The supposed “independence” of the super PACs reaches barely a legal fiction. Former aides or fundraisers run the entities. The campaigns alert donors as to which “independent” entity is designated for support. President Obama is delegating Cabinet and White House officials to attend fundraisers for Priorities USA Action, his “independent” super PAC. His 2008 campaign director, David Plouffe, now coordinating messaging in the White House, is out helping to raise the money.
Ahead of Super Tuesday, the Romney campaign spent little money outside of Ohio. Not surprisingly, his “independent” super PAC ramped up its spending in the other states to spearhead the Romney attack. The Gingrich campaign took this to the point of absurdity, running no advertising in the Super Tuesday primaries while his super PAC, Winning Our Future — funded almost entirely by one donor — carried the banner, spending $3.7 million in the primary states.
The alleged independence of the super PACs lets them do the dirty work without the candidate taking responsibility. The result is an increasingly ugly campaign, deluged with negative attack ads. In Ohio, a key battleground state, the groups associated with Romney, Gingrich and Santorum spent about $4 million in advertising. Of the 11 presidential election commercials run on Ohio TV since February 1, all but one were negative attack ads, according to the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.
What we’ve seen, however, is merely the first glass before the bender, the blowout that will come this fall. The fall election will feature an estimated $3 billion in negative ads, many purveyed not by super PACs, which at least have to reveal their donors, but by associated “advocacy groups” that are not required to do so. That is where the corporations and the Wall Street barons are likely to play. The candidates will know who anted up the big money, but the voters will not.
The infamous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, ruling that corporations as well as individuals could give unlimited amounts to “independent” expenditure entities, opened the floodgates. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled that corporations had the same rights as people to speech, and thus to unlimited expenditures in campaigns. That right might be balanced, he admitted, by the public concern about corruption of elections and officials. Then he bizarrely concluded — without bothering to offer any evidence — that independent corporate expenditures in elections, even in secret, “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”