“Big money is changing how” political “races are being run this year, but it’s not clear how much difference it’ll make.”
Groups “often run by hard-edged partisans who are hard to identify” are “pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns.” As a result, “candidates are devoting more time to attacking and responding to opponents, and less time to talking about issues.” And “some cash-strapped challengers” — usually GOPers — “suddenly have enough financial backing to compete against powerful incumbents” (Lightman, Raleigh News & Observer, 10/11).
These groups are “organized under a tax code provision that lets donors remain anonymous.” Overall, the ‘10 cycle is “awash in money from hidden sources and spending it at an unprecedented rate, largely on behalf of” the GOP. “The breadth and impact of these privately financed groups have made them, and the mystery of their backers, a campaign issue in their own right.”
“Stoking the flow of dollars has been the guarantee of secrecy afforded by certain nonprofit groups.” Businessman Mel Sembler “is close to” GOP strategist Karl Rove and has “written six- and seven-figure checks to Crossroads GPS, a Rove-backed group that is the most active of the nonprofits started this year.” GOPers “close to the group said that last week, the group received a check for several million dollars from a single donor.” GOPers “involved in Crossroads say the groups owe their fund-raising success to a hope that” a GOP Congress “would undo some of” Pres. Obama’s agenda. “But they also credit their fund-raising strategy.”
Sembler: “I think most people are very comfortable giving anonymously. They want to be able to be helpful but not be seen by the public as taking sides” (Rutenberg/Natta/McIntire, New York Times, 10/11).
Center for Responsive Politics staffer David Levinthal: “We are seeing organizations dropping six figures, seven figures in a single day. There still is plenty of time for them to get involved, if they are pledging to do that but haven’t yet.”
In many swing districts, “a flood of outside dollars is being aimed at vulnerable incumbents to bolster the spending of their challengers and the official” GOP “machinery. And while outside groups have long had a role during campaign seasons, the sheer volume of spending this cycle risks drowning out the candidates.” According to DNC strategist/Obama ‘08 mgr David Plouffe “spending by outside interest groups through” Aug “was double the amount spent by” GOPers and Dems combined (Cummings, Politico, 10/12).
And a “shift in the flow of Wall Street money toward” GOPers “earlier this year has become a torrent in the final weeks of the campaign, according to lobbyists and business executives doling out the cash” — “a striking departure from the” -08 cycle when “a broad swath of the finance industry” split “their donations roughly evenly between” Dems and GOPers.
The “financial industry’s turn on the” Obama admin Dems in Congress “sheds light on the tattered relationships left in the aftermath of the economic meltdown and the government’s response to it,” including hard feelings left over from “the vilification of bankers” by some members of Congrses. The sentiments have “prompted an all-out effort to wrest Congress from” Dems (Frates/Maggs, Politico, 10/12).
Dems “are broadening their attacks on campaign spending by” pro-GOP groups, “hoping to force the disclosure of donors’ identities and curtail a lucrative source of financing for their rivals.” MoveOn.org and Public Citizen, and Public Campaign “plan to press media outlets that run campaign advertising to question whether the cash used for the ad buys is legal for that purpose.” These groups “are also asking the” DOJ and the IRS “to investigate the pro-Republican groups and the sources of their ad spending.” The WH “has said its goal is to pressure the groups into naming their backers” (Williamson, Wall Street Journal, 10/12).
Washington Post editorializes that the “secret money pouring into the coming election is alarming” and “should be plugged for future campaigns.” But “the rhetoric about this” from Obama “on down” is “irresponsibly alarmist.” And “the popular understanding of how this mess arose” is “ill-informed” and not related to Citizens United but rather “a tax code that permits too much political activity to take place in secrecy” (10/12).
Washington Examiner’s Carney writes “Obama likes to pretend he’s running against greedy financial-industry millionaires, but look down the list of top donors in September, and you’ll see partners and managers of hedge funds and private equity firms like Grosvenor Capital Management, Saturn Asset Management, and Chicago’s Delaware Street Capital all giving the DNC the maximum. Other hedge-fund donors who give the max come from Bain Capital and the Tudor Investment Corporation” (10/11).
VP Biden echoed Obama “in blasting outside interest groups including the Chamber of Commerce” 10/11, at a fundraiser for Rep. Chris Carney (D-PA) in Scranton PA. Biden: “For the first time in modern American history, they don’t have to tell us (their donors). … I challenge them, if I’m wrong, I will stand corrected. But show me, show me. Folks, they’re trying to buy this election to go back to exactly what they did before” (Travers, ABC, 10/11).
