Like many "non-profits" that take in millions of dollars of unregulated money, the ballooning super PACs supporting this year's presidential candidates are paying some of their top executives huge salaries to spend other people's money. A look at the finances of several major super PACs by The Los Angeles Times, shows that some of the people tasked with raising money for their favored candidates are giving that money right back to themselves or companies that they control.
For example, the president of the pro-Newt Gingrich PAC Winning Our Future made $206,000 in the last three months while the managing director made $90,000 since the fund launched in December. Democratic strategist Paul Begala made $200,000 last year working for Prioriteis USA Action, though the fund raised only $59,000 last month.
Most high-powered consultants who work on major campaigns get paid a percentage of the dollars that are spent on advertising, meaning that the ability of the campaign to raise money (which is directly correlated to the success of the campaign) determines how much they earn. It also ensures that the campaign's costs stay within certain boundaries. However, the spending that is done directly by the campaign faces much tougher scrutiny; if for no other reason than that the candidate is ultimately responsible for the all the decisions that get made.
With a super PAC, on the other hand, candidates are explicitly forbidden from telling its leaders how to spend the money. There's virtually no oversight and no consequences for foolish or wasteful decisions. (Other than the candidate losing votes, of course.) People give the money expecting it to buy ads, but even that can end up benefiting those handing out the money.
For example, the pro-Santorum super PAC — the Red White and Blue Fund — paid $570,000 to a marketing firm that just happens to be owned by the fund's founder. (Who is also a former Santorum aide.) The ominously named company, Global Intermediate, didn't exist before December, its web domain was registered ten days ago, and its mailing address is a UPS store. The Fund's own spokesman told the Times the he didn't no how to contact the company, even though a third of the super PAC's spending last month went to Global Intermediate.
No one is suggesting that Global Intermediate isn't doing what it's being paid for, but it doesn't change the fact that donations being raised for the fund are directly benefiting the person raising them. People with important jobs should be paid for their work, but as we've seen in the past with major charities like the United Way or the Susan G. Komen for the Cure (which pays its CEO more than $400,000 a year) donors often begin to resent the fact that their hard-earned dollars are making certain individuals wealthy, instead of supporting the cause they were intended for.
Then again, since most of the people filling up the bank accounts of super PACs are themselves quite wealthy, perhaps they can sympathize.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.