Super PAC Spending and Citizens United Have Ruined Election 2012 and Set Back Our Democracy

In this election cycle, much has been made of the role of big money, in particular, Super-PACs. Enabled by the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, these organizations are legally prevented from donating directly to a candidate. However, they can spend unlimited amounts of money independently advocating for or against any political candidate or cause they choose. Much of the endless cavalcade of political advertising we’ve all endured over the past several weeks is due to such organizations.

As we look back on 2012, we’ll hear much about the giants of the Super-PAC field.

“Restore our Future,” a pro-Romney Super-PAC has exceeded $140 million dollars in independent expenditures. “American Crossroads,” a Karl Rove-backed Super-PAC, has spent over $100 million. Progressive Super-PACs figure significantly in this field as well with the two highest-spending examples, “Priorities USA Action” and “Majority PAC,” spending over $100 million combined.

However, while it’s lonely at the top, any fool knows it’s infinitely more lonely and demoralizing at the bottom. There are scores of Super-PACs formed that never managed to raise any money and thus, engaged in no spending at all. The names of many of these Super-PACS suggest they were formed simply for a laugh, for instance, “Howard Stern Fans for a Baba Booey Tomorrow” or the “Thank you Citizens United! Super PAC.” By far the most interesting of the Super-PACs rounding out the bottom of those making actual expenditures is the “No Mercy Super-PAC.”

No Mercy is a peculiar animal. As best as can be gleaned from publicly available financial statements, the Super-PAC managed to engage in only $76 dollars of independent expenditures in this election cycle. Their largest contribution appears to $200. However, it was given to the organization by its founder, Michael Smith.

The No Mercy Facebook page suggests why funding might be so paltry. In a post from September, we learn, “Promises by potential funders were not kept, so we have not been active. If any well heeled contributor with $100k or more wants us to setup targeted spending to support conservative Republicans at the FEDERAL level (only), let us know.” Presumably, they never found that well heeled contributor. However, I doubt there are many ideologically charged millionaires combing Facebook pages with seven “likes” for Super-PACs to which they could donate hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Presumably, much of the small amount of money No Mercy did manage to pull together was spent on webhosting. The No Mercy website is a thing of delirious beauty. An apocalyptic picture of the Capitol being struck by lightning figures prominently on every page. The site itself is a frenetic whirl of words and images, many underlined, capitalized or colored in red, white, and blue to convey emphasis. 

At times, it reads like something that would have been belched out of a lottery-ball tumbler if you’d filled it with phrases like “anti-American,” “Marxist agenda,” “Saul Alinsky” or the ubiquitous “No Mercy.” The last phrase appears no less than 18 times in the opening blurb of the website alone (usually capitalized, italicized, in color, or all of the above). The site is a stunning combination of absolute vitriol and an entire lack of substance.

Speaking of the website, the No Mercy site is only one of many the group claims to operate. Other links listed include: ObamaHatesAmerica.com, ObamaHatesCapitalism.com, ImportedFromKenya.com, and HopeyDopey.com. There are 60 of these in total. Most of them don’t host any content, which after several pages of intense scrawl on the main site, comes as somewhat of a relief.

In wading through page after page of No Mercy’s screed, I started to think about the present state of American politics, in particular the frightening intensity of political discontent in this country right now. No Mercy is kind of amusing until you realize that behind this bewildering frenzy of anti-Obama scribble, there lies a deeply discontented human being who no longer has the ability to articulate their views in coherent sentences, utilize evidence to support their assertions, or frame a logical argument. What’s worse is that he or she no longer feels the need to do so. 

Generalizing upward, this trend has gradually crept into our national political discourse. Pesky factual and evidentiary requirements are circumvented through sheer intensity, emotional manipulation, or subtle references to violence, doom, and destruction. We’ve lost our bearings politically and many of us no longer see any need to have anything resembling a civically minded, informed discourse. Instead, we feel we can just spit falsehoods at each other and, in the case of No Mercy, hope that some funder with deep pockets will swoop in to financially underwrite our babbling.

Ultimately, No Mercy never took root. The Super-PAC never found its well-heeled contributor. Yet the advertising and advocacy that has dominated this election cycle demonstrates a similar disinterest in informed, substantive debate on the issues. The extent of money in politics in this election, of course, raises serious questions about the legitimacy of American democracy. Yet while No Mercy lacks virtually any money, they embody a trend that threatens democratic legitimacy in similar ways. Perhaps a first step towards overhauling our democracy after this election involves attempting to restore some measure of civility and sanity to our political discourse.