Washington Post Stirs Up SuperPAC Fears

The Washington Post ran a breathless piece yesterday with the headline “Conservative super PACs targeting blue-state Democrats.” It asserts that flush with money, right-wing money is going to normally safe Democratic districts shifting the balance. The example provided in the article is Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney who “might normally be a shoo-in for reelection in his deep-blue Northeast Massachusetts district. But a well-funded outside group is trying to change that.” The article confuses cause and effect.

Tierney isn’t in a close race because of the “well-funded outside group.” Instead, that super PAC, a group called the YG Action Fund funded mostly by conservative casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, is involved in the district because Tierney is already in a tough fight for re-election.

Although Tierney does represent a normally safe Democratic district in the North Shore of Massachusetts, he has been beset by personal scandal. His wife pled guilty to tax fraud for her involvement in an illegal offshore gambling operation run by her two brothers. Although Tierney had no connection with his brother-in-laws’ enterprise, he has been tarred by his wife’s involvement in the eyes of voters. He also is facing a tough opponent well-suited for the district, Richard Tisei, a Republican state senator who is pro-choice and openly gay. The result is that NRCC chair Pete Sessions has already claimed Tierney is the Democratic incumbent most likely to lose in November.

While superPACs can have a real impact on an election, they can’t make races competitive overnight. In a strongly Democratic district, a super PAC will have about as much impact as a self-funding GOP vanity candidate. Even if outside groups had unlimited funds (and they don’t, although it can seem that way sometimes), it’s not going to be spent irrationally. The money is going to go where there’s a chance of making a difference.

The Post hasn’t found a conservative super PAC magically making a safe Democratic vulnerable. This is simply a scandal-plagued incumbent facing a challenger well suited to the district.

Ben Jacobs

Ben Jacobs is a journalist living in New York. He is a former reporter for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and contributor to the Boston Globe editorial page. Follow him on Twitter @bencjacobs.