Presidential super PACs operating expansive shadow campaigns — buying ads, hosting town hall meetings and hiring canvassers — have raised more than twice as much money as the candidates themselves, newly filed campaign finance documents show.
About three dozen such super PACs collectively raised more than $266 million from January through June while the campaigns of 2016 presidential hopefuls collectively raised just half that much — about $130 million — according to a Center for Public Integrity review.
The total raised by super PACs is about 17 times more than comparable groups raised during the same period four years ago, when the term “super PAC” had yet to make it into the dictionary.
Super PACs, made possible thanks to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, can accept unlimited donations from corporations, unions and individuals. They may use the funds to support or oppose candidates, but are prohibited from coordinating their spending with campaigns.
Leading in the money chase: Right to Rise USA, a group that supports former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, which raised more than $103 million.
Bush helped raise millions for the group, despite the anti-coordination rules. Bush attended numerous fundraising events for the super PAC, but got around the prohibition by making appearances prior to announcing his 2016 candidacy.
Two dozen donors each gave Right to Rise USA at least $1 million during the year’s first half, with about 90 percent of it coming before Bush officially launched his campaign in June. One of those million-dollar donors was NextEra Energy, a Florida-based Fortune 200 energy company.
A pair of famous Texas retirees also made handsome donations to Right to Rise USA: former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, who gave $125,000 and $95,000, respectively.
While the pro-Bush super PAC dominated all others, a cluster of five super PACs supporting the presidential candidacy of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, raised about $38 million.
Two groups backing Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin raised more than $26 million.
And a super PAC backing Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., raised about $16 million.
In each case, the super PACs raised more than the candidates themselves — sometimes many times over. Bush’s official campaign, for instance, has collected just $11 million to date.
Never before have super PACs played such a prominent role in a presidential contest — especially so early in the process. Now, nearly every major candidate has a super PAC doppelganger.
Among the Republican contenders, only celebrity business tycoon Donald Trump, who so far has self-funded the bulk of his campaign, doesn’t yet have an allied super PAC capable of raising significant cash.
This represents a dramatic shift from four years ago.
At this stage of the 2012 presidential election, only President Barack Obama and eventual Republican nominee Mitt Romney enjoyed the support of aligned super PACs. Super PACs supporting many 2012 GOP hopefuls did not form until the fall or winter of 2011.
“The first thing I’m going to do as a presidential candidate is see if there’s a super PAC out there to support me, or someone willing to form a super PAC to help me,” said John Grimaldi, a political operative who worked for a pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC in 2012 but is not working for a campaign or super PAC this election cycle.
“A super PAC eliminates a major portion of your campaign expenditures as a candidate,” Grimaldi continued. “It makes it easier to run.”
Why? The answer, in part, is that deep-pocketed donors who are prohibited from donating large sums of money directly to the candidates themselves may give unlimited amounts to super PACs — as may corporations and labor unions.
No limits, no problem
Candidates may only accept donations of $2,700 per person, per election, and $5,000 per election from corporate or labor political action committees.
“We are not subject to contribution limits like the campaigns are, so that certainly helps build resources to get our message out,” said Jordan Russell, spokesman for the Opportunity and Freedom PAC, which is backing former Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s White House run.
The Opportunity and Freedom PAC has already spent more than $2.3 million on advertisements touting Perry — more than twice as much as the Republican’s presidential campaign raised through the end of June.
This dynamic frustrates many of the presidential contenders, and some, including Cruz, are openly calling for contribution limits to candidates to be eliminated entirely.
“Our current campaign finance system is ridiculous,” Cruz told the Center for Public Integrity in a recent interview. “The way to do it is to let campaigns speak for themselves directly.”
Even grassroots favorites, such as Republican Ben Carson, a former neurosurgeon, have allied super PACs.
One super PAC working on Carson’s behalf raised $13.5 million last year and another $2.9 million during the first half of 2015, while Carson’s campaign, which was launched in May, has raised $10.6 million.
“I personally have not gone around chasing after billionaires and special interest groups,” Carson told the Center for Public Integrity. “We’re getting an enormous response from the grassroots. That’s the people that I want to be beholden to.”
Wealthy donors have certainly helped fuel the super PAC spree — and many of them are hedging their bets and supporting multiple White House contenders in a field that’s grown to 17 Republicans and five Democrats.
Hedging their bets
Rich donors flirting with multiple Republican candidates spread, in some cases, millions of dollars among super PACs backing different candidates. This continues a trend that first emerged after presidential candidates themselves released campaign disclosures earlier this month.
Take hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who laid down $11 million to a pro-Cruz super PAC called Keep the Promise I, making him practically the sole funder.
That’s a pretty big investment.
