Super PACs Give Status to the Rich

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s recall victory was a glimpse into the future of American “democracy,” as billionaires showered him with Super PAC gifts like they might a favorite new mistress, a concern addressed by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

If you’re visiting a candidate this summer and looking for a thoughtful house gift, might we suggest a nice Super PAC? Thanks to the Supreme Court and Citizens United, they’re all the rage among the mega-wealthy.

All it takes is a little paperwork and a wad of cash and presto, you can have, as The Washington Post describes it, a “highly customized, highly personalized” political action committee.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaking to supporters. (Photo credit:

It’s easy — Super PACs come in all amounts and party affiliations. You don’t have to spend millions, although a gift that size certainly won’t be turned aside. Cable TV tycoon Marc Nathanson got a Super PAC for his friend, longtime Democratic Congressman Howard Berman from California, and all it cost was $100,000.

Down in North Carolina, Republican congressional candidate George Holding received a handsome Super PAC that includes $100,000 each from an aunt and uncle and a quarter of a million from a bunch of his cousins. Yes, nothing says family like a great big, homemade batch of campaign contributions.

You can start a Super PAC on your own or contribute to one that already exists. Super PACs are available for every kind of race presidential, congressional or statewide. But there are other ways you can help buy an election.

Look at the Wisconsin recall campaign of Republican Governor Scott Walker. At least 14 billionaires rushed to the support of the corporate right’s favorite union basher. He outraised his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, by nearly eight to one. Most of his money came from out of state. More than $60 million were spent, $45 million of it for Walker alone.

Here are just a few of the satisfied buyers:

–Wisconsin billionaire Diane Hendricks contributed more than half a million dollars on Scott Walker’s behalf. Her late husband built ABC Supply, America’s largest wholesale distributor of roofing, windows and siding.

Fearful the United States might become “a socialistic ideological nation,” she’s an ardent foe of unions and, in her words, “taxing job creators.” True to her aversion to taxes, she paid none in 2010, despite being worth, according to Forbes magazine, about $2.8 billion.

Before he launched his crusade against the collective bargaining rights of working people, Gov. Walker had a conversation with Diane Hendricks, in which she asked, “Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions and become a right-to-work [state]? What can we do to help you?”

Walker replied, “We`re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is, we`re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.”

And so he did.

–Walker also hauled in checks for nearly half a million from the Texas oligarch Bob Perry. He made his fortune in the home-building business and is best known nationally for contributing $4.5 million to the Swift Boat campaign that smeared the Vietnam War record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry back in 2004.

In Texas, Bob Perry is known for his cozy relationship with the state’s Supreme Court. He once gave money to every one of its nine elected judges. And guess what? Those same nine judges later overturned an $800,000 judgment against his building company for faulty construction.

Bob the Builder, who’s naturally eager for help in the cause of tort reform — that is, making it hard for everyday people to sue corporations like his for malfeasance — has so far given $4 million to the pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future, and millions to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC.

–Then there’s casino king Sheldon Adelson, who gave Scott Walker’s cause $250,000. That’s a drop in the old champagne bucket compared to the $21 million Adelson’s family gave to the Super PAC that kept Newt Gingrich in the race long after the formaldehyde had been ordered.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Adelson did not long mourn Gingrich’s passing, and has now given at least $10 million to the Restore Our Future Super PAC supporting Romney. By all accounts, what he expects in return is that his candidate hold unions at bay and swear that Israel can do no wrong.

–Next up on Scott Walker’s list of beneficent plutocrats: Rich DeVos, owner of the Orlando Magic basketball team and co-founder of the home products giant Amway, which, thanks to Republican leaders in Congress, once shared in a $19 million tax break after a million-dollar DeVos contribution to the Republican Party. He’s a long-time member of the secretive Council for National Policy, a who’s who of right-wing luminaries.

–Let’s not forget cowboy billionaire and born-again Christian, Foster Friess, Rick Santorum’s moneyman, who told us about the good ol’ days when women would “use Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

–And Louis Moore Bacon, the billionaire founder of the hedge fund Moore Capital which in 2010 was fined $25 million for attempted commodities manipulation. A big backer of Romney, he, too came to Walker’s aid in Wisconsin.

–So did Dallas oil-and-gas wildcatter Trevor Rees-Jones, who’s given millions to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, in anticipation of another administration as friendly to taxpayer subsidies for big oil as the Rove-Bush White House.

