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Are Dems really scapegoating outside groups?

Republicans this morning have been having a grand old time circulating Politico's lead story, which claims that attacks on the secret money flooding our elections are a Dem "excuse" intended to "fend off the recriminations over what many Washington Democrats assume will be a brutal election night."

Republicans accuse Dems of "scapegoating," and Politico is right that a key Dem talking point is to pin the blame for Dem travails directly on all this undisclosed spending. But what if there's actually some merit to the Dem argument?

It turns out that a couple new reports show that the secret money could, in fact, be influencing key races. The Chicago Tribune reports that GOPer Mark Kirk has edged ahead of Dem Alexi Giannoulias, in part because attack ads funded by outside spending have "taken a toll on the Democrat's standing with voters."

What's more, today's New York Times reports that Dem Rep. Suzanne Kosmas of Florida is in trouble almost entirely because of outside groups spending on behalf of her underfunded challenger, Sandy Adams:

Ms. Adams, low on cash, has not run a single campaign commercial. But a host of outside groups have swept in to swamp Ms. Kosmas with attack ads, helping establish Ms. Adams as the favorite without her having to spend on television.

This is only two races. And it's hard to establish with any reasonable degree of certainty whether outside group ads are proving decisive in any particular race. But it sure seems unlikely that the U.S. Chamber and Karl Rove's groups would be going to so much trouble to raise and spend such huge sums if it was going to have no impact on key races.

More broadly, it's worth noting something very troubling about media coverage of the whole secret cash story. There's been a great deal of process-y pundit sniggering about the Dem line of attack on outside spending -- it won't work, Dems have done similar stuff before, it's about laying the groundwork for post-election fingerpointing, etc.

But very few will take a stand on whether the core Dem arguments -- the secret cash could influence key races and possibly tip control of Congress; the comparisons between undisclosed spending on the right and left are thoroughly bogus; and the disguised outside spending is unprecedented and potentially harmful to our democracy -- might actually have some merit to them.

By Greg Sargent  | October 25, 2010; 11:40 AM ET
Categories:  2010 elections, Campaign finance, House Dems, House GOPers, Political media, Senate Dems, Senate Republicans  
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Next: New Rand Paul ad: Jack Conway is "Obama's yes man"

Comments

Kirk attack ads against AG are everywhere here; almost every commercial break yesterday on NFL games and elsewhere.

I guess we'll see whether the conventional wisdom that attack ads "aren't popular" holds true this year. This may be the kind of election cycle where they have a LOT more effectiveness.

Posted by: BGinCHI | October 25, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

If you're reading the Politico, it's no one's fault but your own.

Posted by: CalD | October 25, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Not "thoroughly bogus" or "unprecedented." Obama spent more than $25 in undisclosed secret cash.

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Most loyal and best government money can buy!

The flood of undisclosed money and especially corporate money (speech? really???) has corrupted the electoral process perhaps beyond repair at this point. Until Buckley gets overturned or significantly modified, our electoral system is corrupted beyond easy repair. Angle, McDonnell, Buck, Miller, etc would be laughable also rans if they didn't bathe in corporate cash 24/7.

Posted by: srw3 | October 25, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Politico headlines make me want to smack that smugness right off their faces when I see them being used as political analysts. They are the trashy checkout line journalists of today looking to turn everyone against each other to find conflict where it doesn't exist.

Yeah, I actually hate them. Even Ben Smith has turned into a complete trouble making tool as of late. Someone musta pee'd in his Cherios.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | October 25, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

$25 million (darn spellchecker)

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

@CL12: Are you attempting to equate the pre citizens united universe with what we have now? Really? I don't recall Obama getting millions of dollars in cash from "advocacy groups" that consist of 2 multimillionaires... Rove's "advocacy" group (gps crossroads) got the vast majority (more that 90%) of its money from 4 multimillionaires. These groups didn't exist before...Since I don't watch much TV, I am somewhat insulated from the orgy of spending, but clearly conservatives think that it works or they wouldn't be spending millions of dozens of races...

