Then again, this could all be so much bluster. Even as they complain about super PAC ads, the candidates seem happy to repeat the attacks that the ads contain — aiming to reap the political benefits from groups with no direct accountability to the public.
“We all would like to have super PACs disappear, to tell you the truth,” Romney said at a debate Monday night in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
But then he embraced them Tuesday morning: “It’s not that I don’t support super PACs. We raise money for super PACs. We encourage super PACs. Each candidate has done that.”
The waffling underscores the awkward relationship between the groups and Romney, Newt Gingrich and other GOP candidates, who are simultaneously distancing themselves from, and taking advantage of, the super PACs without running afoul of campaign finance rules. The groups, which have emerged from court rulings dismantling key campaign finance restrictions, are allowed to back candidates with no limits on how much money they can raise or spend.
All of the major presidential candidates have a super PAC dedicated to their cause, funded heavily by billionaire financiers, hedge fund managers and corporate tycoons writing six- and
seven-figure checks. The groups are estimated to be outspending regular campaigns in South Carolina by a 2-to-1 ratio.
Effect in primaries
An Associated Press analysis released Tuesday found that super PAC ads have affected primary results more than other forms of campaigning, including personal appearances by candidates. Super PACs have reported $23.8 million in primary spending to the Federal Election Commission as of Tuesday, with $8.8 million of that coming from groups backing Romney.
“We’re in an unprecedented situation where these super PACs, taking unlimited money, have clearly affected the direction of the Republican primary, and people are struggling with how to respond,” said attorney Trevor Potter of the Campaign Legal Center, who served as general counsel for GOP presidential candidate John McCain. “People understand they have the potential to determine who is president.”
Under federal rules, candidates aren’t allowed to directly coordinate with super PACs — which are supposed to be independent — but the candidatescan raise money for the groups, share donors and even send pointed messages to them through the media.
Gingrich vs. Romney
Thus Gingrich has repeatedly criticized the Winning Our Future super PAC for inaccuracies in its attacks on Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital while echoing some of the attacks himself on the campaign trail. Winning Our Future is run by former Gingrich confidants and was the recipient of a $5 million gift from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a longtime financial backer of the former House speaker.