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OPINION: Super PACS will supply the dirt for the race in 2012

Mike Jones, Tulsa World, Okla. –

The most important result of the Iowa caucuses was not the winners or losers – the Iowa vote does not make or break a candidate. What it gave Americans was a glimpse of what is to come. Not debates or positions, but a taste of how the new campaign rules are going to affect the election of 2012.

The super PACS unleashed their newfound muscle, much of which landed squarely on the gray head of Newt Gingrich. And that was just in the Iowa caucuses. If you think that was bad, in the words of Ronald Reagan, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.

When Gingrich began to lead in the Iowa polls, the Mitt Romney campaign responded. Well, it wasn’t technically the Romney campaign. It was the super PAC, Restore Our Future. It sank almost $3 million, the exact amount remains sketchy, into negative ads attacking Gingrich.

In the Iowa caucuses, candidates and their supporters spent $12.5 million, only a third of that spent by the candidates themselves.

Almost as soon as the ads appeared, Gingrich’s poll numbers began to drop and Romney’s climbed. In fact, the ads also had a secondary effect on the campaigns of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who wound up second and third, respectively, in the Iowa caucuses.

Under attack Gingrich’s fall from grace can’t be blamed entirely on the super PAC. A lot of his failures can be blamed simply on Gingrich being his surly, hot-tempered self.

Nevertheless, the PAC’s attacks worked. Look for more along the way during the Republican primary, especially if the race remains close. What we’re headed for in the fall is likely to be nothing short of monumental. Even in tiny Iowa, voters there said they had never seen such a flood of political advertising.

This was started by a 2010 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. In its Citizens United decision, the court held that super PACS may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals and spend that money to advocate for or against political candidates. The super PACS must report their donors to the FEC on a monthly or quarterly basis. The super PACS are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates.

The 2010 mid-terms saw the first hint of what the super PACS could do. Now the real money will start to take effect.
Packing a punch Following the Iowa caucuses, the spending numbers were:

On the Republican side, Restore Our Future, which supports Romney, disclosed contributions of $12,231,700 and expenditures of $4,116,274. As Romney said, “Corporations are people.”

The Red, White and Blue Fund, which supports Santorum, has no disclosed contributions to the FEC but reported an independent expenditure of $537,542.

Paul is backed by Endorse Liberty Inc., which disclosed no contributions but reported an independent expenditure of $610,542.

Gingrich is supported by Winning Our Future, with no disclosed contributions and independent expenditures of $782,231.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who finished well out of the running in Iowa but decided to continue his quest is supported by Make Us Great Again, with no disclosed contributions but with independent expenditures of $3,793,524. That might help explain why he decided to stay in the race.

As of Jan. 4, 267 groups have registered as super PACS, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Define conservative Of those, 153 identify themselves as conservative, 65 liberal and 46 claimed no allegiance.

Those numbers are, I believe, a little misleading. For instance, the General Motors Customers Super PAC, the Hilton Hotel Customers Super PAC, as well as other PACS claiming to represent someone’s customers are listed as conservative.

Almost every employee PAC that includes government employees – such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Education – are listed as conservative. It’s difficult to imagine that every customer or government employee has conservative leanings.

Even the Hillary Clinton for a Better America and the Bill Clinton for a Better America super PACS show up in the conservative list. Really. So, the categories might be slightly off.

Super PACS range from the Brady Bunch PAC, which reports zero dollars – I’m not sure I even want to know who this represents – to Frack Action USA, which I assume either supports or condemns the method of fracturing formations to extract natural gas and oil.

So far, Romney’s (or, rather the group that supports Romney) Restore Our Future PAC, which has that $12,231,700 bank account, is leading the pack. American Bridge 21st Century tops the liberal list with $1.5 million.

Of the 267 PACS listed so far, many, probably most, have either not raised any money or not reported it yet. Some will be of nominal importance. But some will be big players. They will raise millions of dollars.

As the candidates sit back and air their own pleasant political ads, they will leave the dirty work to the super PACS and, thanks to the Supreme Court, they will be able to deny having anything to do with such horrible things. But the voting public will or should know better.

Just getting started Even satirist/comedian Stephen Colbert (“The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central – pronounced Colbare Repore) has gotten in on the act. He established his own super PAC, Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.

Let’s not forget President Obama. His super PAC, Priorities USA, reportedly has donors willing to commit at least $100 million toward his re-election. And he is keeping his powder dry while the Republican candidates fire shot after shot, mostly to the delight of Democrats, at one another.

This is going to be a presidential contest like no other. It could be decided by all but anonymous, well-heeled donors who will attempt and, unfortunately in many cases, succeed in swaying the American voter through negative, misleading and in some cases untruthful attack ads.

It was a below-the-belt fight in Iowa. And it’s just getting started. If you thought the Swift Boating of Sen. John Kerry was tough, again, in the words of Reagan, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

It’s going to get dirty. Maybe the voting public will be able to disregard the attacks from both sides and insist that the issues that are actually important to the future of the country be discussed.

On the other hand, maybe the Maya were right. Maybe 2012 will mark the end of the world.

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