More Biden: “Karl Rove has gone out, because there’s no longer a requirement to disclose who contributes to you, and gathered up tens of millions of dollars. We don’t know if they’re coming from foreign sources. We have a pretty good idea of where a lot of it’s coming from: very conservative millionaires” (Rubinkam, AP, 10/12).
WH senior adviser David Axelrod, on the Chamber: “I guess my answer to the Chamber is just disclose where your money is coming from and that will end all the questions. The fact is they are spending $75 million in this campaign and they will not disclose where one dime is coming from. And that’s the problem with all of these organizations. We have tens of millions of special interest money coming into these campaigns and no record of where its coming from and that should be a concern to every vote in this country” (ABC, 10/11).
Chamber senior VP Tom Collamore writes in an email “We accept the Vice President’s challenge here and now, and are happy to provide our answer: Zero. As in, ‘Not a single cent.’ We hope this clears it up, and hope the Vice President keeps his word and stands corrected” (release, 10/12).
“It is illegal for foreign companies to contribute directly to” campaigns but “campaign-finance experts” say “it is impossible to verify” Dem “claims of foreign involvement in campaigns because federal law does not require non-profits” to “publicly disclose their sources of funding or certify that overseas contributions do not pay for ads.”
Levinthal: “Are foreign companies involving themselves in the current election? The answer largely is: Who knows?” (Schouten, USA Today, 10/12).
Some Capitol Hill Dems “worry that the” WH “is going too far in charging that the politically powerful business lobby may be using foreign money to fuel its election efforts. The charge ignites strong feelings among job-hungry voters.” But some Dems “are concerned that it may be overstated and could harm” moderate in “swing districts” (Hamburger/Geiger, Los Angeles Times, 10/12).
Rove fired back in a 10/12 ABC appearance on GMA, “denying that his party gets campaign contributions from foreign sources” and accusing Obama of hypocrisy (AP, 10/12).
Rove: “President Obama based his attack on a blog posting by Think Progress, which is associated with the Center for American Progress. A group headed by John Podesta, who headed the president’s transition. It is a political group and doesn’t reveal its donors. … For the president of the United States to say a legal and lawful action by a private group, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States, you know, when he himself has relied upon political groups. There’s $400 million worth of advertising and campaign activity in 2008 on his behalf, from groups that mostly did not disclose their donors.”
Rove: “Look, the president is being hypocritical about this. He had no problem at all with this when groups were spending money on his behalf in 2008 and not disclosing donors. He had no problem at all not disclosing his own donors.”
Rove: “We do not solicit foreign entities. … It is illegal. … We have it on our materials. No foreign money can or will be received. And let me just tell you. All the area codes I’m dialing are inside the United States. Also, I love it. The president of the United States says I’m funding these groups, as if I’m some billionaire like George Soros, writing checks. I wish I had the ability” (ABC, 10/12).
Washington Post’s Sargent takes issue with Rove’s characterization that “lefty groups and unions are” also “running ads funded by anonymous donors” just like the Chamber is, writing “The comparison is totally bogus. Under Federal law, unions disclose far more about their funding than other political groups do, and it just so happens that MoveOn’s ads are funded by a Federal political committee that has to comply with the same disclosure requirements that candidates and party committees do” (10/12).
Ex-RNC Chair Ed Gillespie is out with a Washington Post op-ed, writing that Dems “have added to their long list of bogeymen the outside groups that seek to help elect” GOPers, threatening “congressional investigations” discussing “private tax information” and leveling “baseless accusations of criminal activity”
“Without a trace of irony, powerful Democratic officeholders lament that many who support these groups wish to remain anonymous. None of these Democrats expressed concern about such outside spending in ‘08,” when more than $400M “was spent to help elect Barack Obama, much of it from undisclosed donors. The liberal groups and Democrats who supported the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which established the legal framework for this new campaign spending, were much faster to adapt to its contours than the Republicans and conservative groups that largely opposed it, and liberal outside groups massively outspent Republicans in the past two election cycles” (10/12).
Billionaire financier/liberal activist George Soros “is sitting this” election cycle “out.”
Soros: “I made an exception getting involved in 2004 … And since I didn’t succeed in 2004, I remained engaged in 2006 and 2008. But I’m basically not a party man. I’d just been forced into that situation by what I considered the excesses of the Bush administration.”
