PLLC in Washington D.C.
This is not the first such suit by DB Capitol Strategies PLLC, which previously had won the case “Carey, Eustis & National Defense PAC v. Federal Election Commission” which allowed for traditional PAC groups to become SuperPACs without the need to reorganize. Najvar Law Firm is less well-known, but its founder, Jerad Najvar, worked in the George W Bush Justice Department after his graduation from Texas A&M in 2003, as a researcher for the legal justification to operate Guantanamo Bay.
With the Citizens United decision, the political parties lost significant strength, as their previous donor pool no longer had to launder funds through the central party in order to reach the candidates. The rise of SuperPAC’s filled that role, as a corporation which desired a message to be expressed had a one stop shop for unlimited, unaccountable funding. As a result, the Republican Party has been crippled in its operational strength, with donations down a full third since the decision. The Democratic Party however has grown by 10% since 2008, having less corporate backers to begin with, and has currently raised 20% more this election cycle than the Republicans. (Source Opensecrets.org)
The issue that the Republican National Committee is having with the rush to SuperPACs over its own party structure is the loss of control. The RNC cannot control the message of these independent groups, and as a result you have millions poured into groups that have agendas against their goals. The resulting mess caused by these independent SuperPACs during the primary is still reverberating through the system. They can operate as kingmakers, pushing their candidates and agendas, unfettered by the party bosses which had previously controlled the message.
It is clear that the goal with this new lawsuit is to make the central committees relevant in this age of unlimited finance. Their inability to prevent internal revolts, undermines the network of favors and connections which the parties have built up over the years. They fear being rendered impotent in the face of the financial juggernaut unleashed upon the election system.
The GOP knows if they cannot undo their own limits to donations, they will be shoved aside, no longer in control of the debate or message. The loss of finances is already causing problems for the various state organizations as their financing dries up. This lawsuit is their attempt to undo an unintended consequence of the Citizen United decision, one which they should have seen coming.