The Boston Globe publica hoy un amplio perfil de Restore Our Future, el exitoso Super PAC de Romney que tuvo una importancia capital en la victoria del ex Gobernador de Massachusetts en las primarias republicanas y que promete seguir teniendo protagonismo en la elección general.
The story of Restore Our Future provides a unique window into this still-evolving world. It is the story of several former Romney aides who were frustrated by the way he lost his 2008 campaign and had an epiphany about how to win in 2012.
For the aides, the issue in 2008 was Romney’s refusal to run a very tough ad in Iowa against Mike Huckabee - a decision they believe contributed to Romney’s defeat. Huckabee had an independent group behind him, a group that spent $1 million blasting Romney’s flip-flop on abortion.
Romney had no similar support, and he wasn’t prepared to run the ad that attacked Huckabee for supporting, as Arkansas governor, a parole board’s decision to release a rapist who went on to rape and murder a woman.
Thus was planted the idea for what eventually became Restore Our Future - an independent committee that would not hesitate, and would have the means, to vigorously attack Romney’s opponents. Among the founders of Restore our Future was Larry McCarthy, who worked on some of Romney’s ads for the 2008 campaign and knew, as well as anyone could, what a well-targeted negative ad can do. McCarthy had created the infamous “Willie Horton’’ ad in 1988 for an independent group called Americans for Bush.
Targeting Michael Dukakis, the Massachusetts governor who was the Democratic presidential nominee, the ad showed a picture of Horton, a convicted murderer who, while on a furlough approved by the Dukakis administration, had raped a Maryland woman. McCarthy’s ad stirred some backlash, but is widely credited with helping George H. W. Bush defeat Dukakis.
McCarthy was elated when he heard that a landmark campaign finance case was to be decided by the Supreme Court in 2010. The case was called Citizens United, and the court’s ruling was that any corporation or union had a constitutional free-speech right to spend unlimited funds on election-related ads, movies, or similar productions.
Following the ruling, a lower court further widened the field, saying individuals could give unlimited amounts of money to independent committees that could advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate.
The combination of these two decisions - one clearing the field for corporations and unions, the other for individuals - gave rise to super PACs and, soon enough, to Restore Our Future.
The new group was free to raise money and run any ad it wanted, without Romney’s interference.
“It is a much smaller decision-making loop … you have more control. We basically decide what we want to do and it doesn’t involve 30 people,’’ McCarthy said in an interview. He wasn’t troubled by criticism of his past ads. Asked whether he had regrets about the Horton ad, for example, he responded, “None … this sounds deceptively simple, but you do an ad to move numbers.’’
The legal brain behind Restore Our Future was Charles Spies, the lawyer who had been the chief financial officer and counsel for Romney’s 2008 campaign. Spies had long believed that post-Watergate limitations on campaign contributions were threats to free speech.
He co-wrote a 1998 law review article that said “nothing in American history … matches the menace to the First Amendment posed by the campaign ‘reforms’ advancing under the protective coloration of political hygiene.’’
The third cofounder was Carl Forti, who had been Romney’s political director in 2008. Forti, who declined comment for this article, became a protégé to Republican strategist Karl Rove, who has described Forti as “one of the smartest people in politics you’ve never heard of.’’ Forti now helps run two independent groups run by Rove, Crossroads and Crossroad GPS, which are collecting hundreds of millions of dollars that will be spent during the 2012 campaign.
The birth of Restore Our Future and similar super PACs represented the climax of a 40-year effort by opponents of restrictions on campaign donations to weaken or eliminate federal election finance rules enacted since the Watergate scandal. Much of that effort involved the creation of independent committees that avoided some of the restrictions placed upon campaigns.
In 2004, a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ran ads that attacked the Vietnam War record of Senator John F. Kerry, another Democratic presidential candidate from Massachusetts.
The Swift Boat group asserted it didn’t have to abide by limits on donations, because it was not expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate, and collected contributions as large as $4.5 million. But the Federal Election Commission fined the group $300,000 on grounds that it should have registered as a political committee, saying that the group had overtly attacked Kerry and exceeded a $5,000 contribution limit.
The other longstanding legal limitation on independent committees was that there be an “absence of prearrangement and coordination’’ between an independent committee and a campaign.
But in the aftermath of Citizens United, that definition of coordination was quickly watered down by the Federal Election Commission. The agency, for example, announced on June 28, 2011, that a candidate could be a “featured guest’’ at fund-raisers for super PACs.
Romney quickly took advantage of the ruling. He appeared at a New York City fund-raiser on July 19, 2011 for Restore Our Future, according to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, and committee officials have said he went to at least one other event.
The money started rolling in. The biggest donor was a home building magnate named Bob Perry, a huge backer of the Swift Boat effort who had given Restore Our Future $4.7 million by the end of April. Perry spokesman Anthony Holm said “Mr. Perry has always been very transparent with his donations’’ and contributed to Restore Our Future as allowed “under reformed campaign laws.’’
The restrictions on coordination had been diminished to the point that Romney could appear at a super PAC fund-raiser and thank donors as long as he didn’t specifically ask for unlimited contributions. The only major restriction was that Romney could not talk with Restore Our Future about the content or timing of advertisements.
So, when the cofounders of Restore Our Future greeted Romney at their fund-raiser, they were careful not to discuss specifics. “We didn’t need to,’’ McCarthy said. “We knew what needed to be done. We all came out of Romney World.’’ As for Romney, McCarthy said, “clearly he knew of the group, liked the group, hoped they did good things.’’
(...) Much of the money given to Restore Our Future has come from mega-donors. Among those who contributed at least $1 million were several former associates from Romney’s days running Bain Capital, prominent hedge fund managers, and the chairman of Marriott International, where Romney once served on the board.
By the fall of 2011, a surging Newt Gingrich polling showed voters knew vaguely that Gingrich had negative “baggage,’’ but they weren’t sure what it was.
Using that information, McCarthy developed an ad that was perhaps the most important of the primaries. Pieces of baggage on an airport carousel would be used to remind voters of various Gingrich controversies, including his payments from the quasi-government lending agency, Freddie Mac.
Gingrich complained that Restore Our Future was exaggerating or lying and urged Romney to stop the ads. But Romney said he was powerless to do anything.
(...) Lawrence Noble, who served as general counsel of the Federal Election Commission from 1987 to 2000, said the reforms enacted after the Watergate scandal are being obliterated. “I remember watching the Watergate hearings. At one point a big donor was someone who gave $1,000,’’ Noble said. “We have pretty much had the collapse of the campaign finance system.’’
But Theodore Olson, the lawyer who successfully argued Citizens United before the Supreme Court, said the case “has been grossly misunderstood’’ and stressed the importance of limiting the government’s ability to limit political discourse. “Where does the government stop?’’ Olson said. “We have to remember what the alternative is: government control of election speech.’’
The work of Restore Our Future, meanwhile, is just beginning. It is now focused on collecting as much as $100 million for the general election, much of it to come from some of the nation’s wealthiest people, and plans to spend most of that on ads boosting Romney and attacking Obama.