Bottom line:

$$$ does not equal SPEECH!
Corporations are not voters!
Undisclosed political spending breeds election buying and corruption!

Posted by: srw3 | October 25, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

"Politico's lead story, which claims that attacks on the secret money flooding our elections are a Dem "excuse" intended to "fend off the recriminations over what many Washington Democrats assume will be a brutal election night."
---------------------------------------

That about sums up the truth.

Posted by: illogicbuster | October 25, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

C'mon guys! You know Jefferson and Madison intended for corporations and individuals to flood our political elections with millions to allow them to game the system!

You know how I know this? American's for Prosperity told me so!

Posted by: mikefromArlington | October 25, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

OT but baloonjuice linked to a helpful article that debunks what are probably the top eight biggest misconceptions the Fox propaganda network in conjunctions with the right wing radio misinformants are pushing onto their followers.

http://ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010104222/false-things-public-knows-they-go-vote

Posted by: mikefromArlington | October 25, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

"$$$ does not equal SPEECH!
Corporations are not voters!"

If this is the Dem argument then it's a sure (legal) loser. Both of these concepts were decided long before Citizens United. There is no doubt that the court treats money as speech or that corporations do not enjoy the right to free speech.

The argument is about disclosure:

"Why government could or would impose restrictions on the political activity of corporations, independent of candidates but clearly influencing elections. On what theory, the two sides debate, can the government impose such limits?"

Congress clearly has it within its power to tighten up disclosure. Schumer and Van Hollen, however, chose to pursue a purely partisan solution (DISCLOSE).

Posted by: sbj3 | October 25, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Correction: No doubt that corporations *do* enjoy the right to free speech.

"The Court does not question that they are persons in a legal sense."

Posted by: sbj3 | October 25, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Politico, covering for the GOP? SHOCKING!

@Greg

Any chance you could contact the White House and as for a comment on this quote by Mitch McConnell during an interview with the National Journal:

"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." - Mitch McConnell

Posted by: TheBBQChickenMadness | October 25, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

@BG "the conventional wisdom that attack ads "aren't popular"

I agree that if you ask voters virtually everyone of them will say they HATE all the negative ads. Yet alas they have always proved very, very effective. Until they stop working it's the quickest most effective way to change the dynamic of a race.

Here in Florida it's getting ludicrous. I am beginning to wonder if there won't eventually be some kind of voter fatigue.
The Sink-Scott race now consists almost completely 90+% negative ads from both sides. The Senate race is the same except for golden boy Marco...he may be the ONLY politician in our state now running warm and fuzzy ads...a luxury he can afford because of his commanding lead and shoe in status...ALL the rest of the pols...even for state offices run almost exclusively negative ads. The few attempts at issues are a joke...I'm going to cut taxes..yeah who won't vote for lower taxes...of course no corresponding plan for balancing a budget of paying for government...even "smaller" government.

I am truly beginning to wonder when the American public simply starts tuning out ads from BOTH parties....I'm seeing many comments on the St. Pete Times stories that bemoan the lack of a genuine lack of discussion on the issues by BOTH parties.
Alas negative ads do work and the pols from both sides are simply following the if in ain't broke don't fix it. Hopefully the negative ad formula will break and soon.

Posted by: rukidding7 | October 25, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

"Schumer and Van Hollen, however, chose to pursue a purely partisan solution"

Just curious as to what you are calling a "purely partisan solution." Just sounds like a talking point you're repeating to me to be honest.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | October 25, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

No, srw3, the Citizens United case simply leveled the playing field. What I am pointing out is EJ's hypocrisy. Did YOU ever complain about the tens of millions of dollars in "secret money flooding our elections" that Obama spent in 2008?

