When Rick Santorum came within 8 votes of besting Romney in Iowa, there was an initial assumption that the horse race obsessed media would focus on that as the presidential race shifted to the New Hampshire primary. But Rick Santorum, while getting a rankings boost above the other Santorum that a Google search produces, seems to have stalled out after some midweek missteps. Huntsman now has whatever passes for momentum in these final hours before the ballots are cast, so another last man standing gets his fifteen minutes of fame.
Some are attributing this to Huntsman practically moving to New Hampshire while ignoring Iowa and other early contests. Others point to the Boston Globe endorsement of him (a slap in the face to former Massachusetts moderate Romney). But the real reason is that up to now, Huntsman hasn’t been the recipient of the type of slash and burn negative political ads that Romney – well, his SuperPAC – used to essentially destroy Newt Gingrich as any sort of a viable challenge. That now clear use of fictionally “independent” SuperPACs is the focus of the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses. Iowa didn’t’ winnow the field so much as it showed us how the game is now being played in a post-Citizen’s United world.
Now, admittedly for this native Georgian who saw how Gingrich coached his minions in the 90’s on how to demonize Democrats (he created GOPAC, the grandfather of the SuperPAC, remember), it’s hard not to laugh at the crocodile tears being shed by Gingrich about inaccurate negative SuperPAC ads costing him his shot at the nomination. However real his conversion on negativity is, the fact of a $3 million smear campaign in a small, low-cost media state is a testament to how money isn’t being used as “speech”. It’s being used to buy an election by a wealthy professional campaigner intent on taking the White House.
So this is what the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United gets us: Restore Our Future, the organization that bought the venomous media buy against Gingrich that turned the fortunes of his poll numbers before voting day. Romney is fond of talking about how this SuperPAC and all SuperPACs are “independent”. He less than convincingly claimed he hadn’t watched the ads and then claimed to have only seen it once, before line for line reciting what it was in Sunday’s Meet the Press/Facebook Debate. Run by Carl Forti and Charles Spies, both senior staff members closely involved with Romney during his 2008 presidential bid, Restore Our Future is just one of these fictitiously independent SuperPACs. Gingrich has one too and in spite of its “independence”, he can tell you his SuperPAC is about to run a 27 minute “truthful ad” on Romney sourced from “mainstream sources” like “the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Barrons”. Both these guys seem to know a lot about these ads they know nothing about and have no control or input into.
SuperPACs spend their money on buying political ads that in practice are largely negative and filled with half truths without any connection or reference to the candidates they support. This leaves the candidates to spend their other piles of money while looking like they are taking the high road. They do this with impunity. But wait, there’s more! The best part is that SuperPAC’s are allowed to have unlimited amounts of donations given to them, short-circuiting the idea of contribution caps in order to make sure that a small group of people don’t have undue influence on a politician merely because they are bankrolling an election campaign. The legal theory behind SuperPAC’s is laughable, rubberstamping the un-American idea that corporations are people, and yet, because of their blatant existence as a loophole within law, every national politician now needs one in order to mount effective campaigns.
The toll they are taking on political discourse in this country is only beginning to be felt. $3 million in Iowa to destroy one challenger is nothing compared to what we are about to be subjected to in a general election where each side is expected to spend in excess of a billion dollars. If you thought the tone and tenor of what passes for debate in this country had sunk to an all time low, just wait.
The biggest impact of Iowa is clear. The casualty isn’t just Gingrich; it’s the continued descent of American politics into divisive, demonizing, and corporate sponsored elections. Thank you, Justice Alito and crew: Citizen’s United’s impact is the real impact of Iowa.
Reprinted from State Senator Curt Thompson's (D-5th) blog.