But surprisingly, Keep the Promise I steered $500,000 to a super PAC backing Cruz rival Carly Fiorina — presumably at Mercer’s direction, and possibly a sign that were Cruz to falter or withdraw, Mercer could direct the super PAC elsewhere.
On top of that, Mercer wrote a $250,000 check to Believe Again, a super PAC supporting Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Republican presidential bid.
Then there’s former Univision CEO Jerry Perenchio, who was the biggest donor to the super PAC backing Fiorina, who gave nearly $1.6 million. He also gave $100,000 to the pro-Bush Right to Rise USA super PAC.
An investment firm tied to Manoj Bhargava, the politically active founder of beverage company 5-hour Energy, similarly placed multiple six-figure bets on super PACs supporting three GOP presidential candidates, all governors.
The company, called ETC Capital LLC, gave $150,000 to America Leads, a super PAC backing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, $150,000 to the Unintimidated PAC, which supports Walker, and $100,000 to the pro-Jindal Believe Again super PAC.
Bhargava’s investment firm was among the top five donors last year to the Republican Governors Association, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the firm would back three current Republican governors seeking the White House, two of whom — Christie and Jindal — are past RGA chairs.
Even Marlene Ricketts, the matriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team and the mother of Walker’s campaign finance chairman, Todd Ricketts, spread her money around.
But her largest donation — $4.9 million — went to Walker’s Unintimidated PAC, representing a quarter of the super PAC’s take.
Working closer with candidates
Bradley Crate, chief financial officer for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said that four years ago, super PAC leaders proceeded with a measure of caution, afraid of violating laws that restricted how they interfaced with political candidates.
Today, such fears have largely dissipated, with the ideologically gridlocked Federal Election Commission often unable to agree on how to interpret and regulate the most basic of election law matters. Although illegal coordination laws still exist, this gives super PACs the opportunity to work more intimately with candidates up to a point.
Some super PACs are even absorbing many of the responsibilities traditionally reserved for a candidate’s own campaign, said Crate, now president of Red Curve Solutions, a Massachusetts-based campaign finance consulting firm.
“That’s what I would do,” he said.
Alex Cohen and Chris Zubak-Skees contributed to this report.
This story was co-published with TIME.
Say you’re reading a long story — one that picks up on a lot of other fast-moving threads in the news, some of which you haven’t been following. It makes repeated mention of people whose significance you’ve forgotten. You could open up another tab, throw their names into Google, and scan through the results. But who wants to find other articles just to help you understand the one you’re already reading?
RELATED ARTICLEContext is built into a story in The Washington Post’s experimental “Knowledge Map”July 16, 2015The Washington Post’s Knowledge Map aims to diminish that frustration by embedding context and background directly in a story. (We wrote about it briefly when it debuted earlier this month.) Highlighted links and buttons within the story, allowing readers to click on and then read brief overviews — called “supplements” — on the right hand side of the same page, without having to leave the page (currently the text and supplements are not tethered, so if you scroll away in the main story, there’s no easy way to jump back to the phrase or name you clicked on initially).
Solving the problem of context — the fact that different readers bring different amount of knowledge to a story — has been one of the primary quests of the past half decade. Vox’s Card Stacks, Circa’s atomized stories, “9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask” — all are attempts to build background knowledge into daily news production. And in-story footnotes are hardly new; those with slightly longer memories may recall Apture, which aimed to automate a similar result.
What makes the Post’s Knowledge Map more interesting than some other efforts its aim to use to create a single underlying knowledge base for Post stories — one that can be automatically responsive to stories at the word level. And it might have revenue potential.
Knowledge Map debuted on a story from the Post’s “Confronting the Caliphate” series. In its announcement, the Post had hinted that down the line, it could automatically mine “big data” to “surface highly personalized and contextual data for both journalistic and native content.”
What does highly personalized content look like for readers? And what does the potential automation mean for reporters trying to strike a balance between overstuffing a story with context and keeping it so lean readers are lost?
“You go on vacation and then all this stuff happened — how can we help pick up the pieces for these readers?” said Sarah Sampsel, the Post’s director of digital strategy and design, of the thinking behind the feature.
Knowledge Map sprouted a few months ago out of a design sprint (based on a five-day brainstorming method outlined by Google Ventures) that included the Post’s New York-based design and development team WPNYC and members of the data science team in the D.C. office, as well as engineers, designers, and other product people. After narrowing down a list of other promising projects, the team presented to the Post newsroom and to its engineering team an idea for providing readers with better summaries and context for the most complicated, long-evolving stories.
That idea of having context built into a story “really resonated” with colleagues, Sampsel said, so her team quickly created a proof-of-concept using an existing Post story, recruiting their first round of testers for the prototype via Craigslist. Because they had no prior data on what sort of key phrases or figures readers might want explained for any given story, the team relied on trial and error to settle on the right level of detail.
