In today's New York Times, Jim Arkedis and Lindsay Mark Lewis of the Progressive Policy Institute (Lewis also previously worked for the DNC), warn that Super-PACS aren't just perverting the electoral system through millions in deceptive ads for or against the candidates they are secretly funded to support, but they may also pose an even more direct, more insidious threat to our democracy.
After acknowledging that even President Obama is now embracing the same shadowy-funded PACs he once claimed to eschew, as he refuses to "unilaterally disarm", there is a different between inclinations of left and right, in that one side generally works to increase voter turnout, while the other hopes to suppress it. The lack of accountability and the supposed "firewall" of separation between Super PACs and candidates creates a situation rife for the worst kind of dirty tricks and voter suppression in an atmosphere which is even more difficult to regulate than in the past (when such dirty tricks were already pretty easy to pull off without paying a price --- or, at least, without a price that could be paid before it was far too late).
Their warning is both compelling and ominous, particularly as we don't need to look very far into the recent past --- even here at The BRAD BLOG --- in order to find evidence in support of it...
Super PACs are the perfect vehicle for voter suppression, thanks to two crucial advantages they have over traditional campaigns. First, they operate in a legal black hole of opaque disclosure requirements that allows them to disguise their activities. Second, a candidate’s campaign is shielded from a super PACs’ duplicitous actions by a legal firewall that prevents coordination between the two entities. These features afford a super PAC plausible deniability: they can suppress the vote while claiming to have done something else, and the candidate can easily disavow a super PAC’s actions.
Check out Restore Our Future’s filings with the Federal Election Commission, and it’s easy to see how vague terms could mask reality. While a super PAC must fill out a form for every expenditure, each can be classified as “voter communication,” “media production,” or “direct mail.”
The devil is in what those terms might be hiding. “Voter communication” could actually be a robocall that targets African Americans, reassuring them that Obama has the election in the bag. A “direct mail” piece sent to senior citizens’ homes might encourage them to vote on Wednesday, Nov. 7, just 24 hours too late.
This isn’t just something we dreamed up. For decades conservative groups have proven that voter suppression is cheap and effective: It cost just a few thousand dollars for Allen Raymond, a Republican operative, to make harrassing calls, jamming New Hampshire Democratic Party phone lines during the 2002 Congressional campaigns, for which he spent three months in prison; in 2006, the Republican National Committee paid for fliers in Virginia that told African Americans to “skip this vote;” Paul Schurick, an aide to former Republican Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich was convicted of using robocalls that told African Americans not to vote in 2010.
Should a super PAC get caught doing something like this, its legal separation from a campaign means the crime could never drag down a candidate or party. “Yes, I’m aware of the allegations against Cornering Our Future,” a candidate might explain, “but as you know, my campaign cannot coordinate its activities with a super PAC, so I consider the matter closed.”
And the candidate would be legally correct.
The op-ed goes on to offer a few more examples of how easy it is for political operatives to game the electoral system --- and how they have already done so, successfully, in the recent past --- while the Super-PAC fiction will make such operatives even less accountable than they have ever been.
Key funders of Rightwing Super-PACs this year already include the billionaire Koch Brothers who believe they are at "war" with Democrats, and whose astroturf "Tea Party" group, Americans for Prosperity, has already shown its propensity for dirty tricks. We saw exactly that last August when AFP joined forces with a number of other Rightwing groups in Wisconsin to misinform voters about the dates for last year's round of historic recall elections in the Badger State.
They even went so far as to create additionally shadowy and fictitious "groups", such as the "United Sportsmen of Wisconsin" to help obfuscate the source of their fairly blatant attempts ato suppressing the vote last year.
"Most super PACs will disappear on the morning after the votes are counted," Arkedis and Lewis point out. "There is little incentive to observe election laws if you can just close up shop."
Indeed. And they go on to argue, in closing, that "The dangers of super PACs and voter suppression need to be addressed today, not when its beneficiaries are running the government."
But the bad news is that those beneficiaries are already running the government which is now completely broken. While the dangers they note should be addressed today, they will not be. Not until something horrific enough happens to force a change. Even then, change is unlikely to happen until the folks in the streets with the pitchforks and torches are able to overcome the other folks in the street with the para-military uniforms, guns, tear gas, pepper spray and worse.
It would be nice if the corporate mainstream media spent some time highlighting the ominous dangers which await this year. But, as it is that same corporate mainstream media who stand to gain the most from the unbridled spending of Super PACS, they're not likely to allocate much outrage towards it, are they?
That's one of the reasons The BRAD BLOG's Ernie Canning recently called for Super PACS to be taxed at the point of purchase of media propaganda ads. He called for the tax to be the same maximum rate that it was for individuals under the Eisenhower Administration --- 91%.
This week the progressive Roots Action network took Canning's idea and did him one better, calling for an even higher rate of taxation against these groups.
"We propose taxing donations to Super PACs by as much as 99%," their new petition reads, "in the name of the 99% of us lacking voices in pay-to-play politics."
Sounds like a fine idea to us --- one that the corporate mainstream media are already rushing to completely ignore.