Super PACs – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:31:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Big money in Wisconsin, Chicago Thu, 07 Jun 2012 22:28:20 +0000 The day after huge infusions of political money helped save Governor Scott Walker from recall in Wisconsin, big-money interests were buying media to influence public perceptions of the Chicago Teachers Union’s strike authorization vote.

(Ken Davis points this out at the top of this week’s Chicago Newsroom on CAN-TV, where I was a guest with Lorraine Forte of Catalyst Chicago.  You can watch it here.)

In either case, of course, the goal is to shape the narrative.

It worked in Wisconsin, where a governor who’s fallen far short on his promises of economic revival – Wisconsin is at the back of the pack in terms of job creation over the past year – was recast as a tough, courageous leader turning the state around.

The real story in Wisconsin is that union busting and cutting public spending has failed to get the economy going.  It’s really a case study of how austerity doesn’t work.  Now it’s also a case study on how to sell austerity, even when it’s not working.

In Chicago the goal is to take a situation where teachers are under attack and fighting back and paint it as one where they are being reckless and irresponsible.

As Lorraine Forte points out, it was allies of the group that’s running the anti-teacher ads that pushed through SB7 last year, raising the bar on a strike authorization vote to great heights, and more or less forcing the union to take its vote now.

To turn around and criticize the union for taking its best shot under heavily-constrained circumstances is disingenuous at best.

The anti-CTU ads are the product of Democrats For Education Reform, a New York-based group funded by billionaire hedge fund traders. It was a West Coast-based group, Stand For Children – also funded by a small number of wealthy financial industry people — that pushed through SB7, after making huge donations in key legislative races.

Public support for teachers

Their goal with the ads is to undercut strong public support for CTU.  The Trib’s recent poll showed 92 percent of CPS parents think teachers should be compensated for a longer school day.  It showed Chicagoans by 2-to-1 back the CTU plan for the longer day over Mayor Emanuel’s, which may be unfair, since it’s not clear he’s yet bothered to translate his campaign slogan into a real plan.

Meanwhile, CPS has offered a single 2 percent raise for two years, for a much longer day, followed by a merit pay system to be figured out later.

In negotiations CPS doesn’t want to talk about adding languages, art, music, and physical education to round out the day (which would require teachers) and wants to jettison contract language on class size.  This has just deepened some parents’ fears that the longer day will be just more “drill and kill,” and will be paid for with larger class sizes.

Of course the backdrop of all this is the failure of Emanuel’s approach to the longer school day.

A ‘win-lose’ proposition

He set it up as a “win-lose” proposition, where he and “the children” would win and the teachers would lose. It would be imposed on teachers, and it would prove to the world what a tough guy he was, at least when it comes to unions. (Yes, like Scott Walker.)

He first rolled out a longer-day proposal last year with a 2 percent pay hike offer, immediately after negotiations had failed over CPS’s claim that it couldn’t afford a scheduled raise.  That was clearly bad faith.

Then he tried to implement the longer day in individual schools, in violation of the teachers’ contract, as the state education labor board found.  That was beyond bad faith; it was illegal.

He stonewalled parents who wanted details.  “I cannot wait for a high-class debate,” he said, when people asked what the longer day would consist of and how it would be paid for.  Those are things that parents care about – and they’re not things they’re likely to trust CPS to take care of — and Emanuel misjudged that entirely.  Parents have been left with many unanswered questions and growing frustration.  (More here.)

Now it’s crunch time, and the mayor’s not in a very good position.  He’s hoping a little media money from his rich friends will distract people — with an old familiar formula: blame teachers.


Wisconsin is a taste of what Super PACs can accomplish in the post-Citizens United landscape.  The Illinois General Assembly is worried too – they just passed a bill lifting limits on campaign donations in races where Super PACs spend over a certain amount.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform is calling on Governor Quinn to veto the bill.  Other states have found better ways of reining in Super PACs, says Brian Gladstein of ICPR.   Illinois only passed contribution limits in 2009, after Rod Blagojevich was arrested, and the new legislation would be a big step backward, he said.

The new Illinois Campaign Finance Reform Task Force just began meeting late last year, and that body should be given time to study responses by other states and recommend next steps for Illinois before lifting limits and “opening the door to more corruption,” Gladstein said.

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Super PACs: Bad for democracy, good for TV stations Wed, 08 Feb 2012 22:38:59 +0000 Super PACS “represent much of what is wrong with American democracy rolled neatly into one package,” said Marites Velasquez of Illinois PIRG, announcing a new report showing that fundraising monsters suddenly dominating our elections are funded by a very small number of very rich people.

Of itemized contributions by individuals to Super PACs in 2010 and 2011, 93 percent came from 726 individuals giving $10,000 or more, and more than half came from just 37 people who gave over a half-million dollars each, according to a new report from Illinois PIRG Education Fund and Demos.

Super PACs are “tools for powerful special interests” that work by “drowning out the voices of ordinary Americans in a sea of sometimes-secret cash,” Velasquez said.

“They undermine core principles of political equality in favor of a bully-based system where the strength of a citizen’s voice depends upon the size of her wallet,” said Adam Lioz of Demos.

Noting that 17 percent of Super PAC money came from businesses, the groups recommend the Illinois General Assembly pass legislation requiring shareholder approval for corporate political spending, among other reforms.

A bonanza for broadcasters

At the Nation, John Nichols and Robert McChesney (co-founders of the media reform group Free Press) detail the cost to democracy — and the bonanza for TV stations.

TV stations will take in up to $5 billion from political advertising this year – nearly twice the $2.8 billion they got four years ago.  The amount being spent on TV ads for House races is up 54 percent since 2008; for Senate races it’s up 75 percent.

Political ads accounted for 1.2 percent of total ad revenue in 1996; this year it’s likely to be 20 percent, and more in key states.

Super PACs specialize in scorched-earth, no-holds-barred negative advertising which actually aims at depressing turnout, and succeeds: research shows “the main consequence of negative ads is that they demobilize citizens and turn them away from electoral politics.”

And, of course, the prospects of a candidacy that doesn’t represent the interests of big-money donors becomes increasingly remote.

Meanwhile, with news staffs cut and much less time devoted to political coverage, TV news increasingly focuses on horse-race and cat-fight aspects.  “Such coverage is cheap and easy to do, and lends itself to gossip and endless chatter, even as it sometimes provides the illusion that serious affairs of state are under scrutiny,” write Nichols and McChesney.  But it is “as nutrition-free as a fast-food hamburger.”

Naturally, the National Association of Broadcasters fights any campaign finance reform that would cut into station revenues, most recently opposing legislation requiring Super PACs to fully disclose their donors.

NAB has also opposed what might be the simplest reform: requiring TV stations to provide free airtime to candidates as a public-service requirement.

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