Soros, on if he is concerned about the GOP taking over Congress: “It does, because I think they are pushing the wrong policies, but I’m not in a position to stop it. I don’t believe in standing in the way of an avalanche” (Chan, “The Caucus,” New York Times, 10/11).
Sometimes, you really don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
The best way to measure the prevailing breeze inside the Republican Party is to track the direction of the argument in the current presidential race. Almost every attack from one candidate against another has come from the right; almost always, the underlying message has been that Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry, or fill-in-the-blank is not a trustworthy conservative. The race has resembled a shoot-out in which every gun is pointed in the same direction.
The intensity, and frequency, of that barrage reflects more than the usual centrifugal force of primary elections. It also underscores the extent to which this Republican primary has inverted the usual relationship between candidate and electorate: Many GOP voters are not so much looking for a leader to set a direction for the party as auditioning a nominee they believe they can trust to implement the consensus that the party has already agreed on.
That unusual dynamic helps explain the race’s volatility. The GOP faces a mismatch between script and cast. Since Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, conservatives have decisively won the argument about the GOP’s direction, almost without a fight. But the party hasn’t produced a 2012 contender who both embodies that new consensus and impresses voters as a truly viable nominee, much less a plausible president. In four (or eight) years, the party likely will be able to select from choices such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida or Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who check both boxes. But for now, this mismatch has produced unstinting turmoil, especially among conservatives, that could grease the nomination of Romney, the candidate whom many on the right trust the least.
One of the race’s most striking characteristics has been the absence of a real debate over the party’s course: The question hasn’t been where to go, only how far and how fast. The lack of such a debate has been especially noteworthy because nomination fights that follow losses, like the GOP’s failure against Obama in 2008, often inspire the most serious internal debates.
The most important modern contest over the Democratic Party’s direction, for instance, came after its unanticipated loss to George H.W. Bush in 1988. Only the sting of that defeat allowed Bill Clinton, four years later, to overcome liberal opposition to his insistence that Democrats had to retool to reclaim the center.
Since World War II, Republicans have regularly engaged in heated internal arguments after presidential defeats. As historian Michael Bowen noted in his surprisingly timely book The Roots of Modern Conservatism, Thomas Dewey’s stunning loss to Harry Truman in 1948 ignited a full-scale debate over the GOP’s direction. In 1949, an early forerunner of the tea party called the National Republican Roundup Committee emerged to denounce Dewey’s efforts to moderate the GOP and demand a greater assault on the New Deal. But Dewey forcefully defended his approach and then helped engineer the 1952 nomination of Dwight Eisenhower over conservative champion Robert Taft.
Later, the GOP’s 1960 loss precipitated the epic 1964 primary collision between Republican moderates, who rallied around Nelson Rockefeller, and conservatives, who powered Barry Goldwater’s nomination victory. Gerald Ford’s 1976 defeat framed a similar, though less stark, confrontation between Ronald Reagan, as the conservative champion, and the elder Bush, as a more moderate, or at least traditional, alternative. After Clinton’s 1996 reelection, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Steve Forbes offered the party distinctive directions that GOP voters ultimately resolved in the 2000 primaries by embracing the repositioning that Bush termed “compassionate conservatism.”
Nothing like that happened after Obama beat McCain in 2008. Instead, Republicans from the grassroots to Capitol Hill unified behind the conviction that McCain lost because he (and Bush, in this argument) was not conservative enough. A dominant view quickly emerged that Republicans could recover power only by doubling down on an anti-Washington message.
The force of that consensus drove the unyielding, and virtually indivisible, congressional Republican opposition to Obama’s agenda. In an action-reaction cycle, the ambition of Obama’s efforts to expand government’s role further solidified the Republican determination to retrench it. The consensus was hardened again by the tea party’s emergence and then the results of the 2010 elections, when the combination of Obama’s overreach and voter dismay over the sluggish economy propelled the GOP to historic midterm gains.
Now, the GOP’s new consensus is vividly apparent in the agendas of the 2012 contenders, who propose to roll back government more militantly than any Republican nominee in decades. The overriding issue among the major competitors is who is most dedicated to that cause. None of them has questioned whether the reigning interpretation of 2008 is correct — and whether the party can win the general election behind the ideologically aggressive blueprint all are offering. Congressional Republicans’ plummeting poll numbers should offer some reason for caution, but none of the GOP rivals is reaching for that straw in the wind as the voting begins.