Despite the political carnage suffered by Republican presidential candidates at the hands of super PACs in Iowa, conservatives show no signs of buyers’ remorse after supporting the Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates for the unlimited campaign money that fueled them.
Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses were the first presidential battleground where the political world got a look at the game changing power of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that led to the rise of super PACs. But not even Newt Gingrich, who regularly complained about the pounding he took from a pro-Romney super PAC, was backing off his support for the decision.
Asked on Wednesday on MSNBC if he had any second thoughts about Citizens United after falling victim to the decision’s unintended consequences, he answered, “No, I’m not the victim of that. I’m the victim of one particular person, Mitt Romney, whose staff went out and decided to run a deliberately negative and dishonest campaign.”
He continued, “This particular approach, I think, has nothing to do with the Citizens United case, it has to do with a bunch of millionaires getting together to run a negative campaign and Gov. Romney refusing to call them off and refusing to be honest about it.”
Gingrich went on to argue that outside attack groups existed long before the 2010 Citizens United decision, citing the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which, in 2004, savaged Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s military record.
It’s a sentiment that other Republican insiders echoed.
“Every cycle there is a new vehicle as the law changed,” said a GOP super PAC consultant. “Campaigns have always run negative ads. The vehicle may be different, but the ads certainly weren’t.”
And, thanks in large part to super PACs, there was no shortage of negative ads. In Iowa, the pro-Romney Restore Our Future PAC spent about $2.7 million on television ads while Romney’s campaign spent about half that amount, according to National Journal's Hotline.
The same goes for Rick Santorum, albeit on a much smaller scale than his front-running rival. Santorum, who finished second to Romney by eight votes, spent about $4,000 on TV ads in Iowa while the pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund dropped more than half a million dollars in ads to boost the former Pennsylvania senator.
Meanwhile, fourth- and fifth-place finishers Gingrich and Rick Perry, respectively, dropped more money into Iowa television than the super PACs supporting them did. Perry’s campaign spent almost $4 million on TV while the pro-Perry Make Us Great Again PAC kicked in about $1.5 million. Gingrich, meanwhile, spent almost $950,000 on ads and the super PAC supporting him, Winning Our Future, spent about $265,000.
The GOP primary, several insiders said, gives Republicans an opportunity to experiment with and sharpen their super PACs as they prepare for a general-election showdown with President Obama, who will have the incumbent’s fundraising advantage.
“Whoever the Republican nominee is, they are going to be behind in the money game and they’re going to want these super PACs helping the Republican candidate by going after the president,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Von Spakovsky, a former FEC member, said he welcomed the super PACs and the increase in political speech they create, arguing that they are a response to the artificially low limits on what candidates themselves can raise.
GOP super PACs will be particularly useful this summer in the dead zone after the primaries and before the nominating convention when the PACs can begin running ads defining Obama, said Evan Tracey, a George Washington University political communications professor and former media analyst.
“The problem will be that one of these PACs will do more harm than good,” he said, explaining that there is real danger of a super PAC jumping the nominee’s message and wearing it out.