The Ballad Of Liberal Super PACs

by evanmcmurry

I’ll eat crow and admit that I was wrong* for mocking Priorities USA over its relatively weak fundraising. Priorities arguably won the election for Obama by running early ads in midwestern swing states that cemented Romney’s image as a vulture capitalist. Romney never shook the label, and lost every relevant state. Priorities, of course, did this with .0000Rove the amount of money of the right’s cabal of PACs.

Still. The effectiveness of the left’s Super PACs—not, as Molly Ball points out, limited to Priorities USA, as liberals gained from equally-shrewd Super PACs on down-ballot races (bye, Allen West!)—is not an argument in favor of Citizens United. From Ball’s article:

At first, Bond said, the group worried that its members would recoil from the embrace of Citizens Unitedthat the super PAC represented. But they found exactly the opposite…

Both Workers’ Voice and the Credo super PAC focused on ground organizing and eschewed paid advertising. They saw their ability to use data-based, person-to-person campaigning as an asymmetrical advantage against better-funded groups on the right. But another super PAC on the left, Priorities USA, focused on using television ads to discredit Mitt Romney; despite being massively outspent by GOP groups, including the $300 million-plus raised by Karl Rove’s Crossroads groups, Priorities has been widely cited for its superior effectiveness. Its ads helped cement the image of Romney as a corporate raider that would prove such a liability in the general election.

I don’t see much in there that can’t be explained by the particulars of the election cycle. Republicans ran historically weak candidates who lost gimme races; Obama is a peerless and unprecedented fundraiser; Mitt Romney (who?) was a dope of a candidate ripe for broad caricature; etc. Change any of these conditions, and the advantage of the left’s microtargeting Super PACs drops considerably. Then you’re left in a game of who can raise more money, a game that I think Democrats are going to find a lot harder once Obama is no longer their candidate. Even if they do find one who can compete with Obama—and Hilary Clinton probably could—this sets a precedent that Democrats can only nominate candidates with superhuman fundraising abilities. That not only narrows the field considerably, but seems to undermine the populist bona fides of the party. Fundraising is supposed to be the means, not the end.

Ball notes that nobody on the left has softened toward Citizens United, despite the surprising turn of events that they were better able to exploit the ruling. If so, the push to repeal should be loud between elections. The more the Democrats benefit from CU, the less moral leverage they’ll have in fighting it, and the less certain groups within their party will want to.

* Not morally wrong, just incorrect.