“We just tried to use common sense to figure out where people might have a question about something in particular but the reporters just didn’t have the space to dive into,” said WPNYC user experience designer Blake Hunsicker, who along with the Post’s digital foreign editor Swati Sharma picked out the phrases to illuminate. (Hunsicker helped write the supplemental information for the Islamic State story in which Knowledge Map debuted.) “As a rule, we just tried to use more conversational writing, reworked some of the supplements over several times, and tried again and again and again.”
Recruited users who gave feedback on the earliest version seemed to prefer “shorter and straight-to-the-point supplements that also stressed a few important things, rather a definition about a place or person,” Hunsicker said — so he opts for bullet points whenever possible when writing.
The Post team is still analyzing data from the public rollout of Knowledge Map a few weeks ago to figure out how users’ engagement with a Knowledge Map story is different from that with a story in a traditional layout. They’re also studying which supplements attract more readers or lead to more clicks on other supplements, according to Sampsel and Sam Han, the Post’s engineering director for data science. They’re examining whether the position of a link in a sentence or the frame on a button might be inviting more clicks; they say it’s still too early to draw any conclusions.
“We saw much better engagement on the story with the Knowledge Map initially,” Sampsel said. “But that was publicized, and includes that big push and everything, so we are taking a longer time to see how the engagement data unfolds.” But, at least anecdotally, reactions to the added context have been “overwhelmingly positive,” she said.
The key part of this sort of added context is that it’s reusable; Vox doesn’t have to rebuild its fracking card stack from scratch for every fracking story. When more and more stories in the future get the Knowledge Map treatment, Han says, “we’ll have a database of all these supplements, who has clicked on them, and how many times. So when a reporter has written the story, an engine will analyze the sentence and make a recommendation to say, ‘these are the supplements available,’ and let the reporter and editor decide whether or not to use them.”
RELATED ARTICLEThe New York Times built a robot to help make article tagging easierJuly 30, 2015Reporters, he envisions, will see the suggested supplement and use it as is, or tweak the background information described to better fit their own article, adding their edited version into the database. He hopes eventually the supplement database will be integrated with the Post’s content management system.
The potential specificity of these supplements also opens up new avenues for attracting advertisers, Han said. Every supplement will be tagged with categories such as “technology,” “national security,” or “business.” So when readers click on a keyword in a story and switch their focus from reading the main article to reading the supplement, they might see a topical advertisement attached to that particular supplement. (Currently on most Post stories, ads appear in the main body of a story as the reader scrolls down, every few paragraphs.)
Full-blown implementation of this sort is still a ways off, Han and Sampsel said, and the team is still working through how automation will impact editorial workflow. “We’ll want to run additional tests, potentially with the same topic, but we’re also looking into other topics that might interest people,” Sampsel said. “Ideally we want to run something like this across more stories, so a reader could link together common themes between them.”
Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center used under a Creative Commons license.
Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the International Olympic Committee's choice of Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
After the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, today's announcement shows that the IOC continues to support regimes that openly flout human rights and freedom of information.
Beijing will now be the world's first city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics although the Chinese authorities are pressing on with a major crackdown on journalists and bloggers. Reporters Without Borders is appalled that the IOC is so out of touch with the reality of the human rights situation in China.
“The decision to award these games to China is a blank cheque for all the freedom of information predators, who will be able to carry on flouting the fundamental freedoms of their citizens without suffering any international consequences,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“The Olympic Games are supposed to transmit such universal values as respect for others and living in peace. By awarding the games to Beijing, where freedom of information is being obliterated, the IOC is consigning these values to the trash.”
One of they key arguments in the Chinese application was the pledge to put a great deal of effort into reducing Beijing's air pollution. Reporters Without Borders regrets that the same effort will not be put into reducing the ubiquitous propaganda, releasing journalists and bloggers, and promoting media freedom.
Beijing mayor Wang Anshun promised to hold “games that are joyful and harmonious, games that are safe and reliable.” This is very ironic, because “harmonization” is the term used in China to refer to the government's censorship and news control.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics were accompanied by a wave of arrests, convictions, censorship, surveillance and harassment of dozens of journalists, bloggers and dissidents.
As China celebrates today's announcement, the health of Gao Yu, a journalist detained since May 2014, continues to worsen and many other well-known journalists and human rights activists remain in prison.
Those arrested last year include the cyber dissident Xu Zhiyong and the Uyghur blogger Ilham Tohti. This year, reporters and activists working for the news website 64Tianwang have joined the list of about 100 journalists and netizens currently detained in China.
Mazen Darwish, the head of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) is still being held although his SCM colleagues Hussein Ghreer and Hani Al-Zitani were released provisionally two weeks ago along with hundreds of other detainees during the Eid-Al-Fitr religious holiday.
