Fire with Fire

Published: March 23, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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In the run-up to Super Tuesday, outside political action committees “spent three times as much as the candidates themselves according to a Wall Street Journal analysis…”

“Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich spent a combined $2.4 million on television ads during the last two weeks in Ohio, Oklahoma, Georgia and Tennessee, the contests with the most delegates Tuesday, according to a review of spending on TV commercials. The super PACs supporting their candidacies spent $7.85 million in those states during the same period, according to data these groups are required to file with the Federal Election Commission.”

According to, a Web site run by the non-partisan, non-profit group Center for Responsive Politics that tracks money in politics, “as of March 12, 2012, 371 groups organized as Super PACs have reported total receipts of $130,353,017 and total independent expenditures of $75,318,062 in the 2012 cycle.”

$75 million and we haven’t even finished the GOP primary season yet!

Although Super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates, they may, under law, raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend that money advocating for or against any political candidate.

I’ve written about this before. But to refresh everyone’s political memory, Super PACs came about as a result of two Supreme Court decisions. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court held that the government may not prohibit unions and corporations from making independent expenditures for political purposes. In v. FEC, the Federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that contributions to groups that only make independent expenditures could not be limited.

In January 2010, The New York Times wrote, “The 5-to-4 decision was a vindication, the majority said, of the First Amendment’s most basic free speech principle.”

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy, said that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

However, it may surprise you to know that according to a CBS News story, of the $27 million raised by Super PACs in January, 70 percent came from just five individuals: Energy Executive William Dore and investment manager Foster Friess for Rick Santorum; Hedge fund manager and venture capitalist Peter Thiel for Ron Paul; Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons gave to several Super PACs; and Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson supported Newt Gingrich.

My question to Justice Kennedy: How does your “appearance of corruption” radar look, now?

The difficult part of this whole issue, of course, is that it pits the First Amendment right of free speech against vast amounts of money in the political process. Worse still, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, “…super PACs, which have run more advertising than the campaigns themselves, have spent 72 percent of their money on negative ads…

“Four years ago, just 6 percent of campaign advertising in the GOP primaries amounted to attacks on other Republicans; in this election, that figure has shot up to more than 50 percent, according to an analysis of advertising trends. And the negative ads are not just more frequent — they also appear to be more vitriolic.”

I’m all for free speech, but in the latest adaptation of bad “reality TV,” the country seems to be divided into two camps,Us v. Them where Them is absolutely convinced that Us is driving the bus off the cliff; and Us is equally convinced that leaving the country to Them would be turning the clocks back to the economic crisis that happened in 2008.

Once against the notion of Super PACs, President Obama now has his own. The New York Times writes, (Mar.13) Priorities USA Action, a super PAC supporting the president’s re-election, will report $2 million in February donations, group officials said, including $1 million from the television host Bill Maher. Those amounts are substantial for Priorities USA and a related group, which together raised about $6.1 million through the end of 2011.”

Currently, the country seems fractured into several groups, the most notable being: Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers and Occupiers; and all seem bent on the destruction of the other by whatever means necessary. The problem is that with all of them talking and no one listening, how does the electorate decide who’s right, what’s fair and what’s in the best interests of the country?

“In our seeking for economic and political progress, we all go up, or else we all go down,” Franklin Roosevelt said.

Given the fact that several members of Congress have sworn allegiance to President of Americans for Tax Reform Grover Norquist and taken an absolute pledge never to raise taxes under any circumstances, it seems that they would rather the ship go down before considering anything that smells of compromise.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present,” Lincoln said. “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”

My question this week is this: Do you support or oppose super PACs and why?


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