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Santorum Rises Armed With Super PAC Nukes, Not Populist Wave

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The rapid rise in fortunes for the Rick Santorum campaign was not a sudden surge of populism. The real story of Tuesday's Iowa Caucuses is that the hand of the uber-rich libertarian and ultra-Christian Right can tilt elections, and tilt them quickly by way of the new Super PAC slush funds made possible by the Citizens United decision.

He profited from a surge of cash from shadowy Super PACs which can form and fund candidates, then dissolve well before the Federal Election Commission (FEC) or the media can ascertain who they are, or who is behind them.

These will be the nuclear weapons of the 2012 political season, millions of shadow dollars being laundered before it is dumped into political campaigns by narrow-interest billionaires.

Going into the caucuses in Iowa, Real Clear Politics "Poll of Polls" showed Newt Gingrich ahead by 2.4% at 27.2%. Romney was at 24.8%, well within the 21-27% range where he has been stuck since campaigning began.  Rick Santorum lagged in the polls in fifth place, with 4.2%.

Yet, when the Iowa caucuses were held on Tuesday, the results were nothing like the polling. The Associated Press reported these final results:

Mitt Romney: 30,015 (24.6%)
Rick Santorum: 30,007 (24.5%)
Ron Paul: 26,219 (21.4%)
Newt Gingrich: 16,251(13.3%)
Rick Perry: 12,604 (10.3%)

What does that say? It could mean that the polls which we in the media seem to rely on so heavily are meaningless.  How else to explain Rick Santorum's sudden 20.1% rise in popularity seemingly overnight, or Newt Gingrich's 13.9% crash from the poll of polls of the day prior?  It could be the slush funds of money, though, from Super PACs, which bought a lot of influence on caucus-goers at the 11th hour.

Santorum's Kentucky Derby-like surge from the back of the pack was largely the handiwork of two political action committees (Super PACs) that donated a lot of money in a hurry to Santorum's campaign in Iowa: The Leaders for Families Super PAC, Inc., and the Red, White and Blue Fund.

According to Roll Call, "Leaders for Families Super PAC Inc., spent just under $107,000 on TV and radio ads and robocalls, public records show."

According to Irregular Times, "The organization didn't even exist before just 10 days ago. Just one day after it was created, the Super PAC had loads of money, from an unknown source, and was spending that money to create and place commercials on the radio for Rick Santorum."

Who is behind Leaders for Families Super PAC Inc.?  Chuck Hurley, the PAC's treasurer, is the only person listed on Federal Election Commission filings thus far.

Hurley is the president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, the education arm of The Family Leader a right-wing Christian conservative organization which espouses anti-homosexual messaging as part of its opposition to Iowa's same sex marriage law and a mission of "reversing the breakdown of a productive, ordered society caused by the failure of families to produce God-fearing church, civic, social, and family leaders." 

The Family Leader is associated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council (FRC), a Dobson-backed D.C. political organization that is anti-abortion and anti gay rights. FRC is also rabidly opposed to health care reform. At a December 2009 "prayercast," that the organization sponsored, Dobson referred to President Obama as the "Evil One."

Leaders for Families' legal counsel is James Bopp, Jr., a Christian conservative lawyer from Indiana who was instrumental in pushing the Citizens United decision that allows for these Super PACs to skirt accountability. The Super PAC is registered to his office address, not in Iowa.

Bopp has written papers opposing campaign finance reform, specifically railing against McCain-Feingold. Through the James Madison Center for Free Speech, for which he serves as General Consul, he has ties to the DeVOS family and other members of the Dead Billionaires Club (DBC).  He is also a cornerstone of the Republican Super Pac, which is designed to slush millions more into efforts like Leaders for Families that is virtually untraceable.

Just as quickly as it launched, Leaders for Families is set to fold.

"We got the message out pretty well, I think," said Hurley, who heads the Iowa Family Policy Center. But Hurley acknowledged that he and [former GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob] Vander Plaats are not well-known outside Iowa and that the PAC is unlikely to shift its focus to other states. "It might happen, but I'm not holding my breath," he said.

Vander Plaats ran Mike Huckabee's campaign in 2008 that scored his win in the Iowa Caucuses at that time.

Another pro-Santorum Super PAC out of Alexandria, Virginia, the Red White and Blue Fund (RWB) spent just under $326,000 on Santorum television commercials in Iowa, and $528,000 of the $537,200 on Santorum in Iowa that the Virginia-based Super PAC raised since they filed with the FEC on October 7, 2011.

A PAC like Leaders for Families can go into operation without scrutiny, file its status at the 11th hour before an election, fund a candidate to the eyeballs with shadow money, and disband all two to three weeks before the FEC can process all of the paperwork.

Red, White and Blue has dodged having to account for its funding sources, along with several other Republican Super PACs, by sending a note to the FEC asking to switch their reporting from quarterly to monthly. That keeps them from having to disclose anything about their funders until January 31, 2012, long after key primary contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida are over. "I know people are looking for some suspicious motive," RW&B treasurer Christopher Marston told Politico, "but it's really just about filing frequency," Marston said. "It's just too hard to keep track of the dates. And they'd have to pay me a heck of a lot more money to file every time there's a primary."

Who is the "they" that Marston works for? It will take the FEC weeks to know. NBC News' Michael Isikoff, though, was able to get wealthy Jackson Hole, Wyoming mutual fund founder of Friess Associates, the born-again billionaire Foster Friess, to say that he was a major financial backer.

Friess manages to avoid the radar of giving. He was acknowledged at the privately held Koch seminar in June 2011 in Vail, Colorado for donating at least $1 million to Koch-related causes. OpenSecrets.org doesn't even list him at this time, and the FEC registers only a paltry $1,000 gift to Gary Bauer's campaign in 1999 even though he has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Santorum, both now and in his unsuccessful re-election bid in Pennsylvania in 2006, and the Republican Governor's Association.  He made an appearance at the 2007 meeting of the Council for National Policy, the shadowy coordinators of the vast web of far right organizations created by the DBC.

Freiss has also reportedly spent more than $3 million to fund Tucker Carlson's conservative website, The Daily Caller.

Friess a living member of the DBC, gives to any organization that will dismantle the government. He gives to conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, and to education groups that advocate for school voucher programs, including the Alliance for School Choice.

In the near future, Friess expects to make grants to advocate for the FairTax -- which would replace the current federal system of taxation with a tax on retail sales, and line his pockets with millions more without having to pay income or capital gains taxes.

He even offered the Grand Teton Music Festival $40,000 if they would forego taking National Endowment of the Arts money. (They did.) 

The lack of transparency and accountability of these niche shadow groups, and the rivers of cash flowing into the 2012 campaign because of the cannon hole that Citizens United blew into the already weak campaign finance reforms of the last couple of decades is staggeringly frightening.

Santorum's huge pop in the final vote tallies in Iowa means that these organizations are as highly effective at influencing the vote as they are at avoiding public scrutiny.

If there was any question that there are dirty dealings afoot, when former Jack Abramoff crony Ralph Reed sings the praises of Mr. Santorum, the rest of us need to watch out.

"He came here and he bled and he sweated and he brushed shoe leather, and it paid off," he told the Financial Times.

Of course, he also had a little help from his drippingly wealthy libertarian and Christian extremist friends, Ralph.

My shiny two.

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