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Will Stealth Spending Decide the 2012 GOP Presidential Primaries?

3 years ago
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After a GOP wave election that put the "tsu" in tsunami, Republicans have reason to feel smug as they look toward 2012. High on the GOP's gloating list is the way that wealthy conservatives and right-wing business groups exploited the new permissive fundraising environment created by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.
Heavy late spending on behalf of Republicans by independent groups that do not legally have to reveal their donors -- like the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS -- probably made a difference in more than a dozen House races. These conservative groups spent more than $100 million more than their liberal counterparts (mostly unions like the SEIU and AFSCME), according to preliminary calculations by the Center for Responsive Politics. Unshackled by Citizens United (which overturned a century of restrictions on corporate political spending) and emboldened by other creative legal loopholes, companies and mega-rich individuals reveled in their stealth electoral power.
This was invisible-hand politics at its most insidious -- voters saw the attack ads but had no idea who was paying for them. The American Future Fund, which spent at least $10 million on the 2010 elections, was traced by the New York Times to a rented mail box in an Iowa UPS store and linked to ethanol interests. "This was our first secret election since the Watergate scandal," said Arn Pearson, a vice president of Common Cause, at a recent conference sponsored by the campaign reform group. "It was the first election since 1907 where corporations and unions were able to do unlimited spending to affect the outcome."
Republicans will get about as weepy at this lament as they did at the news that Nancy Pelosi lost her military jet. The dominant belief in the GOP for years has been that all forms of campaign reform represent a Democratic plot wrapped up in good-government rhetoric to erase the Republicans' natural financial advantage from the business community. Twice this year, a modest disclosure bill (requiring independent groups running TV political ads to reveal their donors) died in the face of a united GOP Senate filibuster. The legislation -- which has virtually no chance of being revived in the lame-duck session, let alone in the next Congress -- would also have required the head of the organization to make an "I'm Daddy Warbucks and I approve this message" declaration at the end of each campaign spot.
What congressional inaction means is that the theme song of the 2012 presidential campaign will be Cole Porter's "Anything Goes." Already, the Democrats are laying the groundwork for a new alms (not arms) race in which fundraising by shadowy liberal groups will match spending by subterranean conservative outfits. For every set of billionaire Koch brothers for the Republicans, the Democrats can counter with the likes of George Soros. The result will be the political version of Cold War overkill with both sides bristling with vast arsenals of negative ads, a thousand points of blight.
Here is a wrinkle that might arouse Republicans out of their what-me-worry complacency about the new mostly unregulated free market in political spending. Without disclosure laws, the next major battleground for anonymous political attack ads will be the 2012 GOP presidential primaries. It is easy to concoct scenarios under which a leading Republican presidential contender loses the nomination because of a $30 million burst of negative commercials secretly paid for by -- who knows? -- the Democrats or a diabolical corporation or an eccentric billionaire who wants the "Beer Barrel Polka" to replace "Hail to the Chief."
This notion might seem outlandish because historically the financing of presidential primary campaigns has been remarkably aboveboard compared to the muck of the rest of contemporary politics. (Just to be clear – the attacks on John Kerry in 2004 by the Swift Boat Veterans were launched only after he became the de facto Democratic nominee). Aside from a few partial self-funders like Mitt Romney ($45 million of his own money in 2008), candidates in past primaries have raised money the old-fashioned way: one individual donor at a time with all contributions above $200 made public by the Federal Election Commission. The few aberrations from this pattern stand out in memory -- particularly, avid George W. Bush supporters Charles and Sam Wyly who created a front organization called Republicans for Clean Air to run $2 million in negative spots against John McCain before major 2000 GOP primaries.
Sadly, the wily Wyly brothers were visionaries ahead of their time. During the coming race for the 2012 GOP nomination, the candidates' own commercials may be drowned out by a cacophony of 30 second smack-down ads paid for by mysterious groups with impossible-to-decipher names like the Glorious Beyond Belief American Future Fund and Citizens for Everyone To Be As Rich As We Are. The hidden funding might come (hypothetically) from business groups that tangled with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour when he was a Washington lobbyist, or Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels when he was George W. Bush's budget director. Anyone prominent enough to run for president has made important enemies somewhere along the way -- and the porous campaign laws provide ample opportunity for monied interests to get even without leaving fingerprints.
It may seem ridiculously premature to worry about the fairness of the 2012 Republican primaries when the votes are still being counted in the 2010 Alaska Senate race. But the history of presidential nomination fights underscores that almost no one worries about the integrity of the process until it is too late -- and then suddenly the entire political world is belatedly obsessed with Democratic super-delegates or why the 2008 Michigan and Florida primaries did not really count.
So remember this warning (and the GOP filibuster that killed the disclosure bill) when conservative voters in early 2012 work themselves up into a conspiratorial lather over whether -- just maybe -- Democrats like George Soros are secretly intervening in the GOP presidential primaries.

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AL

An INFORMED electorate could care less about who puts up the most billboards, fields the most television ads and which spends the most money. Anyone who would place a vote to the one who told the most lies on a million 30 second spots on TV doesn't deserve the right to vote anyway. An uninformed vote is more dangerous than no vote at all.

