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Raw Footage: Crowds Cheer Outside White House

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May 1, 2011, 9:09 p.m.

The “front-run­ners in the” GOV race “took aim at one an­oth­er” 10/11, “cri­ti­ciz­ing each oth­er’s re­cords and cam­paign tac­tics dur­ing a live tele­vised de­bate at Bangor High School’s Peakes Aud­it­or­i­um.”

Wa­terville May­or Paul LePage (R) ac­cused ‘84 SEN nom­in­ee/‘90 ME-01 can­did­ate/state Sen­ate Pres./ex-state House Speak­er Libby Mitchell (D) “of hy­po­crisy for mock­ing” George W. Bush, while atty/ex-OMB As­soc. Dir. for Nat­ur­al Re­sources, En­ergy and Sci­ence/Jimmy Carter ex-aide Eli­ot Cut­ler (I) “cri­ti­cized LePage’s re­cord as may­or of Wa­terville and Mitchell for the level of state bor­row­ing dur­ing her time as Sen­ate pres­id­ent”

Want More On This Race? Check out the Hot­line Dash­board for a com­pre­hens­ive run­down of this race, in­clud­ing stor­ies, polls, ads, FEC num­bers, and more!

A “weeks-old sound bite” of LePage “say­ing he would tell” Pres. Obama “to ‘go to hell’ came up dur­ing the de­bate, but LePage “apo­lo­gized for the re­mark” and then “lobbed new cri­ti­cism” Mitchell. LePage: “I just saw a pic­ture of Sen. Mitchell hold­ing a pic­ture of Bush, call­ing him a ter­ror­ist.”

Mitchell: “I don’t know what he’s talk­ing about”

LePage: “I’ll send you the pic­ture” (Cov­er, Port­land Press Her­ald, 10/12)

“After ap­par­ently see­ing the pic­ture after the de­bate, Mitchell re­leased a state­ment.” Mitchell, in the state­ment: “After see­ing this pic­ture for the first time to­night, I re­gret the pos­sible dis­respect it may show to the of­fice of the pres­id­ent. I am very sorry for hav­ing posed with this item.”

LePage, on his com­ments to Obama: “The choice of words was wrong, and I apo­lo­gize to Main­ers and to the pres­id­ent. But the pres­id­ent should not be dock­ing our boats and tak­ing our fish­er­men off the wa­ter.”

“The latest skir­mish comes on the heels of two polls show­ing that the once-siz­able gap between LePage and Mitchell has all but evap­or­ated” (Cov­er, Port­land Press Her­ald, 10/12).

Two years ago this week, the Su­preme Court dealt a blow to ad­voc­ates of strict cam­paign fin­ance re­form. But the de­cision in Cit­izens United v. Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion hurt more than just the pro­vi­sions of the Bi­par­tis­an Cam­paign Re­form Act it struck down. The case ex­posed the new real­ity that, even at a time of unique dis­con­tent with the status quo in Wash­ing­ton, the av­er­age Amer­ic­an has a far smal­ler say in today’s polit­ics than at any time since the Wa­ter­gate era.

The Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial primar­ies this year have been an ex­hib­i­tion in big-money polit­ics. Su­per PACs back­ing one can­did­ate or an­oth­er have already spent more than $27.5 mil­lion on tele­vi­sion ad­vert­ise­ments, ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics. And that’s only with­in the Re­pub­lic­an primary — Amer­ic­an Cross­roads, the Amer­ic­an Ac­tion Net­work, the House Ma­jor­ity PAC, and Pri­or­it­ies USA, to name but a few, are stock­pil­ing mil­lions to spend on in­de­pend­ent ads this year.

Those out­side groups, fun­ded by a re­l­at­ively few very wealthy donors, are likely to ac­count for a lar­ger per­cent­age of polit­ic­al spend­ing this year than they have in years past. Pres­id­ent Obama’s cam­paign, and that of his even­tu­al Re­pub­lic­an rival, will take in most of their money from donors giv­ing less than $100 each, while the largest su­per PACs will be­ne­fit from dona­tions that come in sev­en-fig­ure in­cre­ments.

In truth, Cit­izens United was hardly the wa­ter­shed mo­ment at which money began flow­ing freely in­to polit­ics. Money in polit­ics is like wa­ter: No mat­ter how hard the sur­face, no mat­ter how im­per­meable, it will find a way in. After the Mc­Cain-Fein­gold re­form law passed in 2002, sup­posedly lim­it­ing the in­flu­ence of out­side groups, fed­er­al courts began rolling back parts of it. In 2006, in FEC v. Wis­con­sin Right to Life, the courts said it was un­con­sti­tu­tion­al to lim­it is­sue ads dur­ing elec­tion sea­son. In 2009, a suit brought by the Demo­crat­ic or­gan­iz­a­tion EMILY’s List al­lowed some soft money back in­to the sys­tem.

