Coming up with names for political action committees is among the odder dark arts practiced in Washington, DC. Unlike most branding excercises, naming a PAC is not about finding a name that's descriptive or catchy. Rather it's about finding a name that most people will read right past. As Nicko Margolies of the Sunlight Foundation writes, "These names are so agreeable, so reasonable, so inclusive, so damned American and yet their names reveal nothing about who funded these groups. It could be your coworkers, a couple billionaires, a band of small business owners, a gaggle of big corporations or maybe that nice fellow who says hello every morning. You just don’t know." And that's how we wound up with hundreds of political fundraising groups with anodyne names like Alliance for America's Future, Progress, Vision & Commitment, Invest in a Strong and Secure America, and Beacuse I Care PAC. (There are some amusing exceptions, such as Lousiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's Jazz PAC and House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi's PAC to the Future).
So what would you call your shadowy fundraising organization? The Sunlight Foundation has just released this fun widget that generates 28,000 different imaginary PAC names. (My favorites so far: A P.O. Box for America's Founding Fathers, Households for America the Beautiful, and Vampires for Prosperity.) Give it a spin:
On Tuesday, a web site popped up to promote the new iPhone 4cf, "the same high quality phone as the original iPhone 4 with the added bonus of taking you one step closer to a world without conflict." The "conflict-free" smartphone marked a departure for Apple, which has been criticized for using "conflict minerals" from war-torn areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo in its gadgets. Design-wise, the site was a dead-ringer for the main Apple site (more images here), but by the time you got to the part where it called for the citizen's arrest of mining executives, you had to realize something was amiss.
The visually pitch-perfect site had all the hallmarks of the Yes Men. Sure enough, its URL was registered to one "Harold Schweppes" at gatt.org, one of the anticorporate pranksters' early spoof sites. But then, as of yesterday morning, the iPhone 4cf site had vanished. The closest thing to an explanation was a phony Apple press release condemning the site as "fraudulent and fictitious, and entirely the imagination of the group of pranksters who created it."
Where'd it go? It's not like the Yes Men had an ill-gotten iPhone prototype on their hands. And they're hardly afraid of incurring the wrath of corporate America. (Check out their aggressive mockery of Chevron's current PR campaign or their impersonation of the US Chamber of Commerce.) I emailed Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum, who explained that the site was pulled after its "heroic internet provider" got a nastygram from Apple. "Apple's heavy-handed and humorless reaction just shows where their big mechanical (and conflict-mineral-rich) corporate heart is at. More is learned by that than would be by keeping the website up," he wrote.
Bichlbaum said that the iPhone site will soon relaunch somewhere else. That's good, if only because it's a beautiful hoax. But beyond the graphics, the site's content is confusing. It's not immediately clear if it's presenting a "conflict-free" phone as something cool or ludicrous. And while the site is clearly poking fun at Apple's techno-utopian branding, it also praises the company's efforts to keep conflict minerals out of its products as a "step in the right direction."
In elections past, a good indicator of whether a candidate would win was to look at how much money they had raised: the more money, the better their chances. In this, the first post-Citizens United election, that equation may have been pushed aside by a new math. Now, what may matter more is how much money other people are spending to elect—or defeat—a candidate. As David Corn wrote earlier today, independent advocacy groups have poured nearly half a billion* dollars into this election—much of it raised behind closed doors from undisclosed donors.
So, have the "dark money" groups and super PACs gotten their dollar's worth? A quick sampling of election results suggests that they did. In most of the races below, the loser was the candidate who had the most independent money expended to defeat him/her; conversely, winners generally had more outside cash spent to elect them. We'll keep looking at the data after the election results are final to see if this trend holds up. If it does, it's proof that this election really did change the rules of the campaign finance game.
If you're trying to make sense of the $2 billion being spent in anticipation of next Tuesday's election, here's a few nifty tools. Maplight.org and Wired have teamed up to create the Influence Tracker, which compiles the latest data on members of Congress' haul during this election cycle as well as their biggest donors. Nice touch: logos of each member's top corporate sponsors.
The Sunlight Foundation's Influence Explorer app creates similar snapshots of canddiates' war chests, but includes challengers who aren't currently members of Congress. Nice 20th-century touch: For $2, you can mail a copy of the data directly to friends and family in postcard form.