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

All, new Rand Paul ad attacking Jack Conway as "Obama's yes man":

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/10/new_rand_paul_ad_jack_conway_i.html

Posted by: Greg Sargent | October 25, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

From here in Illinois, there are just as many anti-Kirk ads running on local TV as there are pro-Kirk ads. The reason Kirk is winning this race is that recent debates have highlighted the shallowness, weak resume and flawed judgement of his opponent. Additionally, despite Illinois' repuation as a deep blue state, there is a strong anti-Democrat tide running in this state right now, directly resulting from the spectacle of our impeached ex-governor, and the $13 billion budget gap he and his successor and the Democrat legislature have created. Attributing Kirk's position in this race to incorrect.

Posted by: Illini | October 25, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone think that "secret" donations in increments of less than $250 are equivalent to "secret" donations in individual sums of $7,000,000 or more?

Posted by: pragmaticstill | October 25, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Voters everywhere beware -- When the GOP state that they want less government, what they really mean is that they want NO government and more Corporate Rule! They have the people Paying all the taxes while the Corporations pay No taxes.

The GOP and Tea Party(s) want no Social Security or Social Security to be tied to the stock market, -- they want no or very little benefits going to our Verterans, they want no regulation of Wall Street, banks, insurance and credit card companies; they want nothing to get in the way of their corporate greed and profits. They no spending on America's roads, streets, sewer system, infra-structure, rail roads, schools! No Investment in America. However, they don't mind Spending on Wall Street stocks and bonds, so that they can build up a stock pile of profit for the wealthy, while America further decays into a third-world country. What they really want, again, is for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer!

PLEASE WATCH WHY GOP ARE DANGEROUS TO OUR DEMOCRACY!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9jLrrRg8rw

Posted by: wdsoulplane | October 25, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

@Mike: We've gone over this already.

"Even as Van Hollen and Schumer are poised to introduce the bill, three House Republicans have accused them of trying to rush the campaign finance bill through in time to impact the 2010 elections without providing enough public scrutiny and deliberation.

"Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and two others on the House Administration Committee, the panel with jurisdiction over election law, say their attempts to meet with Van Hollen have been ignored.

"More than a month ago, Lungren, the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, sent a letter to Van Hollen and Democratic Chairman Robert Brady calling for a “true bipartisan process” and return to regular order, including holding committee hearings and at least one field hearing outside Washington.

"Van Hollen did not respond to the letter. Brady acknowledged receipt of it but did not agree to sit down with the Republicans."

http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/93913-democrats-campaign-bill-forces-execs-and-donors-to-stand-by-their-ads

"Republicans and business interests argue some of the bill’s provisions would give unions a political advantage over corporations.

“The disparity in how businesses and labor unions are treated by this legislation is staggering — and likely unconstitutional,” Josten wrote in a statement. “By favoring union speech over corporate speech, the bill’s authors are departing from past campaign finance legislation that treated business and labor equally.”
==========
"The bill would provide a clear and unfair advantage to unions while either shutting other organizations out of the election process or subjecting them to onerous reporting requirements that would not apply to unions,” said Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley. “Sen. Collins believes that it is ironic that a bill aimed at curtailing special interests in the election process provides so many carve-outs and exemptions that favor some grass-roots organizations over others. This, too, is simply unfair.”
===========
"Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, released a statement after Obama’s speech, reiterating his caucus’s line that the bill is a political maneuver by Democrats to protect their majority — including a small dig at potential on-the-fence Democrat Nelson.

“The DISCLOSE Act seeks to protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all-out attack on the First Amendment,” McCon­nell said. “In the process, the authors of the bill have decided to trade our constitutional rights away in a backroom deal that makes the Cornhusker Kickback look like a model of legislative transparency."

Posted by: sbj3 | October 25, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

"No government"?! The U.S. defense budget IS authorized under the Constitution.

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

@wdsoulplane: "Voters everywhere beware -- When the GOP state that they want less government, what they really mean is that they want NO government and more Corporate Rule! They have the people Paying all the taxes while the Corporations pay No taxes."

