By Miles Leicher
What do Bill Moyers, Buddy Roemer and Senator Bernie Sanders have in common? Well, in addition to being on last Friday's amazing episode of Real Time (along with Jennifer Granholm and Matt K. Lewis), they've all been spending a good amount of their time lately talking about the dangers of Political Action Committees, or PACs. I hear they also all practice Parkour in their spare time, but that's just a rumor.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations are "people," money is "speech," and that Rick Santorum "looks great in a sweater vest." Ever since, we've known that a storm was brewing. A cash storm, to be specific, but not the fun kind, where they blow money around a box and make poor people chase after it. This is different. And though it still blows, the game is now for rich people to pour as much money, excuse me, speech into a PAC as they like and use it to run partisan ads. The only upside to these PAC-funded ads is that we no longer have to watch some politician's fat, smug face mouth the words, "I'm Newt Gingrich and I approve this message."
One would think that today's candidates would be thrilled at the prospect of having some faceless entity do their mud-slinging for them, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Listening to these guys complain about Super PAC ads, it would seem that Newt Gingrich's huge, overworked heart breaks into a million pieces whenever he hears his own 'Winning Our Future' PAC knocking Mitt Romney:
"These super PACs have huge amounts of money," Gingrich said recently in New Hampshire. "They're totally irresponsible, totally secret, and I think it's a problem." And if there's one person who hates secrets, it's Newt "Quick, Before My Wife Recovers" Gingrich.
And Mitt Romney? Ooooh man, Mitt hates Super PACs almost as much as he hates his former stances on abortion, immigration, tax cuts, guns, climate change, health care...you get the idea. Not a fan of them (anymore).
"We all would like to have Super PACs disappear, to tell you the truth," said Romney during last week's Fox News/Wall Street Journal debate. "Let campaigns then take responsibility for their own words and not have this strange situation we have of people out there who support us, who run ads we don't like, we would like to take off the air, they are outrageous, and yet they are out there supporting us." And that's coming from the PAC Daddy of them all, whose "Restore Our Future" Super PAC raised in the
neighborhood of $18 million during the second half of 2011.
I guess it's like being an athlete and having that crazy fan who shows up to the games wearing body paint and screaming your name. Sure, you roll your eyes at him, but deep down you still popped an ego-boner.
In any case, why are all these candidates hatin' the player, but still playin' the game? As Newt Gingrich explained to Ted Koppel on NBC's Rock Center, "We learned in Iowa if you unilaterally disarm you might as well not run." Unilaterally disarm. That Cold War allusion in there is no mistake: we're witnessing an arms race among people with pale, flabby arms.
And don't count on President Obama to be the adult in the room this year, either. Though the president has made it clear that he's got no love for Super PACs, one of his national finance committee members, Dick Harpootlian, was quoted as saying, "The president has called out the Supreme Court on Citizens United to their faces. ... But it's the state of play now, and we have to look at what Romney's PAC did to Newt in Iowa. It's dangerous. We can't unilaterally disarm."
Now I want you to take a moment to stop, turn off any music you might be playing and listen carefully. Hear that? It's the sound of your head banging against the wall.
Sure, Super PACs are just a new way for politicians to exert influence while keeping their hands clean, but really...should anyone who likes clean hands ever become a politician?
By Miles Leicher