Reflection on event with Charlie Spies, former counsel to the Romney Campaign

Charles Spies, campaign finance lawyer and co-founder of the Pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC, came to speak at an event jointly hosted by the Buckley Program and The Politic magazine on November 28th, 2016. 

By: Zach Young

I enjoyed getting the chance to hear Charlie Spies, former counsel to the Romney Campaign, discuss issues about the influence of political donations on the electoral process. Notably, this recent election cycle showed backlash on both sides of the aisle against super PACs donations, with Senator Bernie Sanders and businessman Donald Trump turning their lack of financial backing into talking points during primaries against Secretary Hillary Clinton and Governor Jeb Bush, respectively. Mr. Spies, himself co-founder of the largest super PAC in history, took an oppositional stance to Mr. Trump during the primary. Although Mr. Trump’s campaign eventually spent around a half-billion dollars on the general election, less than half of what Secretary Clinton spent, he still managed to achieve victory with a considerable lead in the Electoral College. Does this mean, in some ways, we have departed from a “Cash is King” era of politics?

Mr. Spies disagreed. He argued the Trump Campaign’s victory was “not replicable,” unless future reality TV stars with boundless media coverage run for office. He suggested that the Clinton Campaign underperformed in Michigan as well, particularly in economically depressed areas like Flint, which may have been displeased with her status quo candidacy. Given that Mr. Spies misjudged the 2012 and 2016 elections, however, he has questionable use as a political forecaster.

I did appreciate a point that Mr. Spies may about “foreign money” that enters U.S. politics. Previously, most discussion of this issue at Yale has decried instances of foreign corporations making donations to super PACs that back U.S. campaigns. For instance, a Chinese company’s $1.3 million gift to Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise super Pac became the subject of tremendous scrutiny and concern. Mr. Spies, in turn, remarked that in a global economy many companies traditionally viewed as “American” like Ben & Jerry’s, Anheuser-Busch, and Chrysler actually today are subsidiaries of foreign conglomerates. Even today, those companies employ a large number of local workers and contribute to civic society in areas central to their domestic operations. According to Mr. Spies, foreign companies can only spend money in U.S. elections that represents a share of revenue received from their domestic operations. Why should Homemade Ice Cream and Ben & Jerry be treated differently, or Miller and Budweiser beer? Mr. Spies questioned. I think this level of nuance on campaign finance had been missing from the campus discourse around the issue at Yale, and am grateful that Mr. Spies came to contribute to the conversation.

Zach Young is a senior in Silliman College and a former President of the Buckley Program.