And Obama is a socialist and isn't a citizen and Reagan wanted to start a nuclear war because . . . Republicans like nuclear wars. And so on and so forth.

You know, we can have policy disagreements, and really think the side is wrong about tax cuts or healthcare, without coming to the conclusion that each side wants to grind the great mass of citizens into powder.

There's either folks who don't want anybody to pay any taxes (very few), or folks who want everybody (including corporations) to pay less in taxes (quite a lot). Nobody wants to have "the people" paying all the taxes while the corporations pay nothing at all (except, perhaps, a few CEOs, but not even them, if Bill Gates and Warren Buffet or the Google boys are any indication).

"What they really want, again, is for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer!"

Plus, they are really evil, and ultra-bad, and stuff!

Well, you've definitely informed my vote.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | October 25, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

“By favoring union speech over corporate speech, the bill’s authors are departing from past campaign finance legislation that treated business and labor equally.”

"The bill would provide a clear and unfair advantage to unions while either shutting other organizations out of the election process or subjecting them to onerous reporting requirements that would not apply to unions,”

“The DISCLOSE Act seeks to protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all-out attack on the First Amendment,”

Those statements prove ziltch. They are just political statements. Notice how they don't actually point to any part of the bill that does anything they are suggesting?

Posted by: mikefromArlington | October 25, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

$25 million in small donations (especially since it could all be from one person) is still more than a $7 million donation.

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

@Mike: Have we switched now from arguing whether the DISCLOSE act is a purely partisan solution?

"The bill was written behind closed doors, without any input from Republicans, without a conference report, and then rammed through the House on a mostly party-line vote."

The GOP was blocked out of the bill-shaping process.

Posted by: sbj3 | October 25, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Mike, it's true that unions were exempted. Was that "fair"?

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h5175/show

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Roberts should be swinging from one of the trees on the mall on November 3rd no matter what happens with overall numbers because there's going to be at least one race too many influenced by outside cash.

Posted by: theobserver4 | October 25, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

@IB:That about sums up the truth.

The truth???

the party in the whitehouse usually loses seats in the midterm. The major non-example is Bush who shamelessly used jingoism and false patriotism as political cudgels.

The money from outside groups supersizes this trend by artificially giving repub candidates monetary resources far beyond their local support level. Then the echo effect kicks in and they look like viable candidates despite being residents of rightwingnutistan.

Posted by: srw3 | October 25, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Weren't the liberals here often claiming that over-the-top rhetoric by Tea Partyers threatened to incite violence?

Check out koo-koo's post at 1:34 PM.

Posted by: sbj3 | October 25, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

$25 million in small donations (especially since it could all be from one person) is still more than a $7 million donation.

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 1:10 PM


Uh-huh ... sure. That line needs to be followed by, "yeah ... that's the ticket."

Posted by: pragmaticstill | October 25, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Whatever. I not the one being a hypocrit.

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

"AFSCME just became the single biggest outside spender of the 2010 election cycle, spending a total of $87.5 million so far"

And all of it to democrats........

Democrats lie a lot.......

TEA or GOP for a Pro-American Recovery November

Posted by: georgedixon1 | October 25, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

It's okay if you are AFSCME.

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

This article is a joke, and is just a another element in a series of articles the Post has published the past two weeks to try and turn the national tide against Democrats in general, and liberals specifically. The Unions pour millions of dollars into Democrat coffers, and have made doing so an art form this year.

As one blogger already noted - it's okay if it's AFSCME. What he didn't say is that Obama pretty much bribed government workers just as he did fire fighters and teachers.

Posted by: JHG_sec405 | October 25, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

How about some government cheeze to go with that whine, Democrats? It tastes better than crow.

Posted by: JamesMeager1 | October 25, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Corporations do not have the right to vote.

That right is for American Citizens only.

Any candidate taking FOREIGN money to beat an American VOTER is a traitor.

