In an era when unlimited corporate spending has the potential to shape our elections unlike never before, a few wags have suggested putting politicians in NASCAR-style uniforms displaying the logos of their biggest corporate benefactors. But what works for John Boehner (as one of those wags, Tomorrow Magazine's Cord Jefferson, points out) might not work for Mitt Romney. That's because a large section of Romney's NASCAR outfit would have to come with one big [REDACTED] plastered over it.
On Thursday's The Rachel Maddow Show, host Rachel Maddow explained why:
Unlike every single presidential nominee of either party over the last decade, Mitt Romney is also refusing to disclose the name of his campaign bundlers, the people who collect millions of dollars each on his behalf across the country. Everybody else has disclosed their bundlers—Mr. Romney will not. Mr. Romney has reportedly raised over a hundred million dollars in the last month alone. Combine that with the outside groups on the Republican side that are not disclosing their donors, and it looks like the Obama campaign will probably be right in their warnings to their supporters that this will be the first year in American history that a sitting president will become the first ever incumbent president to be outspent by his challenger.
OpenSecrets.org has more on this: on the page where they tally all of Romney's disclosed bundlers, they note that "the only bundlers listed for Republican candidates [in the 2012 presidential primary and general elections] are registered lobbyists." Those are the only bundlers whose identities campaigns are legally required to disclose. An April Think Progress post claims that two-thirds of those Romney bundlers are lobbyists for either big energy or big finance.
But it doesn't stop there. Earlier in the same segment, Rachel introduced us to Harold Hamm, "an oil billionaire from Oklahoma," and the Romney campaign's "chairman of the Mitt Romney campaign's energy policy advisory group." She went on:
It is good to know that somebody like that is the top energy advisor to Mitt Romney. But who else, along with Harold Hamm, is advising Mitt Romney on energy policy? We don't know. The Romney campaign will not disclose that. We asked the Romney campaign today who else is on Mr. Romney's energy policy advisory group, and they told us that they are not releasing those names yet. Said they will be sure to keep us posted when they do.
Shortly after Hamm was named to the energy policy advisory group, he donated $985,000 to a pro-Romney Super PAC. That, of course, was one of the rare Super PAC donations to get some sunlight. A significant chunk of the money going to Super PACs is "dark money," which is to say money from from unclear sources.
So to recap: Mitt Romney's head energy advisor is a major heavy in the energy industry. He has donated nearly one million dollars to a pro-Romney Super PAC. Romney's other advisers are secret. And as for many of his other bundlers and Super PAC patrons—those are secret, too. But many of the ones we do know about are heavily connected to the energy industry.
Many observers have compared the post-Citizens United status quo in campaign finance to that of the Gilded Age. But the robber barons of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were often brazenly honest about the elections they purchased. The case of Mr. Romney and mysterious advisers and donors shows that, while we may have regained some of the Gilded Age, we now have even less transparency.