Super PACs are a two-way street
In last Thursday’s Forum, Matthew Curtis claimed that super PACs have “undermined the electoral system” and that their growth “must be reversed.” Count me among the many who agree. But in making his case, he unfairly paints President Obama far more honorably than his Republican counterparts. Instead, looking at the facts reveals that Curtis’ finger pointing rests on misrepresentations and is ultimately counterproductive.
It is true that Republicans are, rightly or wrongly, associated with corporate interests. Republican nominee Mitt Romney did nothing to fight that image when he (in)famously proclaimed “corporations are people, my friend.” But regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on, the super PAC debate is not a set-in-stone, “us versus them” issue. I believe some clarification is warranted.
Curtis claims that President Obama’s campaign only recently began accepting corporate donations. I will say only that this might be true because I could not confirm it, nor does Curtis provide a source. But it should not be overlooked that the president has “encouraged” supporters (read: corporations and bundlers) to funnel unlimited money through the super PAC that supports him—Priorities USA Action—since February. This can hardly can be considered a recent development (the football offseason has now come and gone, much to this author’s delight) and in addition, Priorities USA had been accepting donations for more than a year prior to that.
Consider though that Curtis’ fundamental claim is that super PACs contribute to perversion of the electoral system. If that’s the case, it is worth noting that it was President Obama’s super PAC that has produced the single most ignominious ad of this election. You may recall that Priorities USA released an ad this summer suggesting that Governor Romney was somehow culpable for the death of a laid-off steelworker’s wife. Without going into the well-documented details, virtually every independent fact checker pounced on the super PAC for distortions that can only be called depraved. The ad never aired in light of the surrounding controversy, but former Obama spokesman and Priorities USA founder Bill Burton seemed to relish the free publicity the outrage generated.
Curtis adds that Obama has “distanced himself” from super PACs and indeed, the president said that he didn’t agree with the ad’s insinuation. Yet this was as good an opportunity as there ever was to forcefully assert a need for campaign finance reform and he failed to seize it.
All of this is not to fault the president for getting into the super PAC game because, true to what Curtis suggests, he’d be at a crippling disadvantage if he didn’t. So let’s be clear: Mr. Obama should not be chastised for his super PAC involvement. My goal is not to paint the president as committing doublespeak because he’s getting into bed with Citizens United because, frankly, it’s hard to find anyone who isn’t, including Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican challenger Todd Akin. What I am merely trying to show is that Curtis’ suggestion that super PACs are somehow a partisan issue is not telling the whole story.
To this point, Republicans are not monolithic (contrary to what pundits might have you believe). There are Republicans who have no objections to the super PAC phenomenon, and there are plenty of others, like me, who are staunchly opposed. In fact, prominent Republicans such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Scott Brown are among the most outspoken opponents of super PAC influence.
I agree with Curtis that super PACs have no place in free and fair elections and I stand with all of those who are hoping this trend can be halted—regardless of party. Regrettably though, change is unlikely to happen during election season. But if can the issue is taken on together, we can perhaps “build a better tomorrow…tomorrow.”