Last year, Rees-Jones’ company, Chief Oil, and a partner sold to Chevron nearly a quarter million acres in northeast America’s Marcellus Shale the epicenter of the raging controversy over fracking. Estimated price: $1 billion.

We could go on and name more, but you get the picture. These are the people who are helping to fund what the journalist Joe Hagan describes as a “tsunami of slime.”

Even as they and their chosen candidates are afforded respectability in the value-free world of plutocracy, they can hide the fingerprints they leave on the bleeding corpse of democracy in part because each Super PAC comes with that extra special something every politician craves: plausible deniability.

When one of their ads says something nasty and deceitful about an opponent when it slanders and lies the pol can shrug and say: “Not my doing. It’s the Super Pac that’s slinging the mud, not me.”

And that’s how the wealthy one percent does its dirty business. They are, by the way, as we were reminded by CNN’s Charles Riley in his report, “Can 46 Rich Dudes Buy an Election?” almost all men, mostly white, “and so far, the vast majority of their contributions have been made to conservative groups.”

They want to own this election. So if there are any of you left out there with millions to burn, better buy your candidate now, while supplies last.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at

5 comments for “Super PACs Give Status to the Rich

  1. June 16, 2012 at 10:58


    Cris Ericson, United States Marijuana Party, is on the official election ballot in Vermont Nov. 6, 2012, running against incument Bernie Sanders for the seat in the United States Senate.

    Cris Ericson on WNYT 2008

    Cris Ericson 2010 and 2004 C-Span

    Cris Ericson CCTV 2006, 2008, 2010

    • F. G. Sanford
      June 16, 2012 at 18:54

      NOBODY. The Viet Nam war protests really took off because rich peoples’ kids were getting drafted faster than they could arrange deferments. There is big money to be made on those privately owned “for-profit” prisons. As long as it’s just black and poor people doing time, it will go on forever. There is money to be made on the drugs,the legal system and the penal system. Until they start throwing rich white kids in the slammer, don’t expect any change. If it wasn’t for the ridiculous legal contortions caused by these laws, how many mediocre lawyers would be out of work overnight? Everybody that thinks banking is a scam ought to check out the legal system.

  2. Dan Huck
    June 16, 2012 at 00:14

    It’s a Republican talking: “The rights of people come before the rights of capital” Abraham Lincoln

    “The real issue in this country is the eternal struggle
    between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout
    the world. They are the two principles that have stood
    face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue
    to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity,
    and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same
    principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same
    spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread and I’ll
    eat it.”

    Now it is the divine right of capitalists and plutocrats we are contending with.

  3. June 15, 2012 at 18:53

    At the inception of the United States’ “democracy” only white men with property could vote, hold office, be judges, jurors, etc.—a pattern typical of the ancient slave owner’s Greek state from which the concept of “democracy” was borrowed.

    Then consider the United States—a centuries old industry that has special forces and traders engaged in the capture of humans, has a whole industry that builds special transport ships for its human cargo, has specific insurance for the transport, has an industry that produces special iron forged instruments of containment and torture, has an international trade involving the production and sale of rum as the finance for the human cargo, has a whole religious, philosophical academic rationale for the industry, has special training camps and personnel for breaking the will of the captured, special brutalized work camps called plantations where the human cargo is also rented to other industries for building, coal mining, and has an entire society built on the premise of this industry for centuries.

    Then the evolution of the vote for white men with property produces the present “democracy” where money is speech and the paper dolls we call corporations are persons.

  4. rosemerry
    June 15, 2012 at 16:45

    I am HUGELY grateful not to be an American, but even an outsider can gasp at the farce masquerading as democracy in the “land of the free”. Any government which goes out of its way to remove all power, resources, rights from the vast majority of its citizens and give them to the few who already have nearly all cannot even pretend to be democratic. How can anyone claim that the US Congress contains “Representatives” of human Mercans, when lobbies and billionaires run the show? How can a country survive when public education is gutted, “health care” has never been introduced except to special groups, environmental policy is run by corporations, middle and working class people have lost homes and retirement benefits, unions are destroyed and peace activists are imprisoned, while the rich enjoy their ill gotten gains by treading the faces of the 99% into the mud and laughing about it?

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