In Oregon’s 1st District, which is holding a mail-only special election on Tuesday to replace disgraced Democrat David Wu, Republican candidate Rob Cornilles has been bombarded with $1.8 million in ads and mailings from the Democratic Party and allied outside groups.
House Majority, Democratic super PAC, attacks Cornilles for allegations related to his sports consulting business: “His company didn’t pay federal taxes for nine months,” says one television ad
. “He had to pay back wages to trainees who say they worked 11 weeks without pay.”
Cornilles condemns the attacks as “lies and distortions,” but said he still supports the court rulings that led to the rise of super PACs — and made it easier to pour more money into elections such as his.
“I don’t fault them for using the speech they want to exercise,” said Cornilles, who is running against Democrat Suzanne Bonamici. “We’re going to win this thing despite the negativity and I think, in some respects, because of it. People are disgusted by it.”
In the Massachusetts race between Sen. Scott Brown (R) and Democrat Elizabeth Warren, attacks by outside groups have been so relentless that the two candidates signed an agreement last week aimed at halting the onslaught.
Under the deal, the candidates agreed to pay a penalty that would go to charity if outside groups supporting them buy either positive or negative advertising. The two campaigns acknowledge, however, that their goal of eliminating the ads is difficult to enforce, since by definition independent groups cannot coordinate activities with candidates.
Money from non-party groups has long played a major role in U.S. politics, but a series of recent decisions, including the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, have made it dramatically easier for corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to have a direct financial influence on elections. In the GOP presidential race, for example, two $5 million checks from a casino magnate and his wife to a super PAC have played a crucial role in allowing Newt Gingrich to be competitive.
The similar dynamic in congressional races is unfolding as super PACs, nonprofit groups and others join with party committees to drive spending.
One conservative super PAC, Club for Growth Action, has been running ads against Republican primary candidates it considers too moderate, including Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Senate hopeful Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin. In Texas, the group is running $500,000 worth of television ads against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), who is vying against Club for Growth pick Ted Cruz for a Senate seat.