to be published Tuesday.
‘The Gospel According to The Fix’: Get to know Carl Forti and the world of super PACs
by Chris Cillizza
You’ve probably never heard of Carl Forti. He has never been on television and he’s rarely quoted in the newspaper. But Forti knows the world of super PACs better than anyone in the Republican Party — and that knowledge makes him one of the most important strategists in the GOP heading into the fall election.
Before you get to know Forti, you need to get to know super PACs. Outside money has been spent on campaigns for as long as there have been campaigns. Wealthy individuals interested in politics have long sought ways around the relatively stringent federal campaign finance regulations — you can donate only $2,500 or so to a candidate — in hopes of exerting more influence on the electoral process.
In the early part of the 2000 campaign, the spending vehicle of choice was known as a 527, which referred to the section of the tax code that governed its operations. The groups could raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, but they had to disclose the names and donation amounts of everyone who gave to them. The 527s also couldn’t directly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate. What does that mean in real life? A 527 could run an ad highlighting John Kerry’s flip-flops on the war in Iraq. It couldn’t explicitly say that those flip-flops were a reason not to vote for him. It’s a subtle difference but an important one.
All of that changed in 2010 with the much-ballyhooed Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court. Citizens United did lots of things to change campaign finance law in the country, but the most significant was that it got rid of the ban on outside groups expressly advocating for the election or defeat of a candidate. From that ruling came super PACs, political committees that are free to accept unlimited donations and directly advocate for or against a candidate. (Super PACs, like 527s, do have to disclose their donors and the amount of each contribution.) If Citizens United was the parent, the super PAC was the golden child. And Forti was the one who first recognized that the child was a political prodigy.
When I met Forti more than a decade ago, I would not have bet that he would become the man who would rock the political world. He was a big guy — a prototypical power forward in pickup hoops — who, in meetings, would almost always be sitting quietly in the corner with a smirk on his face. (If you looked up “palooka” in the dictionary, you got Forti.) In those days — circa 2000 — Forti was working as the communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, a job of considerable import in Washington. The NRCC is responsible for electing Republican candidates to the House — but with virtually no profile outside of Washington. (Little did I know what a talent incubator the NRCC was in those days; the political director, Terry Nelson, went on to manage Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.)