November 13 2010 at 11:46 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to AL's comment
tnt80sc

That is one of the worst problems with this SCOTUS decision. The electorate is NOT informed and easily swayed by negative ads and other lies about the candidates that are aired on TV. Most voters could care less about the political process because it is too complicated and too hard to keep up with. You just need to look at the number of people who do not vote to see that it's true. With no disclosure now required even those who are reasonably informed might have difficulty sorting the truth from the lies. There is nothing to keep China or even Al Quaida from attempting to sway voters with cleverly worded ads. Regardless of who you are affiliated with this was a very bad decision for America.

November 14 2010 at 3:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
trb2244

The subtext in your essay is that rich people's money is somehow dirtier than that of unions and liberal groups; having been an unwilling contributor to AFT for many years, I believe that is a foolish assumption. I never knew what my money was buying, and I did not agree with many of the Union's expenditures, and I was never informed, probably, of many of them. At least honest self interest guides the wealthy...

November 13 2010 at 1:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Len

Expect money from foreign companies, foreign nations and criminal cartels that do not have America's best interests at heart to flood the 2012 elections. A warning to those political parties that see nothing wrong with this system: these foreign nations expect to get something for their money and they become very ugly when they don't.

November 12 2010 at 6:23 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
davidfryer36

I like the fact that Mr. Shapiro ignores the fact that it was a Republican congress that passed McCain-Feingold over the objection of Democrats and that no bill introduced in the Senate could be stopped by Republicans for the past two years without Democratic support. The dirty truth is that the Republicans have finally mastered the same fundraising techniques that President Obama used to get elected in 2008 and that the Democrats used to take control of Congress in 2006. Liberals just cannot accept that the American people don't want their brand of government so they have to make excuses as to why they are losing.

November 12 2010 at 11:33 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
nbk4real

Lets set the record straight, in the last presidential elections corporations outspent unions 60 to 1, in this last midterms corporations outspent unions 600 to 1. The last supreme court decision was not only treasonous but three members of the Supreme Court should be impeached because of it. I have to wonder when self proclaimed conservatives and republicans that arent millionaires or arent billionaires or the owner of a corporation are going to realize that the republicans have sold out the nation to the highest bidder. Further more, most of those whining and complaining about the deficits were the very ones cheering Bush and co on while they were doing their reckless and endless spending. Now they dont want to pay the bill...

November 12 2010 at 11:33 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nbk4real's comment
AL

While we are at it lets impeach those who destroyed the power of eminent domain and also those that destroyed the 2nd amendment and last but not least the activist destruction of the 10th amendment.

November 14 2010 at 12:15 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mattiedog27

for those of you who have no clue, it is against Fed. law for union dues to be given to a PAC. it comes from donations that are seperate from the dues paid.

November 12 2010 at 11:25 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mattiedog27's comment
trb2244

And unions are noted for following the law, aren't they? That law only applies to direct political support. "Educational" ads are not covered...

November 13 2010 at 8:20 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
billlajolla

Don't worry George Soros will have all his fingers and his tongue in the pie. He will make every effort to see that the USA does not survive. With him, the Unions, the Banks and other organizations that were bailed out how can the Democrats lose ???

November 12 2010 at 9:27 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
ettu

Is there ONE person in America, who pays even a tiny amount of attention to what goes on, believe that Soros has not used his wealth to greatly influence our elections to seat Far Left ideologues. Get with it people, he has been doing this for years, and has made at least 4 visits to the WH since Obama has inhabited the Oval Office.

November 12 2010 at 9:05 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
misse

Simply because companies and individuals are "mega-rich" does not presuppose they have no foundation to stand on when they fund political campain ads. It seems left leaners use the same attack on the wealthy to stir up the non wealthy or struggling voters to create a bitter sentiment with those who had the luck or resourcefulness to keep their heads well above water during the campaign with their own adds against "millionare this fellow or that one" demonizing prosperity as though its something to look down upon and mediocrity is somethng to earnestly strive for. I don't understand why the article states that votes had no idea who paid for the adds,and am personally affronted by the notion that the american public does not do their homework. Most of us aren't led by the media machine like sheep. It does not bother most people that others are "mega-rich" in fact most of us would like to be mega-rich as well. This reminds me of a campaign add in Pennsylvania about Pat Toomey where they demonized his private sector work as a civilian and not a public figure, I kept thinking...maybe if he's done so much good for that Chinese buisness man and his ideas helped to vault that economy to the top of the world then maybe our leaders should possibly pay attention to what the man has to say because obviously it works.

November 12 2010 at 8:07 AM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
John Vilvens

Democrats recieved more donations. Union members have no say in where the donations go. They do not have a chioce if they want to donate it is part of thier dues. Union leader are feathering thier own beds. Union members should have a say in where donations go and if they want to donate. This will not be posted as it is the truth and the truth cannot be seen if it is not in line with the liberal author.

November 12 2010 at 7:54 AM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply

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