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Politics / POLITICS

Republicans See Glass Half-Full, Democrats All-Empty on Rise of Super PACs

A couple of traffic lights shine red outside the Capitol Building as a Government shutdown looms. (Chet Susslin)

November 4, 2011

Many Democratic members of Congress felt the incoming flood of independent money would simply make it difficult for individual campaigns to be heard.

"Money talks, and voters often can't tell the difference between the talkers," said one respondent. "The voices of actual candidates may be drowned out."

Others pointed to the lack of control candidates and campaigns have over the activities of the super PACs.

"Just as the campaign committees and interest groups can play an unsolicited and unwelcome role in campaigns -- even then they think they're working in your favor -- super PACs certainly have that potential," said one Democratic member.

"It will super-power outside groups," worried another, "enabling them to play the role that national parties used to with soft money, only with less accountability and coordination."

"More and more, outside groups will take away the ability of candidates to set up their own campaigns," said a third Democrat. "In addition, the attacks will come not from opponents but from other groups. This is not a good way to run our election campaigns."

A few Republican Congressional Insiders agreed with the Democrats' concerns.

"It is a bit unsettling to think that for races in either the House or Senate that make the national target list, the candidates will no longer rise or fall on their own fundraising ability, because the outside groups will carpet bomb their media market," said one Republican member of Congress.

"The more competitive the race, the less control the candidate and now even the campaign committees will have," said another Republican. "Super PACs will determine who runs Congress. They are neither transparent nor accountable. How can this possibly be a good thing?"

But those Republicans were in the minority. Three-quarters of the Republican members surveyed said they did not expect super PACs to give candidates less of a voice.

"There has always been outside money in races," said one Republican. "In 2008, outside groups spent $6 million in my race (before super PACs). In the end as long as a candidate does his or her job (of raising money and telling their story well), they can win."

"Candidates have just as much opportunity through the use of alternative mediums to get their message out," said another.

A few Republicans predicted that super PACs will amplify individual campaigns, rather than diminishing them.

"It will give [candidates] a larger voice because they will have (indirect) access to the resources they need to compete successfully in an era of 360-degree, 24-hour media," explained a Republican member.

Another saw benefit in candidates becoming less dependent on the national party committees. "[Super PACs give candidates] a larger voice -- these PACs can override the inaction of the parties in specific races, and can help combat insider rigging of elections."

Predictions aside, it was clear to some that, with the rise of super PACs in the 2012 election cycle, campaigns are heading into uncharted territory.

One Republican member of Congress channeled that uncertainty, demurring on an answer and simply saying, "Good question. No one knows."

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