Milking the SuperPACs

Back in the dark ages when I worked on campaigns, contributions from supporters always made me feel a little guilty. Some of them anyway—not the rich guy who maxed out, or the candidate's business partner who gave his house as a crash pad for the staff to sleep in when they shuffled out of the office at 1 a.m.—but the nice little old lady who gave $50, or the earnest schoolteacher with a check for $100. I knew it meant a lot to them, but I couldn't help thinking it would go to something that wouldn't do very much to make the world a better place, like pizza or some ineffectual mailer. And that doesn't even get into the money that's milked by the armies of consultants.

That's why I was actually pleased to see this analysis by the Los Angeles Times of how some of the people running super PACs are turning them into dandy profit machines. Here's just one example:

Winning Our Future, a group backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that has been buoyed by $11 million in donations from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his family, paid its president, Becky Burkett, $206,000 in January for executive management and fundraising services, according to campaign finance reports filed this week. Gregg Phillips, the Austin-based consultant who serves as the super PAC's managing director, got $90,000.

Winning Our Future spokesman Rick Tyler said the super PAC pays its staff for "fundraising successes." Tyler said the payments Burkett and Phillips received in January included compensation for work they did in November and December, before the super PAC was launched on Dec 13. He said their salaries were determined by the super PAC's "senior leadership"—which consists of himself, Burkett and Phillips.

At $206,000 for three months, that's $824,000 a year. Not bad. But you know what? More power to 'em. There aren't any (or not many, anyway) kindly little old ladies donating to super PACs. It's almost all millionaires and billionaires. So if the slick operators running these machines want to get rich with Sheldon Adelson's money, where's the harm?

And they won't be the only ones getting a taste. The super PACs won't have any just-out-of-college field grunts making $1,500 a month and sleeping on somebody's couch. The primary activity of most of these groups will be media—direct mail, online ads, and most of all TV. Which means that the mail consultants and the media consultants will no doubt be charging their usual rates, or maybe a bit more. Hey, there's plenty to go around, and it's on Shelly!

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