American politics and money: Why the Republican Party shouldn’t cash in on super PACs in the 2014 mid-terms

By Hilary Stoten

We can all thank Citizens United and SpeechNow.org, the two Supreme Court decisions in 2010 for reopening the doors to overwhelming amounts of unlimited corporate money in US elections. These seminal rulings led to the birth of a new political vehicle in the campaign finance world: super PACs. Super PACs are a fresh breed of political action committees. Defined as independent expenditure only committees, they are permitted to raise unlimited amounts of money to independently advocate for the election or defeat of a politician standing for office.

Super PACs have been criticised for a variety of reasons.  Firstly, they’ve reopened the floodgates to wealthy individuals, allowing them to use their money to influence candidates for office. Legalised bribery is occurring behind the scenes on Capitol Hill, as it is hard to believe that Casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson’s $1 million contribution in 2012 has gone unnoticed by the Republican Party. Secondly, this leads to the destruction of democracy in the US, along with the practical principle of ‘one person, one vote’. With over 90% of contributions over $10,000 coming from just 726 individuals, it’s fair to assume that the majority of ordinary US citizens may feel marginalised by these donations, and subsequently disillusioned with the voting process. Thirdly, their so called independence from candidates is questionable to say the least.  Unless it’s merely coincidence that Obama’s primary super PAC was managed by two of his former White House aides? Somehow, I don’t think so.

In the 2010 mid-terms super PACs racked up a total of $90.4 million in independent expenditures. In the House races the Democrats suffered their worst electoral defeat in decades; losing over 50 seats to a Republican Tsunami which flooded the House. This was despite the fact that Democrat affiliated super PACs spent approximately $5 million more than Republican groups in these races. Ironically in the Senate races, Republican super PACs spent more than double that of the Democrat super PACs, and the result was that very little changed with the Democrats retaining their Senate majority. The 2012 Presidential race echoed a similar pattern, with even more ridiculous amounts of money being wasted by wealthy donors. This time, a staggering total of $644.5 million was raised by super PACs, with four of the five highest spending super PACs supporting the Republican Party.

So, what lessons have been learnt from these two elections? Are super PACs as destructive as many think? Should Romney have spent even more money to secure his success? Or have we learnt that no amount of money is enough to secure electoral success, and that super PACs aren’t as bad as everyone thinks? I’m going to go with the latter. Yes, it’s fair to argue that super PACs are destructive upon democracy due to the overarching power and influence they give to corporate owners. However, the important thing to understand is that these millions must be used effectively.

The Republican Party would therefore be foolish to think super PACs will assist their success in the mid-terms next November. The lack of Republican success isn’t due to a lack of super PAC money, but due to the fact that the Republican Party is unable to effectively use their money to reach out to crucial voters. In 2012, Obama picked up 93% of the African American vote, 71% of the Latino vote and 66% of the vote from voters aged 18-29. The Republican Party’s war on women resulted with 67% of unmarried females voting Democrat, compared to 31% who voted Republican. More generally, the party’s tough outlook concerning immigration reform alienated the Hispanic and Latino vote, preventing the Party from securing states such as Colorado and Nevada. What’s more, a recent study conducted in 2012 illustrated that 53% of Americans feel Republican policies are too extreme, compared with 37% in 2010.

What we can learn from this? Firstly, we have learnt that money in US elections in inevitable. Regardless of the legislation passed to minimise outside influence, money just like water will always find a way through the cracks. The campaign finance system in the US is hydraulic. Secondly, we have learnt that that the effects of super PACs have been exaggerated, with higher spending Republican affiliated super PACs not obtaining their desired results. Super PACs are not the weapons of mass destruction on campaign finance and democracy, but rather the weapons of the Republican Party’s own self destruction. Not only were their policies undesirable amongst many minority groups, but the advertisements funded by Republican super PACs were unorganised and weak, failing to communicate an effective message to the electorate.

Ultimately, if a party lacks coherent policies no amount of super PAC money can guarantee their place in the White House. Therefore, a hydraulic campaign finance system is not as much of a problem as many argue. As the 2012 election illustrated, millions of Republican dollars were flowing down numerous streams, but it appears the correct outlet was never reached. If the Republican Party is to be successful next November, it would appear some spring cleaning will be needed early next year within the party. Politicians such as Todd Akin and his attempts at legitimising rape lost the Republicans any real opportunity of challenging the Democrat incumbent in Missouri. Politicians like Akin along with right wing Republican policies more generally, will only serve to damage the prospects of the Republican Party at the next election.

By Hilary Stoten

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Categories: International politics

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