Political Animal


May 19, 2012 9:22 AM The Effectiveness of Unintentional Disclosure

By Matthew Zeitlin

As reported by the New York Times earlier this week (and discussed extensively by Ed), Joe Ricketts, the conservative businessman who founded TD Ameritrade, put together an advertising strategy with the help of famed conservative adman Fred Davis to bring back the Jeremiah Wright issue right around the time of the Democratic convention.

The way the strategists behind the proposal framed their overall approach was to “do exactly what John McCain would not let us do.” As we all know, once the Times got their hands on the proposal and published their story, the strategists who drew up the plan and the Romney campaign furiously backed away from the proposal and it now seems unlikely that the Wright issue will come to fruition in any substantial way.

This episode, where a potentially controversial Super PAC ad campaign was undone by journalists getting their hands on the planning documents and identifying the funders and strategists themselves, is just another example of how important Citizens United is to the explosion of Super PACs in the 2012 race.

As the election lawyer Rick Hasen has argued, Joe Ricketts or any other conservative billionaire would have been able, before Citizens United, to independently fund election ads, but the ads would have to specify that “this message was paid for by Joe Ricketts.”

Now, with the advent of unlimited donations to Super PACs, Ricketts would not face the same personal disclosure requirements that governed independent expenditures in the pre-Citizens United era.

Of course, many major Super PAC donors are perfectly happy to be tied to their favorite candidate or party — Sheldon Adelson was hardly shy about his support of Newt Gingrich — but Ricketts had neither the desire nor stubbornness to be publicly known as the primary funder of a controversial political advertising campaign. This small episode suggests, along with a boatload of independent expenditure funding, that the Super PAC/individual donation distinction is operationally quite meaningful and that more systematic, holistic disclosure rules could tamp down on the most blatant excesses that mark the brave new world of campaign finance.


  • Kiweagle on May 19, 2012 12:27 PM:

    I still remember the Swift Boat Ads that were tepidly disavowed by the Bush administration which nonetheless duped a clueless demographic of voters into thinking their claims against John Kerry, a war hero, were true.

    If 2010 proved anything, it was that you can, in fact, "...fool some people all of the time...". And that is all that's required to win a majority, e.g. death panels, death of medicare, job creation priorities, Obama wasn't born in Hawa'ii, Obama is a Muslim, etc.

    Sadly, they're still falling for it.

  • c u n d gulag on May 19, 2012 1:14 PM:

    Thank you NY Times.
    Well done.

    This does not, by any stretch of the imagination, make-up for Judith Miller, or the feckin' stupidest decision ever by a newspaper - to sit on the story of "Baby Doc" Bush's mis-administration's ignoring restrictions on them to keep them from spying on citizens, until AFTER the 2004 Presidential election.

    The whole point of journalism, is (was?) to expose things like that so that people can know who and what they're voting for BEFORE an election - not to cover it up by sitting on it for a year so that you don't seem too partisan.

    Oh, to have my NY Times from the 60's and 70's back!
    Knowledge and facts aren't partisan.

  • exlibra on May 19, 2012 2:00 PM:

    What really gets my goat is that the same bastards (no offence to those born out of wedlock) who spout about "personal responsibility", "accountability", etc when it comes to offering a helping hand to those who really need it, all of a sudden become shy violets when it comes to disclosing their names after putting their money into the dirtiest of "pots". Surely, if you put down your money -- often to the tune of millions -- where your mouth is, you ought to be proud of yourself, and shout about it from the rooftops, consequences be damned?

    Is there one single area of life where Repubs are *not* hypocritical?

  • schtick on May 19, 2012 4:38 PM:

    Of course the Wright issue will not come to fruition, that's why it's first thing on the MSM constantly.

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