President Barack Obama has just taken campaign fundraising down a notch by asking his supporters to contribute to Priorities USA, a liberal Super PAC. Throughout his political career, the president has been critical of the role of big money in politics. Predictably, he decided to rethink his position in response to the millions being accumulated by conservative Super PACs that will ultimately be used against him in the 2012 election campaign. The influence of PACs in the American political process is a plague; wealthy individuals, corporations and unions are now in a position to sway the elections of our federal, state, and local officials. Candidates with the most money will likely be the victors in political campaigns, not necessarily those most qualified.
The power of TV advertisement by political groups came into prominence in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson’s supporters aired the “Daisy Girl” ad, which effectively sealed his victory against Barry Goldwater. The ad was in response to Goldwater’s statement that he would consider using a nuclear bomb in the Vietnam War, if elected. It was a gross mischaracterization of Goldwater’s position, and even though it was aired only once, it went viral in the media.
A second misuse of TV advertisement was the “Revolving Door” ad, in which the senior George Bush accused Michael Dukakis, his opponent in 1988, of releasing felons from jail. Once again, an advertisement was instrumental in a political victory.
And now, because of two landmark court decisions in 2010, Super PACs have been unleashed to collect unlimited amounts of money with which they will sling mud at the opponents of their favorite candidates. As of February 12, 328 Super PACs amassed $99 million. The largest is Restore our Future, a Romney support group, which accounts for $30 million of the aforementioned amount. Shortly, it is expected that Priorities USA will challenge the Romney Super PAC in terms of money raised as it actively supports the Obama candidacy.
The amount of spending by politicians accelerated in the 2010 congressional elections. During these contests, the contenders spent about $300 million according a New York Times editorial. The piece stated that Congress would be “beholden to those outside interests far more than they are to the needs of voters and the country,” a position wholeheartedly endorsed by millions of Americans.
In response to this growing phenomenon, Sen. John Tester (D-Minn.) has offered a proposal to his opponent to keep Super PACs out of their senatorial contest . And, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and his Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren have agreed to try to keep outside groups from interfering with their senatorial race as well. They would be required to donate money to a charity of the other candidate’s choice every time an attack ad was aired. Experts do not believe the Super PACs will cooperate.
Regarding Obama’s flip-flop, his aides have said that it would be unfair if the president did not react to GOP-supported Super PACs. The decision is in direct contradiction to the president’s position on the issue. Only when our politicians put the welfare of the country ahead of their own reelection prospects will the scourge of outside money be eliminated. The president did not put his country before his own ambition.
To make matters worse, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, former aides to the president until 2011, now run the Obama Super PAC. Did Obama know he would change his mind long before his announcement last week? It certainly appears so.
What have Super PACs done so far to upset the current election cycle? Certainly, Sheldon Adelson and his Super PAC, Winning Our Future Back, is a prime example how disruptive one wealthy person can be. By personally giving Newt Gingrich $10 million, Adelson has effectively extended the competitiveness of the GOP primary, given fodder to the Democrats and directly impacted the entire Republican political establishment. That one man can have such power is a national tragedy.
It is difficult to see how the growth of this cancer can be stemmed. The courts have ruled that limiting political donations is a violation of free speech, so a constitutional amendment must be passed to ultimately prohibit the interference of Super PACs in our elections. Such an amendment would be a monstrous undertaking and is highly unlikely to occur because the GOP is not interested in preventing the influence of big money, and, it appears that the current president is not either.
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