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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The New Pirates of Campaign Financing

In a staff post the other day, we noted that one big reason Republicans are willing to put up with the scandals and incompetence characterizing Michael Steele’s chairmanship of the RNC is simply that new campaign finance rules have already undermined the party’s once-central role in funding campaigns.
At The American Prospect, Mark Schmitt has some useful if somewhat disturbing observations about the independent, corporate-funded committees that will dominate post-Citizens United Republican campaign financing.
Schmitt is one campaign finance expert who doesn’t think Citizens United has changed the source and direction of political money all that much. But it will affect control of political money, and strengthen an already powerful trend towards pirate independent operations that function on the margins of the political system:

Unlike parties and candidates, independent committees don’t have to worry about their long-term reputations. They are essentially unaccountable. The Republican Party plans to be around for decades into the future. It has to worry about its long-term reputation. But independent committees can be use-once-and-burn vehicles. There’s a reason we haven’t heard recently from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the independent committee formed to take down John Kerry in 2004 — like a basketball player sent in to commit six fouls, such operations have one purpose only and can disappear when they are finished.
Finally, independent committees are likely to play a more polarizing role. While parties can choose an early strategy of mobilizing the ideological base, by Election Day, they have to build majorities that include swing voters and independents. The incentives for independent committees are different — by mobilizing the ideological base, they generate not just votes but more and more donors. Their clout, unlike the party’s, derives only from money.

Republicans these days certainly don’t need any additional incentives to run negative campaigns or to elevate considerations of ideology over those of practical governing. But that’s what Citizens United may have wrought.
In the meantime, the RNC will trudge along, and the reduced actual clout of its chairman will not immediately translate into less media attention, particularly if he continues to serve up a rich diet of personal gaffes and institutional funny business. It would be nice, though, if media observers began to get a better focus on the people who are actually raising and spending the money that drives Republican campaigns. They’re the ones flying the jolly roger and proudly flouting every convention.

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