-By Paul Blumenthal
May 3, 2013- WASHINGTON — In October 2011, John Canning, chairman of the Chicago-based hedge fund Madison Dearborn Partners, expressed his displeasure with President Barack Obama to the Chicago Tribune. "It's the populist economic policies of wealth redistribution and government control of all aspects of everyday life that I object to," he said.
Canning put his money where his mouth was, hosting a fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that fall. And Romney wasn't the only benefactor of his largess. Over the course of the 2012 election cycle, Canning gave to as many federal candidates, political action committees (PACs) and party committees as he seemingly could find — some 38 individuals and groups, all but two of them Republican — ultimately distributing $276,000 in contributions.
The sizable sum of those contributions appears to violate federal campaign finance law. Over the two years of the last electoral cycle, individual donors were allowed to give a total of $46,200 to candidates and $70,800 to PACs and parties, for a combined total of $117,000. Canning far exceeded those limits, giving $119,400 to candidates and $156,600 to PACs and parties. And Canning, who declined to comment for this story, was not alone.
A review of campaign finance records by The Huffington Post identified 49 individuals who donated more than $150,000 in the last election cycle, far in excess of the biennial contribution limits. Of the 49 donors, 48 exceeded the PAC and party limit and 32 exceeded the candidate limit. Most of them gave the lion's share of their contributions to Republican candidates and party committees. Canning gave the most of any donor noted by HuffPost. There are likely more who exceeded the contribution limits, but were not readily identifiable because of multiple problems with the way campaign finance data are collected.
The Federal Election Commission, which is responsible for enforcing campaign finance laws, does not have an efficient system for tracking donor contributions. The resulting lack of oversight and the clear violations of contribution limits mean that some 2012 campaigns artificially boosted their accounts and spent money they should not have received on advertising, get-out-the-vote operations and the like.
Some of the violations identified by HuffPost appear to have been caused by simple mistakes or confusion on the part of donors. But other contributions, like Canning's, do not look purely accidental.
"It's a real problem," Fred Wertheimer, president of the campaign finance watchdog Democracy 21, said about both the violations of contribution limits and the lack of oversight.