When Super PACs Attack

 Romney’s Super PAC carpet bombing Baby Newt over Iowa

Poor Baby Newt, poster child of the post-Citizens United world

A month after Newt Gingrich‘s meteoric rise to the top of the GOP presidential primary, this latest anti-Romney flavor of the month bragged that he was then the  odds-on favorite to win the Rethug presidential nomination. Now, he’s looking more like a dazed survivor of a Dresden scale carpet bombing, wondering WTF.

“I can’t do modern politics,” he whined to a Rotary Club audience at a breakfast early Friday morning in Des Moines, Iowa. This from the guy who did as much as anyone to develop negative campaigning into a vicious art. Stop being such a cry baby, Newt. Take your karma like a man.

According to the latest Marist  and Des Moines Register polls, the Newtster has lost fully half of his previous support during the month of December alone.  What accounts for his sudden demise? No mystery there– just ask any Iowan with a television set, a radio, an internet connection, or a mailbox. Subjected to over $4 million worth of negative political ads from Romney’s Super PAC Restore Our Future alone, the Newtster has been the target of some 45% of all the negative tv ads flooding the Iowan airways. This has reduced the Stay Puft Marshallow man to a burnt, gooey residue of his former self.

The Newtster in happier days as the Ghostbuster’s’ Gozer the Destructor

What made Super Pacs like ROF possible was, of course, the US Supreme Court‘s ruling in Citizens United.  In addition to magically conferring personhood and thus individual rights on corporations, it cemented the idea that one of those rights, free speech, was the equivalent of cold, hard cash.  In ROF’s case, it has already raised some $30 million worth of  ‘free expression.’

In addition to being able to take in unlimited amounts of cash, Super PAC  donations can be, and often are,  anonymous.  Furthermore, it enables candidates to run nothing but positive ads while their affiliated Super Pacs do the hatchet work.

Last Sunday, The LA Times pointed out that:

“This is a radical change,” said Trevor Potter, a Republican election lawyer who advised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in his 2008 presidential bid.

If present trends continue, the 2012 election will reverse more than a century of efforts to curb the influence of big money on politics.

During his second term, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke with alarm about the ability of corporate and financial elite — “malefactors of great wealth” — to steer government decisions. In 1907, he signed legislation banning corporate contributions to federal candidates.

This is the same Trevor Potter who used to head up the Federal Elections Commission, and who was hired by comedian Stephen Colbert to set up his own Super PAC. In the clip below, Stephen elicits guidance from Potter as to what freedoms his new Super PAC  allows; and just how thin the veil between a Super PAC and its preferred candidate really is.

(At one point, Colbert summarizes his understanding of the kind of content that Super PAC commercials enables, comparing it to sexual intercourse:  “If I have my penis in someone’s vagina, that doesn’t mean we’re having sexhe postulates.  To paraphrase Bruce Lee‘s description of his martial art in the classic film,  Enter The Dragon, this is the equivalent of saying Super PAC commercials embody:  “The art of fucking without fucking.” )

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Colbert Super PAC – Issue Ads – Trevor Potter
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Stephen’s attorney explains the operational parameters of  his new Super PAC

While the $2,500 limit on individual contributions to individual candidates and the yearly limit of $30,800 to party committees still applies, Citizens United has completely blown the lid off how much corporations can give. Individuals who want to give more than the law allows can simply give it to a corporation, which can in turn give it to a Super Pac. Recall that last summer, Romney’s Super Pac received a million bucks each from three individuals working through what were basically dummy corporations. As Open Secrets.org reported it (emphasis mine):

Earlier this year, three donations of $1 million each were given to a super PAC supportive of the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The super PAC was called Restore Our Future. These large sums may not in and of themselves have raised eyebrows. But the identities of the donors certainly did.

One of the donations came from the company W. Spann LLCNBC News reported that the organization was established in March by a Boston lawyer, but that corporate records gave no information about the owner. Nor did the company exist at the listed address. Furthermore, W. Spann LLC was dissolved on July 12, two weeks before the Restore Our Future PAC reported the donation on its first campaign finance filing to the Federal Election Commission. The other notable $1 million donations came from two Utah companies: Eli Publishing and F8 LLC. When a local Utah reporter from Fox 13 visited the address listed for both companies on Restore Our Future’s FEC filing, he found only an accounting firm not affiliated with the pro-Romney PAC.

Since then, employees of Romney’s former (?) vulture capitalism firm, Bain Capital, have ponied up at least another $1.25 million, according to The Center For Responsive Politics.

Though coordination between a candidate’s campaign committee and a Super Pac is nominally illegal, one need only look at the individuals behind Romney’s Super Pac, Restore Our Future, to show just what a joke, or  legal fiction,  that is.  According to The New York Times:

They include Carl Forti, the political director of Mr. Romney’s 2008 campaign; Charles R. Spies, Mr. Romney’s former chief counsel; and Larry McCarthy, an alumnus of Mr. Romney’s media team who was known for producing some of the more compelling positive spots for Mr. Romney four years ago, but has nonetheless earned a reputation as one of the most fearsome political ad makers in the country — he produced the Willie Horton commercial that devastated Michael S. Dukakis’s presidential campaign in 1988.

As I wrote two years ago in A Supreme Screwing,  just after Citizens United was decided:

Well, we Americans had a good run. We began as a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. But, almost inevitably it would seem, given the impersonal forces of unrestrained materialism, we have become a government of, for, and by the corporations.

Nothing short of constitutional amendment is likely to change that.  And with corporations free to buy as many politicians as they need, the odds of that occurring  in our lifetime are slim and none.  (And Slim just slimed his way out of  town.)

To trust buster Teddy Roosevelt, who founded the Bull Moose Progressive Party in 1912, corporations were “malefactors of great wealth” to be kept on a short leash and out of the people’s business.  A century later, thanks to our Republican Supreme Court,  it is as Willard told us in Iowa last August:

“Corporations are people too…”

Why corporations, who are now people, can give unlimited campaign contributions while people who aren’t corporations can not, is a logical inconsistency that the Court should address some time soon.  Or maybe not. The  anonymity that Super PACs provide has its own advantages.  I mean, what politician wants to have Tony Soprano listed as a million dollar contributor?  Better to make him a back door man.

So that little legal inconsistency will probably be with us for awhile, at least until people accept that the unholy alliance between corporations and government that Mussolini called “fascism” is accepted as the natural Darwinian order of things.

Welcome to our Brave New Citizens United World.

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