Meet the Obama Super-PAC Mega-Donors
posted at 1:19 pm on July 5, 2012 by Karl
National Review’s Jim Geraghty notes that so far, the super-PAC founded by top Obama staffers and its aligned “independent” groups are outspending groups that oppose the president by roughly two to one:
Priorities USA Action, founded by Obama’s former deputy White House press secretary, Bill Burton; Sean Sweeney, the former chief of staff to Rahm Emanuel; and Harold Ickes, who was deputy chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. This super PAC has spent $13.5 million in opposition to Romney so far, outspending all the super-PAC efforts opposing the president combined. While Priorities USA Action is often described as a “pro-Obama” super PAC in news coverage, it has yet to spend a single penny that it categorizes as “supporting” President Obama; all of its spending is classified as “opposing” Mitt Romney.
This news is not fit to print in a lengthy piece by Robert Draper for The New York Times Magazine, ironically titled “Can the Democrats Catch Up in the Super-PAC Game?” However, that is merely one of many sins of omission from the NYT in the piece. Readers will be treated to what is mostly a puff piece about the people behind the main Obama super-PAC, and very little about those donating. Suffice it to say that if you donate to a rightie super-PAC, the New York Times will give you the media version of a colonoscopy, usually involving Nicholas Confessore. Just ask Charles and David Koch, Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess, or Joe Ricketts. NYT staffers will dig and dig in their quest to expose “the Republican Party’s elite donor class.”
When it comes to Priorities USA, however, the Times gets tight-lipped. The one donor the NYT Magazine mentions at any length is “a wealthy and left-leaning 41-year-old Houston lawyer named Steve Mostyn,” who is “a frequent giver to Democratic causes.” That is one way of putting it. In contrast, here is how the Washington Examiner put it:
Steve Mostyn, a Texas trial lawyer who made his fortune in hurricane damage lawsuits, contributed $10 million to Democrats in the 2010 cycle, mostly at the state and local levels. The large-scale influence-buying scheme failed when Democrats were crushed that November. Trial lawyers like Mostyn were rolled in the following legislative session. New hurricane insurance reforms chipped away at an apparently cozy relationship between the state-run hurricane insurer and trial lawyers who were suing it and taking 67 percent attorneys’ fees at settlement.
Texas’ Democratic Party is in shambles today, despite tens of millions in trial lawyer money that was invested to rebuild it. This year, Democrats failed even to field a credible candidate for U.S. Senate. And so to avoid throwing too much good money after bad, Mostyn and other trial lawyers changed their strategy. Instead of going all-out for the Democrats, they found and funded friendly Republicans to run in the contests that were decided this week. They concentrated especially on two open-seat state Senate races where they saw an opportunity to install Republican friends of the trial bar. They made huge individual contributions to candidates, and funneled millions more through PACs mostly connected to Mostyn, with deceptive names like “Conservative Voters of Texas,” “Texans for Insurance Reform” and “Texans for Individual Rights.”
Indeed, Mostyn is president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. That context might have given NYT readers reason to question whether the Mostyn’s protests about super-PACs and the Citizens United decision were on the level.
The NYT notes in passing that Priorities USA received $2 million in seed money from Jeffrey Katzenberg, the C.E.O. of DreamWorks Animation. The piece does not mention what you might learn from the Sunlight Foundation:
Katzenberg was a guest at a Feb. 14 luncheon hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Xi Jinjing, the current vice president and all-but-certain next president of the People’s Republic of China. Katzenberg wasn’t just there to offer a valentine; he told the Financial Times that he needed Xi’s personal approval of a deal he had arranged with three state-owned media firms to create a Chinese-based studio that hopes to launch its first feature film in 2016.
Biden and Xi hammered out an agreement on the last day of the Chinese vice president’s trip to the United States. According to — wait for it — the NYT, Katzenberg also helped forge the agreement, which is the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into whether some of Hollywood’s biggest movie studios have made illegal payments to officials in China to gain the right to film and show movies there.
Or how about million-dollar donor Franklin Haney? A Tennessee real estate mogul, Haney has a well-documented record of scandals, fines, and indictments for alleged violations of federal campaign law. Although ultimately found not guilty, Haney did not dispute charges he illegally reimbursed friends, relatives and business associates for making more than $200,000 in contributions to the Clinton-Gore campaigns in 1992 and 1996 — he claimed to be ignorant of the law. No doubt Haney is as outraged as the Mostyns over the influence of secret big money in presidential politics.
Of course, the ridiculously partisan framing of news by the New York Times is not news. Nevertheless, this instance is worth documenting. After all, should Romney win, stories like this are already advancing the Establishment mindset — so present in the bogus reporting on the Wisconsin recall elections — that the GOP wins because it “buys elections” (having conveniently forgotten how much Obama outspent McCain in 2008). Then, after having flogged the narrative that GOP victories are not legitimate, the same media organs will complain that the Republicans are to blame for the ensuing political polarization.