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HUFFPOST FUNDRACE -- Banks Start A Super PAC, Claim Too Little Influence In Washington

Posted: 04/ 4/2012 5:45 pm Updated: 04/ 4/2012 5:57 pm

"Congress isn't afraid of bankers ... They don't think we'll do anything to kick them out of office. We are trying to change that perception." That is the reasoning behind the banking industry starting their very own super PAC -- Friends of Traditional Banking. Yes, from the industry that brought you the $800 billion bailout, years of banking deregulation policy, loosened rules around mortgages, and an untransparent Federal Reserve, among countless other things, comes an unlimited money corporate super PAC to influence Congress even more. Commercials banks currently rank as the 13th biggest donor to political campaigns in 2012 based on the contributions of their employees. In 2011 they ranked 18th in terms of lobbying spending. When combined with other pieces of the overall finance sector -- what campaign finance observers call the Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate sector (FIRE) -- there is no match for lobbying or campaign contributions. The FIRE sector, which includes commercial banks, is, far and away, the biggest contributor of campaign funds and the biggest spender on lobbying in Washington over the past 14 years.

The New York Times' Ross Douthat makes the argument in favor of super PACs previously made by Dave Weigel, Richard Cohen, and argued decades before by former Sens. Eugene McCarthy and James Buckley, albeit they were talking about unlimited direct contributions to candidates. Douthat's argument is that super PACs have been a boon to democracy because they have allowed underfunded candidates to garner public attention through large contributions from wealthy donors. He says that without super PACs Mitt Romney would have easily swamped his opposition with his money advantage through limited donations. This, like all other attempts at making this argument, ignores the $40 million gorilla in the room that is Romney's super PAC. The question should not be, "Where would Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum be without super PACs?" Rather it should be, "Where would Romney be without his super PAC?"

Romney's super PAC is continuing its assault on Santorum in the next batch of states voting on April 24. The group has already spent close to $500,000 to attack Santorum, including more than $100,000 to hit Santorum in his home state of Pennsylvania.

This morning President Barack Obama signed into law the STOCK Act, a bill to make the supposed insider trading by lawmakers illegal. During the signing ceremony the president called for further reforms to reduce the role of money in politics. Absent in his remarks was a call to do something regarding Citizens United, something that was, at one point, central to the president's critique of the influence of money in politics.

Karl Rove, a super PAC Godfather, recently argued that asking billionaires and millionaires and cash-flush corporations to disclose their contributions to political organizations was like asking African-Americans in the Jim Crow South to be required to disclose their donations to the NAACP, which was fighting against the state-sanctioned violence perpetrated by the Southern states against American citizens. HuffPost's Dan Froomkin examined how wrong this analogy is, "Disseminating the membership list of the Alabama NAACP in the 1950s would have made it 'equivalent to a death list,' [the NAACP's Hilary] Shelton said. 'Millionaires and billionaires actually investing their money to influence the outcome of an election that effects everyone face no such threat,' he said. 'Somebody might be unhappy that they made a contribution to a candidate they don't like. I don't see them being fired from their jobs; I don't see them being blown up in the middle of the night.'"

Republic Report compiled a list of companies that have contributed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the business lobby group that spends tens of millions on election ads.

Democracy 21's Fred Wertheimer lays out a way to stop super PACs. Also, eleven state attorneys general have written to Congress to urge the adoption of a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United and get money out of politics.

Sen. Pat Toomey is following in the footsteps of conservative firebrand Sen. Jim DeMint and is using his leadership PAC to support a candidate in a Republican primary in the open seat race in Pennsylvania's 4th congressional district. See the ad here.

A liberal super PAC -- Credo Mobile Super PAC -- is targeting Rep. Dan Lungren.

Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced that she will report her best fundraising quarter ever with $1.5 million during the first three months of 2012. Stabenow was helped by the bone-headed ad run by her likely Republican opponent during the Super Bowl that featured a racist characterization of a Chinese woman talking pidgin English in a rice paddy.

Congratulations to Stephen Colbert for winning a Peabody Award for his super PAC coverage. We enjoyed it so much we wrote a five-part series on Colbert's coverage. You can start at part one here.

AD WATCH

Help us populate our list of campaign videos. Send any notable TV, radio or web ads that you see to Fundrace. Send your submissions to paulblumenthal@huffingtonpost.com.

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TRACKING INDEPENDENT SPENDING IN THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE:

These numbers represent spending by independent groups, like super PACs and non-profits, to support or oppose a particular candidate for the presidency in 2012. Fundrace will update this spending daily to help show which candidates are gaining from the proliferation of independent groups in this coming election.

Newt Gingrich (R), $13,014,518 to support, $18,885,161 to oppose.
Rick Santorum (R), $7,548,235 to support, $20,914,763 to oppose. (+$252,578)
Mitt Romney (R), $3,029,324 to support, $6,655,264 to oppose.
Rick Perry (R), $4,167,697 to support, $1,404 to oppose.
Ron Paul (R), $3,748,218 to support, $214,158 to oppose.
Jon Huntsman (R), $2,453,204 to support, $0 to oppose.
Barack Obama (D), $282,298 to support, $979,322 to oppose.
Herman Cain (R), $501,717 to support, $954 to oppose.
Gary Johnson (R), $518 to support, $0 to oppose.

RECENT INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURES

Campaign for Primary Accountability, $70,000 to oppose Tim Holden for Congress in Pennsylvania's 17th District.
Campaign for Primary Accountability, $600 to oppose Tim Murphy for Congress in Pennsylvania's 18th District.
Restore Our Future, $12,798 to oppose Rick Santorum for President in Rhode Island.
Restore Our Future, $81,855 to oppose Rick Santorum for President in Pennsylvania.
Restore Our Future, $8,384 to oppose Rick Santorum for President in Connecticut.
Restore Our Future, $1,917 to oppose Rick Santorum for President in Delaware.
Restore Our Future, $147,623 to oppose Rick Santorum for President in New York.
Arizona Republican Party, $17,349 to oppose Ronald Barber for Congress in Arizona's 8th District.
National Organization for Marriage, $10,000 to support Anthony Muse for Senate in Maryland.

RECENT POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE REGISTRATIONS

NONE.

Send tips, hints, submissions, rumors to HuffPost Fundrace at paulblumenthal@huffingtonpost.com.

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