Over the years, new out­side or­gan­iz­a­tions have mastered the art of find­ing loop­holes with­in ex­ist­ing law, al­low­ing them to spend heav­ily on in­de­pend­ent ads that in­flu­enced key races. Lib­er­al groups like Cam­paign for Amer­ica’s Fu­ture and Amer­ic­ans United for Change and con­ser­vat­ive groups like the Swift Boat Vet­er­ans for Truth — all or­gan­ized un­der Sec­tion 527 of the In­tern­al Rev­en­ue Ser­vice code — played big roles in 2004 on be­half of both George W. Bush and John Kerry.

More sharply defined out­side groups like the Si­erra Club and the Club for Growth spent heav­ily on be­half of both parties in 2006. And by 2008, out­side spend­ing had bal­looned to more than $119 mil­lion on House and Sen­ate can­did­ates alone, ac­cord­ing to a 2010 re­port by the Cam­paign Fin­ance In­sti­tute, and an­oth­er $162 mil­lion on the pres­id­en­tial race, ac­cord­ing to FEC data.

Even be­fore the Su­preme Court weighed in with the Cit­izens United de­cision, out­side groups were get­ting bet­ter at fun­nel­ing money to polit­ic­al cam­paigns. Con­sider the 2010 spe­cial elec­tion in Mas­sachu­setts to re­place the late Sen. Ed­ward Kennedy: In the weeks lead­ing up to the Janu­ary elec­tion, which took place the week be­fore the Cit­izens United de­cision came down, out­side groups spent more than $2.5 mil­lion on elec­tion­eer­ing com­mu­nic­a­tions alone — a fig­ure that doesn’t in­clude mil­lions more spent by uni­ons, the Tea Party Ex­press, and oth­er groups on more heav­ily reg­u­lated dir­ect ad­vocacy.

Out­side spend­ing this year is go­ing to make the 2008 elec­tion cycle’s look re­l­at­ively cheap.

Amer­ic­ans say they don’t ac­tu­ally want that money in the polit­ic­al sys­tem. A Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll re­leased on Tues­day shows 65 per­cent of voters be­lieve Cit­izens United has had a neg­at­ive im­pact on polit­ics, an opin­ion that spans par­tis­an di­vides.

And yet those opin­ions hardly mat­ter, both be­cause voters don’t cast bal­lots based on the way can­did­ates fund their cam­paigns and the in­fra­struc­ture that once pushed Mc­Cain-Fein­gold has been left without a seat at the table.

There is plenty of evid­ence that voters don’t make their de­cisions based on how a cam­paign is fun­ded. Demo­crats com­plained bit­terly about out­side-group spend­ing in ad­vance of the 2010 cam­paign; that didn’t save a single one of the 63 seats they lost that year. In the last month, Newt Gin­grich, hammered by a su­per PAC that backs Mitt Rom­ney’s cam­paign, has sought to high­light that out­side spend­ing; get­ting bogged down in the pro­cess so much has blun­ted any ef­forts to draw real dis­tinc­tions between the can­did­ates, to the ex­tent that Rom­ney now openly en­gages his rivals on such pro­cess ar­gu­ments.

But of­ten over­looked is the ex­tent to which the pro-cam­paign fin­ance re­form com­munity has suffered in Wash­ing­ton. Of the four biggest back­ers of the ori­gin­al re­form meas­ure that passed in 2002, three of them — former Sen. Rus­sell Fein­gold, D-Wis., and Reps. Chris­toph­er Shays, D-Conn., and Mar­tin Mee­han, D-Mass. — have lost reelec­tion bids or re­tired. Only Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., is still in of­fice; and since his 2008 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, he has not put for­ward fol­low-up le­gis­la­tion.

Even a hard push from Mc­Cain and his re­form al­lies wouldn’t do much good, be­cause the real obstacle to any new cam­paign fin­ance le­gis­la­tion comes from the man who leads Mc­Cain’s con­fer­ence. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell led the ini­tial op­pos­i­tion to Mc­Cain-Fein­gold; he was the lead plaintiff in the first ma­jor chal­lenge to the law, a 2003 case in which the Su­preme Court up­held the le­gis­la­tion’s ban on soft money in most cases.

Mc­Con­nell’s op­pos­i­tion to any new re­form le­gis­la­tion has been the one con­stant in the cam­paign fin­ance de­bate. And his po­s­i­tion atop the Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence gives him an in­flu­ence over the agenda that re­form ad­voc­ates simply can’t match. In es­sence, the groups that ad­voc­ate cam­paign fin­ance re­form have no seat at the table; Mc­Con­nell and his al­lies sit very near the head.

We have not yet seen the full ex­tent of the Cit­izens United rul­ing, giv­en the breadth and scope of the role that out­side groups will take in this year’s elec­tions. But what is clear is that two years after the Su­preme Court opened the floodgates, ef­forts to roll back that de­cision have neither the polit­ic­al nor the le­gis­lat­ive strength be­hind them to move in any mean­ing­ful way.

 

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