A new series: Money in politics

By Chris Daly 

I am launching a new series of posts (like the “Math for Journalists” series) to focus on the impact of money in politics.

I first started paying attention to this issue in the 1980s, when I was covering politics full-time for The Associated Press. My perch was the Massachusetts Statehouse. As the chief of a small bureau there, I lead a team of four who covered government and politics — including elections. Most of those elections were for state office (including the U.S. Senate and House races), but they also included a presidential race in 1987-88 when former Gov. Mike Dukakis took it into his head to run for president. That race, just six election cycles ago, now seems quaint in light of the Supreme Court rulings that have since unleashed spending of a type and scale unknown before. We are in uncharted waters here.

Today’s Times brings a story about a hidden reality of the new Super PACs. For the top guns in political consulting, the Super PACs are, in many ways, more desirable as clients than are actual candidates. When you work for a candidate, you have to travel, you have to deal with volatile spouses and staffers, you have to obey campaign-finance laws that force you to raise money in small amounts from large numbers of individuals.

What the Times story doesn’t say but seems equally important is this: if you work for a candidate, there is a good chance your candidate will lose. The voters can reject the campaign or the campaigner, and the whole staff — including consultants — is, in effect, fired, by the people. Not so with the Super PACs. They don’t ever “lose” in the same sense that a candidate does. They can just hang around forever, banging away at the donors’ pet priorities. In political terms, they are immortal.

Consider “Americans for Rick Perry.” This was a Super PAC that was run by a Republican strategist named Bob Schuman. When Perry dropped out of the Republican presidential primary, Schuman — to use a Texas metaphor — had his horse shot out from under him. No matter. Schuman just got a fresh mount and reorganized as the Restoring Prosperity Fund, pushing the same agenda on behalf of many of the same donors.

One way to look at all this: money is, in effect, dis-enfranchising voters. If you don’t agree with a particular office-holder or candidate, you can vote against him or her. If enough of your fellow citizens agree, then that candidate is done.

But not so with the Super PACs. You can never vote to get rid of them.

Your view? Leave a comment.

(To be continued. . .)


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