How the system works is so not how our campaign finance system should work

Assuming NC State not over-reacting to 1-3″ snowmageddon today, I’m be teaching campaign finance in my Political Parties class.  One clear conclusion… BCRA/McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform was a pretty big failure.  One thing I really like about it, though, is that required transparency in advertising, e.g., “I’m Donald Trump and I approved this message.”  Transparency is one of the key principles of the post-1974 FECA campaign finance regime.

Alas, transparency means nothing when you can just create an unaccountable group with a meaningless name that doesn’t have to disclose it’s donors.  And that’s our world in post Citizens United America.  I always half-joke with my students about ads being run by “Americans for America.”  Of course, most actual SuperPAC names provide as much actual information.  And these “independent” expenditures by SuperPAC’s are permissible so long as there is not direct coordination with a candidate and there tend to be plenty of indirect coordiniation.

Thing is, though, almost always Republican groups spend money to elect Republicans and hurt Democrats in general elections.  And vice versa.  It strikes me as a new level of political insidiousness and perversity to try to influence the results of the other party’s primary through these shadowy means.  Alas, that’s what I’ve been seeing on my TV every night as of late in the NC Senate race:

Democrats are growing alarmed about Republican attempts to prop up an insurgent liberal candidate in North Carolina — fearful that GOP meddling will undercut the party’s prospects in a key Senate contest.

What seems like a generic campaign ad pitching Erica Smith, a North Carolina state senator, as “the only proven progressive” in the state’s high-profile Senate race is actually part of a multimillion dollar investment from a mysterious super PAC — the innocuously named Faith and Power PAC — with apparent ties to Republicans…

Smith, whose low-budget campaign has otherwise posed little threat to Cunningham, has denounced the intervention. But the episode threatens Democrats’ hopes of getting the better-funded, more moderate Cunningham through the primary unscathed…

“It’scertainly made it more challenging to have over $2 million dumped into an ad buy against Cal Cunningham and what looks to be an attempt by Republicans to sway the primary,” said MaryBe McMillan, president of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, which endorsed Cunningham. “I still feel confident about his chances in the primary. It’s just unfortunate that it’s going to mean spending more resources.”

Faith and Power PAC’s ads were placed bya media buyer used by a number of conservative organizations, and the PAC uses Chain Bridge Bank, which has deep ties to Republicans. Faith and Power PAC did not respond to emails. A spokesperson for the GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, which also uses Chain Bridge Bank,did not respond to requests for comment. [emphasis mine]

This is really ridiculous.  For starters, we don’t know that this is a Republican group because there’s no transparency; we have to rely on detective work.  Imagine if this ad for Smith ended by saying “paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.”  Safe to say, Democratic viewers would largely ignore it; and quite appropriately so.  But, many of the same donors who give to the NRSC probably give to “Faith and Power PAC” but we don’t even get to know who they are.

Money is not quite the unalloyed evil in politics that many make it out to be, but, damn, it may not be “evil” for a party to surreptitiously spend heavily to influence the other party’s primary, but it’s damn sure just not right.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to How the system works is so not how our campaign finance system should work

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Republican Playbook: If you can’t win fairly and honestly, just do whatever it takes.
    After all, the ends justify the means.
    NO – the means determine the ends.

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