Presidential Candidates Should Tell Super PACs to Stay Out of 2012 Race

Tuesday’s Florida Republican Primary provided a taste of the wider 2012 presidential campaign season and it is not a pretty picture. 

According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, the negative ads on the Florida airwaves hit a new high for political campaigns at 92%. While negative campaigning is not a new phenomenon in politics, the increase in the sheer volume of negative spots certainly makes one pause. 

The cause of this increase is simply the rise of super PACs. 

Of the 11,586 television spots that aired the week before the Florida Republican primary, super PACs financed over 50%. Candidates now have an excuse when it comes to the negative rhetoric on the campaign trail —  “it’s not me, it’s the super PAC that supports me.” 

Voter turnout for the contest was well below 2008 levels signaling that many voters felt alienated by the process. Hence, what the last week has shown is that something must be done to rein in this type of overwhelming television campaign that threatens to take the substance out of a potentially exciting election season.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that super PACs alone have spent over $45 million this election cycle. To put that into perspective, these same organizations have already utilized two-thirds of what they spent the entire 2010 election cycle and it is only the beginning of the primary season.

Outrageous amounts of money are flowing in politics through these super PACs and that most likely means that corruption and scandals are right around the corner. This atmosphere allows special interests and wealthy individuals to have an even greater impact on elections than in the past. One example is of a $5 million check from billionaire Sheldon Adelson sent to Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich super PAC, right before the South Carolina primary, money which ultimately helped Gingrich achieve victory in that primary. While not to single Gingrich out, every candidate has a similar story and what it shows is that powerful interests can and are thwarting the will of the people. 

Super PACs operate within a loosely regulated framework that has no mechanisms to keep them accountable and to stop the misinformation, as they supposedly operate independent of any official candidate. Even the January 31 disclosure of donors was fraught with loopholes and a cloak of secrecy, as only the donors from the last quarter of 2011 were revealed. The Republican primary will be over by the time we find out who contributed during the actual primary season and this issue will occur again during the general election campaign.

Instead of furthering the money revolution in politics, candidates should actively move in the opposite direction and take a stand for transparency and accountability in campaigning. They should follow the example set by Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and his democratic rival for his Senate seat, Elizabeth Warren, with their recent agreement to curb the influence of outside groups in what will arguably be the most hotly contested Senate race this election cycle.  It may not be a perfect plan but it is a good start to finding a solution to outside spending and more importantly, keep the campaign about the issues that are important to Americans and clear of petty politics.

Photo Credit: DonkeyHotey

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Joseph Lester

Joseph graduated from Stanford University with a BA in political science and is currently pursing a MA in sociology. He is especially interested in issues of education, social inequality, government transparency and accountability, and electoral politics.

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