One thing last week’s brouhaha over Joe Rickett’s RFP for a nasty anti-Obama ad provided was a peek into the new relationship that could soon begin to dominate politics, at least among the Republicans who are taking to Super-PACs like ducks to water: big-dollar donors and the “strategists” and ad-crafters who want their money. What’s missing from the picture? Candidates and the conventional campaigns that normally make most of the decisions about what voters see on television.
Nick Confessore of the New York Times has expored this relationship in one of those odd “sympathy for the devil” articles in which the fiendish tribe of political consultants talk about how much easier it is to cut out the middle-man and work directly for the people writing the checks:
In the insular but fast-growing world of super PACs and other independent outfits, there are no cranky candidates, no scheduling conflicts, no bitter strategy debates with rival advisers. There are only wealthy donors and the consultants vying to oblige them.
It’s particularly interesting that Confessore managed to get Fred Davis on record discussing the improved lifestyle associated with working for a Super-PAC, since he’s the guy whose name was all over the Jeremiah Wright ad proposal for Joe Ricketts that nobody wants to take responsibility for:
“You don’t have to go anywhere,” Mr. Davis said in an interview this month, before details of his proposed campaign against Mr. Obama became public. “You don’t have to get on a small prop plane to New Hampshire. You don’t have to stay at the Holiday Inn Express. You can stay home and manage everything during normal office hours.”
Even the morally depraved, it seems, prefer to service presidential campaigns indirectly, keeping themselves away from the rolling ball of madness that many campaigns become.
“You don’t have kitchen cabinets made up of well-intentioned friends and neighbors who don’t know what they’re doing but eat up a lot of your time,” said Bob Schuman, who ran a super PAC called Americans for Rick Perry during the Republican presidential primaries. “Super PACs don’t have spouses.”
But it’s ultimately all about the money:
While many Republican and Democratic candidates are forcing consultants to accept flat fees and smaller advertising commissions, independent spending also offers a rapidly expanding market. Through mid-May, outside groups had spent more than $124 million in this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, double the rate four years earlier.
We shouldn’t be too naive, though, about the “independence” of Super-PACs from the campaigns they assist. An enormous amount of energy will go into maintaining the fiction of “non-coordination,” less on legal grounds than for reasons of plausible deniability. You will note that Ricketts’ progress towards selecting an appropriately evil attack ad on Barack Obama ended about two minutes after Mitt Romney was forced to repudiate it. Had the backlash been slightly less severe, Mitt would have probably shrugged and disclaimed any responsibility for what some rich guy in the midwest was doing with his money (which is precisely how he acted when his favorite Super-PAC, Restore Our Future, came under fire during the primaries for hatefulness and mendacity), and we’d be watching Davis’ ad or something worse before long.
In many respects Super-PACs are just more convenient for everyone: the donors who want fewer limits and more control over their investment; the candidates who don’t want their fingerprints on nastygrams; and most of all, the “creative” folk like Davis who would drag American politics to the bottom of hell in fifteen minutes if it boosted his bottom line, gained him the adulation of his peers, and spared him the ignominy of spending nights at a Holiday Inn Express.