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Why attacking super PACs won’t work

at 06:45 AM ET, 08/02/2012

A large majority of the country lack even the most basic knowledge of so-called super PACs, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll — a finding that reinforces the difficulty Democrats face in trying to score political points by shining a light on these outside organizations in the 2012 presidential campaign.

Three-quarters of Americans have either heard “a little” (36 percent) or “nothing at all” (39 percent) about “increased spending in this year’s presidential election by outside groups not associated with the candidates or campaigns.”

In an even more stunning finding, when prompted with four choices as to what a super PAC actually was, just four in 10 said it was “a group able to accept unlimited political donations” — the right answer.

Forty-six percent had no opinion or didn’t know what a super PAC was, while 9 percent said it was a name for the congressional committee charged with reducing the deficit (that’s the “supercommittee”), and another 4 percent said it was a term for the government cleanup at hazardous waste sites (superfund). One percent of those tested said a super PAC was a “video game for a smart phone.” And, no, that last sentence is not a joke.

(In fairness to the American public, knowledge of campaign finance lingo is hardly a prerequisite for good citizenship. But one can only wonder how many people might be able to accurately describe a super PAC if the correct answer wasn’t one of four choices with which they were prompted.)

In addition the the broad lack of information about super PACs, there is a general sense that the groups, which can raise and spend unlimited sums on direct advocacy for or against a candidate, don’t strongly benefit President Obama or former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Fifty-one percent of those tested said super PACs didn’t help one candidate more than the other — far more than the 16 percent who said they helped Romney more and the 15 percent who said they aided Obama more. (The correct answer, of course, is that they have been helping Romney more — by a lot.)

What all the numbers above prove is that, for all the hue and cry — particularly among Democrats — about how a small group of very wealthy donors are exerting undue influence on the 2012 election via Republican super PACs, that argument shows basically no political traction among the broader electorate.

Real-world examples affirm this fact. In 2010, Democrats from the Obama White House on down sought to make the heavy spending by American Crossroads, the biggest and best-funded conservative super PAC, a major issue in the midterms. It didn’t work — at all.

That’s not to say that super PACs don’t matter in the election. As we have noted recently, without heavy ad spending by Republican super PACs, Romney would almost certainly be much further down in the polls to Obama. It’s simply to say that running a campaign based on the influence super PACs appears to be a pretty fruitless endeavor.

The Post-Pew poll was conducted July 26 to 29 among a random national sample of 1,010 adults, including users of both conventional and cell phones. The overall results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Obama says Romney is running for a tax cut: Obama suggested at an event Wednesday that Romney is running for president to give wealthy people like himself a tax cut at the expense of everyone else.

Democrats have seized on a new report suggesting the poor and middle class would pay more in taxes to offset tax cuts for the wealthy that Republicans want to extend.

“If Gov. Romney wants to keep his word and pay for this plan, then he’d have to cut tax breaks that middle-class families depend on to pay for your home, the home mortgage deduction; to pay for your health care, the health care deduction, to send your kids to college,” the president said in Ohio.

Expect to hear plenty about the study, from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, in the coming weeks. It fits perfectly into Obama’s strategy for the fall.

Republicans have pushed back, though, noting that one of the study’s authors is a former Obama staffer. Another author, however, worked for a Republican president, George H.W. Bush.

Fixbits:

It’s a dead heat in the suburbs.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is up with his first ad of the 2012 race — a bio ad. And a new poll from Democratic-leaning automated pollster Public Policy Polling shows Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) is neck and neck with the incumbent.

PPP also shows Democrat Richard Carmona evening the score at 38 percent apiece with Rep. Jeff Flake (R) in the Arizona Senate race.

Former Hawaii governor Linda Lingle (R) signs up for Romney’s Jewish coalition, despite her need to separate herself from the national GOP in a blue-state Senate race.

The head staffers for both parties’ Senate campaign committees say the races in Massachusetts and Virginia will likely decide who wins the majority.

Much-ballyhooed GOP congressional recruit Mia Love inexplicably asks a reporter to put her fundraising link on his Web site. And she trails by 18 points in a new Democratic poll.

Newly elected Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) releases an internal poll showing him leading Republican Martha McSally by 13 points.

The House GOP votes to extend all of the Bush tax cuts.

The Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century is launching a new website featuring opposition research on top GOP recruits, called GOPYoungDuds.com — a play on the GOP’s Young Guns program.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wants to eliminate taxes on gold medals (four years too late for Michael Phelps).

Super PAC donor Foster Friess suggests he’s almost done contributing for the cycle.

Must-reads:

Who is Julian Castro and can he deliver in the spotlight?” — Domenico Montanaro, NBC News

Virginia’s Virgil Goode: Could this Man Cost Mitt Romney the Presidency?” — Elizabeth Dias, Time

Obama campaigns in Ohio, a state drowning in political ads” — David Nakamura, Washington Post

Thompson locked in a three-way fight for Wisconsin’s GOP Senate nomination” — Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

Romney Taps Former Paulson Aide, Fannie Mae Vet For Bain Rehab” — Ben Smith, BuzzFeed

Adviser Draws Attention to Romney Mideast Policy” — Michael D. Shear, New York Times

 
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