Campaign financing and Super PACs: more money, more problems

Graphic courtesy of rootsaction.org

Political consulting got its start back in 1933 when Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter founded Campaigns, Inc. Campaigns, Inc. started out running campaigns for businesses and monopolies like Standard Oil. Their big debut was working against Upton Sinclair, controversial author of the novel “The Jungle”, in his 1934 bid for governor of California. Sinclair was on the California ticket as a Democrat; Whitaker and Baxter were Republicans and disgusted over the fact that a fiction writer would want to run for governor. Whitaker and Baxter were able to use Sinclair’s own fictional works to scare voters into voting Republican. Relying on catchy slogans, attack ads, and putting on a fun show, they used quotes from his, I must remind you, fictional books to convince voters that he was a “bad person.” They believed that a wall goes up when you try to get Americans to think. Then TV came into play in 1952 and Campaigns, Inc. really started raking in money with the Republicans spending $1.5 million on television advertising that year. Fast-forward to the 2012 presidential race: both the Democrats and Republicans raised over $900 million and Americans still seem to enjoy not having to think. Who is behind trying to keep us from thinking for ourselves? Who doesn’t want us to make a choice for who we want for president?
Turn on the television and whether it is the presidential race or any local races you will be bombarded with negative advertising. If you want to fit in with the stereotype of the uninformed voter that political consulting firms exploit, then believe these negative ads that are fueled by greed. Do what they say, sit back, and enjoy the ride. What’s the worst that could happen when multi-million dollar companies are free to spend as much money as possible so that they are the only voice when it comes to our government? You know—that whole “for the people, by the people” thing?
With the introduction of Super PACs, campaign financing was forever changed. Super PACs are political committees whose main goal is to take unlimited donations from corporations, unions, or wealthy individuals and then use that money to fund advertising for the candidate of their choice. For the first time in history, neither presidential candidate has accepted public funds from donors due to the restrictions that come with the money they can accept. Instead, Super PACs have created a way for candidates to bypass the regulations placed on campaigns to prevent them from coordinating with independent groups by steering rich donors towards so-called independent Super PACs who seem to be working as adjuncts to the campaign itself. The candidate doesn’t get in trouble and the money flows unrestricted.
This has created a loophole in our system that is trying to regulate the amount of money that goes into campaigns. Because of the 2010 ruling of the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case, independent organizations do not have a cap on the money they can raise. So these Super PACs are able to raise as much as possible and are able to use this money to hire political consultants to create advertising for who they support. Many of these consultants rely on negative messages that are oftentimes not true, a form of political manipulation that Campaigns, Inc. started the trend for and is becoming the deciding factor for undecided voters during this year’s presidential race.
Super PACs have not only infiltrated advertising for the presidential race, they are also prevalent among Senate and House races. According to the New York Times, for the month of October, Super PACs reported at least $38.5 million in independent spending, nearly seven times as much as they spent during the same period in 2010. This money is floating around from the presidential race and now down to the House and Senate. House races which rarely used to be linked with large money are now being overcome by Super PACs. In Utah and Georgia, a group known as Center Forward spent $1 million in attacking Republican candidates, and Now or Never PAC, based out of Missouri, spent more than $900,000 to aid a Republican in Illinois. These PACs are funding out-of-state Republicans and Democrats that they don’t fully know and this money is getting them seats in the House and Senate. Like Campaigns, Inc., the sole purpose of Super PACs is to feed whoever will be on their side, regardless of whether they are the best choice to run our country or not.
What is all this money going towards? I’d love to think it’s being spent on charities or non-profit organizations that their candidate supports. But come on, it’s politics, and it’s a dirty game. This unrestricted money is being pumped into advertising to keep Americans from making their own decision on who they want to vote for. It is doing what Campaigns, Inc. started: it is keeping Americans from thinking and telling us to sit back and let these false ads choose for us.
According to a recent CBS News article, a negative ad against Mitt Romney states that a man was laid off because of Bain Capital, a financing company that Romney is a co-founder of, lost his health insurance, and 22 days later his wife died of cancer. There was nothing that this poor, poor man could do. The only problem is that this ad failed to state that his wife died five years after he had gotten laid off and it turned out she had health insurance for part of the time. These are the ads that are getting constantly thrown at us from both sides and are being funded by Super PACs. They are made to keep us from thinking and wanting us to just step in line and do exactly what they want. They are the ones in control because of their unrestricted spending.
The Washington Times states that 915,000 presidential campaign ads from June 1st to the end of October aired. That’s a 44.5 percent increase from the 637,000 ads ran way, way back in that presidential race in 2008. In just four years, campaign television advertising has gone up nearly 50 percent. What has caused this big change? Could it be linked to the origin of Super PACs in 2010 with their unrestricted accumulation of millions? The connections are all there. Super PACs are flooding our airwaves with false, negative advertising that is leading to voters not knowing the truth when it comes time for them to go to their polling place.
Leone Baxter was interviewed in the 1960s regarding the legitimacy of her company, Campaigns, Inc., and political consulting. She stated that political consulting must be in the hands or ethical and principled people, “People with real concern for the world around them, for people around them.” She felt that if this didn’t exist then it could turn into a very destructive thing involving people who have no regard for the world around them.
In this new era of Super PACs and unrestricted spending on negative advertising, I have to wonder: has this already happened? Did Baxter predict what is going on in this campaign now? I have to say yes. This destructive power is in full force and it is up to us to start thinking. It is time to turn off the advertising and to make choices for ourselves. Let’s make a change to the way campaigns and our country is run.

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