Will Super PACs determine the outcome of the upcoming presidential election? That was the implication, anyway, when this week Rahm Emanuel left his position as the co-head of Obama’s national re-election campaign and immediately began working for Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama SuperPAC, in order to help solicit huge donations for the sitting president.
The Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision has given rise to Super PACs, and though their effects have already been felt in other elections, 2012 marks the first year they will wreak havoc on a presidential election. Although Emanuel’s recent switch demonstrates the shifting priorities of the Obama campaign, the move may be coming too late to successfully counter the large lead the Romney Super PACS have amassed.
While many political analysts are nonetheless projecting another victory for President Barack Obama in November, as Jane Mayer explains to NPR, the real consequences of Super PAC money on the presidential race have yet to be felt. Here are eight reasons why Super PACs may cost Obama the election:
1. Mitt Romney’s Super PACs have four times the money that Obama’s do
Comparing the top Super PACs that are supporting both major presidential candidates, Romney’s biggest Super PACs have amassed over $120 million, which is a much higher amount than Obama’s $30 million. While the candidates themselves cannot spend this money, it can be used to influence the outcome of the election, therefore making it an extremely important element of the campaign.
2. Individual donations just don’t add up
Sure, Obama’s campaign has brought in more money than Romney’s, but not enough to contend with the Super PAC discrepancy. Individuals can give a maximum of $5,000 to Obama (or $30,000 to the Democratic party), but that amount looks like chump change next to the limitless donations gifted to Super PACs. $3 contributions cannot compare to the nearly $40 million that casino owner Sheldon Adelson has singlehandedly allocated to Romney-supporting Super PACs.
3. Obama looks like a hypocrite
Previously, Obama has publicly spoken out against Citizens United and Super PACs, although his campaign has decided Super PACs are a necessary evil to stay competitive in the race. As a result, not all voters are likely to be impressed with this very visible example of his actions contradicting his views. Voters who are disenchanted with Obama for apparently selling out could affect poll numbers come Election Day.
4. Even rich Democrats want no part in Super PACs.
Similarly to Obama, many wealthy liberals dislike Super PACs, but unlike Obama, they do not feel forced to participate in the system anyway. Consequentially, liberals who have ample money to donate to Super PACs are opting not to, out of principle. This includes Warren Buffett, one of Obama’s richest and most vocal backers, who foresees how badly Super PACs will destroy the democratic process and does not wish to contribute to the problem.
5. Obama is playing the Super PACs game half-heartedly
Even if Obama is not totally onboard with Super PACs, he is not doing himself many favors by only dipping his toes in the pool. Obama has done next to nothing to encourage his supporters to participate in the Super PAC system. While Obama tends to decline opportunities to meet with Super PAC donors, Romney will often hobnob with his largest donors at events and then leave just before it is time to ask for money. In fairness, laws stipulate that politicians cannot coordinate with Super PACs, but considering that these regulations are new, nebulous and seemingly unenforced, Romney’s approach is likely to prove far more successful.
6. Wall Street feels betrayed by Obama
The people who are most likely to donate to Super PACs are the Wall Street tycoons. One might think that Obama would be set on this front considering that he received Wall Street donations 3:1 over John McCain in 2008, but that is no longer the case. Despite the fact that Obama bailed out the banks and most of the corporate tax breaks are still in effect, business bigwigs feel like Obama has not done enough to support them in the face of a lot of anti-1% rhetoric.
7. TV ads will make a difference
Since Super PAC money cannot be touched by the candidates’ own campaigns, generally this money is generally spent on media advertisement to sway public opinion. If Romney Super PACs are able to buy the majority of television airtime, they can control much of the political narrative in the weeks preceding the election. Look for a flood of attack ads – particularly in swing states – directed toward Obama.
8. Obama’s policies don’t appeal to the rich
Basically, what it all boils down to is that Obama’s stances do not benefit the wealthy nearly as much as Romney’s. While Obama has been known to compromise to secure the money to run his campaign effectively, at their core, his policies favor taxing the rich and reducing corporate preferentialism. Incredibly wealthy individuals who view their political contributions as an investment toward protecting their assets are more inclined to back fellow incredibly wealthy individual, Romney.
Whether or not Obama and Emanuel’s late-to-the-game Super PAC push will be enough to clinch the upcoming presidential election, it is clear that Super PACs have massively changed the way American campaigns will be run. Five out of nine Supreme Court justices may consider unlimited money given to Super PACs to be “free speech,”¯ but this speech actually costs a lot – not to mention that it is speech that only the richest Americans can afford.
With Citizens United in place, it appears that politicians will have to pander to the interests of the wealthy and corporations to even have a chance of winning an election.
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