October 2012, Previous Issues

Thank Supreme Court for this ugly campaign

Next  month, we can go to the polls and select our next president as well as our representatives in Congress. Some of us will help choose one of our state’s two Senators.

Until then, we will continue to be bombarded with advertisements, almost all of them ugly personal attacks on one candidate or another. This is hardly new in American politics. In the election of 1800, for example, those great Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were scurrilously attacked as “the son of a half-breed Indian squaw raised on hoe-cakes” (Jefferson) and “a hideous hermaphroditical character with neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman” (Adams).

Still, many commentators are saying that this campaign has been especially nasty because of a Supreme Court decision that changed the campaign finance laws.

First, a little background. Political campaigns usually have two sources of funding. The first is direct contributions – made by individuals, political parties or political action committees (PACs) – to specific candidates. Federal law, for example, places strict limits on these donations. An individual, for example, can give a maximum of $2,500 to a specific candidate per election. contributions.

However, a recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, ruled that the government cannot place any limits on money donated to groups that are not directed by specific candidates. The court’s thinking was that such political activity constitutes free speech which cannot be abridged under the First Amendment to the Constitution. Thus, a millionaire can only give a maximum of $2,500 to Mitt Romney’s campaign but an unlimited amount of money to a PAC supporting his candidacy. That is why these PACs are now referred to as Super PACS. According to the New York Times, Super PACS have raised more than $100 million for the 2012 election, far exceeding the totals from 2008.

This ruling has radically transformed the political landscape through what amounts to a slight-of-hand. As I noted, Super PACs are not allowed to be directly affiliated with the candidates they support. However, they are as close as close can be. The Super PAC Restore Our Future has spent more than $35 million in support of Mitt Romney’s campaign. This group is led by some Charles Spies, who was a key advisor to Romney when he ran for the Presidency in 2008. Meanwhile, President Obama’s Super Pac, Priorities USA, is led by the cmpaign manager for his 2008 campaign, David Plouffe.

The wall separating the campaigns from the Super PACs supporting them is paper thin. Romney himself has spoken at Restore Our Future gatherings. President Obama has said he will send cabinet secretaries and other people from his administration and campaign to make presentations to Priorities USA.

One of the chief results of this fresh infusion of cash is an increase in negative advertising. Airwaves in key battleground states have been saturated with saturated with ads attacking one candidate or the other. The issue was bought o head in a Republican debate in February when Newt Gingrich demanded that Romney pull negative ads running against him. Romney said that he could not because he was prevented by federal law from coordinating his campaign’s activities with those of Restore Our Future.

This is correct and tells us why we are in the midst of an ugly campaign. Under the new rules, candidates do not have run their own negative ads. In fact, they can distance themselves from them, claiming they have no control over the efforts of people with whom they are closely aligned.

I wouldn’t consider the money spent on presidential candidates money well spent, however I do understand the importance of fundraising to make sure the individual you’re campaigning for wins. Even if the money is spent on making sure others loose, the ultimate goals are to gain votes and raise more money. Politics and elections are very tricky, which is why the people question what Super PAC’s spend their money on.

— By Sakeeda Freeman