With exactly a month to go to the next hearing in their drawn-out trial, Reporters Without Borders joins Mazen Darwish's family in requesting his immediate release. According to his family, he is now being held at the General Directorate for Security in Damascus.
“We condemn Mazen Darwish's arbitrary detention and the judicial persecution to which he continues to be subjected, and we urge the authorities to free him at once,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Middle East and Maghreb desk.
“Darwish and his colleagues were imprisoned while doing an excellent job of documenting human rights violations in Syria. All three, and their other SCM colleagues, should be granted an unconditional release and all charges against them should be dropped.”
Released provisionally on 17 and 18 July respectively, Hussein Ghreer and Hani Al-Zitani continue to be co-defendants along with Darwish in the same trial on terrorism charges that has been postponed about 25 times since February 2013. The next hearing is scheduled for 31 August.
No official information is available about Darwish's current status and location. According to his family, he was transferred from Hama prison (where he had been since January) to Damascus in order to be released, like his colleagues, but the General Directorate for Security (Syrian's main civilian intelligence agency) decided to continue holding him.
His family and colleagues have issued a statement summarizing the latest information about his case, calling for his immediate release, and holding the authorities responsible for his safety.
A long battle against injustice
Darwish, Ghreer and Al-Zitani were arrested along with all of the SCM's other employees when air force intelligence officers raided its Damascus headquarters on 16 February 2012. They were subjected to enforced disappearance after their arrest, and were mistreated and tortured.
Their trial on a charge of “publishing information about terrorist acts” was quickly suspended after it began in February 2013 and was thereafter repeatedly postponed.
The UN General Assembly called for the release of Darwish and his colleagues in its Resolution 67/262 of 15 May 2013. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention did the same in January 2014. Security Council Resolution 2139 of 22 February 2014 called for the release of all persons arbitrarily detained in Syria.
Ranked 177th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Syria continues to be one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists.
A new mobile ad report shows that while you probably start your day with social, news app users are loyal
When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first app you open? Is it a social media app? If so, you’re in good company.
According to the latest quarterly State of Mobile Advertising report from Opera Mediaworks, which bills itself as the “first mobile ad platform built for brands,” the majority of smartphone users in the United States start their day with a social media app and end their day with an app from the entertainment section of the app store.
That’s according to data based on the Opera Mediaworks platform, which the company says reaches 800 million consumers. Its publishing customers include Wired, Vanity Fair, and CBS.
While seeing this might make some editors want to tear out their hair, hold off because not all is lost for news producers. Among users who have downloaded apps classified as News & Information, news apps hold the honor of being the apps to which users are most loyal. According to the study: “This category had the most consistent first and last app of the day usage across the entire month. It also had the smallest relative change in its audience size between morning and evening.”
For app developers wondering how to find an audience, or where they would be able to best monetize their app, the results are split. In the first quarter of 2015, Android overtook iOS for the first time in percentage of revenue earned (47.66 percent of all revenue generated, to accompany its 63.72 percent share of all traffic across apps). Despite this, iOS (which makes up 47.16 percent of all revenue earned and 21.74 percent of all traffic) maintains its lead in monetization potential, or the ratio between impressions and revenue. In this, the iPad continues to be a leader — its share of revenue is 4.5× its share of impressions.
Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by newspaper editor Xavier Messe's long interrogation by the Yaoundé judicial police on 29 July, which follows other examples in recent months of a more repressive government approach to journalists in Cameroon.
Messe, who edits the Mutations daily and is widely respected for his professionalism, was questioned for more than six hours about an article by one of his journalists describing tension and clashes between two members of President Paul Biya's party.
The final sentence, suggesting that President Biya was happy to see members of the Cameroonian elite squabbling among themselves, was apparently regarded by the authorities as “anti-patriotic.”
“We are extremely worried by this long interrogation of the editor of such a well-established newspaper as Mutations over such a harmless comment,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.
“We see it as a clear sign that a tougher line is being taken with the Cameroonian media, especially as other developments confirm this trend. The current security situation is obviously complex, but it should not be constantly exploited to prevent any comments about the president.”
Other examples of a more authoritarian approach include the case of Félix Cyriaque Ebole Bola of Mutations and Rodrigue Tongue of Le Messager, who have been awaiting trial before a military court since last October just for trying to get the police to confirm information for a story involving security. The authorities are still preparing the prosecution case.
Le Zénith editor Zacharie Ndiomo, who spent five months in prison in appalling conditions and without access to his medicine, is again the target of a criminal libel case brought by the same official over the same report. This is a clear violation of legal principle that a person cannot be tried twice for the same alleged crime.
Other examples include parliament's approval last December of an anti-terrorism law that can be applied to journalists. This is particularly worrying because Cameroon has still not decriminalized media offences and often sends journalists to prison.
Cameroon is ranked 134th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.