Posted by: vigor | October 25, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

All the secret cash has one purpose - to secure a new crop of Congressional Call Girls, who will then service their secret corporate johns accordingly. This is the line that the Democrats should be taking - call the candidates who are benefitting from this spending for what they are in none too delicate terms.

Posted by: kg1957 | October 25, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

All the secret cash has one purpose - to secure a new crop of Congressional Call Girls, who will then service their secret corporate johns accordingly. This is the line that the Democrats should be taking - call the candidates who are benefitting from this spending for what they are in none too delicate terms.

Posted by: kg1957 | October 25, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Sargent would rather have a world where Dems beat opposing candidates who lack the cash to "run a single campaign advertisement" as Mr. Sargent admits in his article.

Is that likely to produce a fair election that expresses the people's will?

Mr. Sargent doesn't really care about fair elections. His team winning is all that matters to him.

Creating an even playing field on the money side produces whining about unfairness from Mr. Sargent's team.

It's like a football coach complaining to the referee that the other team was allowed the same number of players on the field.

Boo Hoo for Mr. Sargent.


Posted by: jfv123 | October 25, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Our forefathers had to risk their lives to preserve democracy in the United States. All you have to do is get off the couch and vote in November. Don't allow the US to slip back into a period like the last Dark Ages (2000-2008). Put the date on your calendar, take a friend, and GO VOTE!

Posted by: JimZ1 | October 25, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse


A quote from the Politico article:

"For all that, spending by outside groups—not affiliated with the candidates or parties—is only expected by experts to be about 10 percent of the total money spent."

Quit yer cryin, dems.

Posted by: ebw343m | October 25, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

JimZ1, just make sure those votes are for REPUBLICANS!

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse


"If you cannot win the elections, attempt to discredit the electoral process."

- Democrat National Committee

Posted by: screwjob22 | October 25, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

"Bottom line:

$$$ does not equal SPEECH!
Corporations are not voters!
Undisclosed political spending breeds election buying and corruption!"

I am all for no corporate donations, as long as the unions stop donating money as well. They spent over $1 Billion dollars to get Obama elected.

"the comparisons between undisclosed spending on the right and left are thoroughly bogus;"
Why is it bogus? Because, you do not like it? The undisclosed spending from the left is a matter of public record.

Posted by: tanks_wp | October 25, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

In North Carolina, the Democratic candidate for the Senate clearly has plenty of money for advertisements even though, unfortunately, I suspect she has little chance of winning. The Democrats may have less money than the Republicans. But they are not so poor that they cannot fund a candidate's effort to make their message heard. If some Democratic candidate really has no money, it is because the party has concluded that they have no chance to win. I doubt anyone really can objectively establish the influence of a difference in campaign funding. It is always unclear if a candidate wins because they have more money or whehter they have more money because people want to back a winner. Democracy guarantees everyone the right to vote. It does not guarantee candidates equal amounts of money to promote their message. If voters are incapable of casting their vote wisely unless the messages that they are allowed to hear are subject to stringent control, it is hard to see the value of democracy.

Posted by: dnjake | October 25, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone seen the documentary, The Best Government Money Can Buy? It's all about big corporations like the Oil and Gas Industry funding political campaigns. Check out this clip of Larry Sabato of the UVA Center for Politics as he explains these types of political transactions: http://www.vimeo.com/16025551

Posted by: PoliticalDude | October 25, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

$25 million in small donations (especially since it could all be from one person) is still more than a $7 million donation.

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 1:10 PM
___________________________
the difference is that the small donations have to go to different candidates, and alone can't buy more than a few bumper stickers for any one. The 7 mil can be one person donating to an organization funding a media campaign for one candidate as long as it isn't coordinated with the campaign. Both sides can do it, but it's different than before and favors big business and whichever side they happen to be for at any given time. there are more of them than unions.

Posted by: JoeT1 | October 25, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

I don't recall hearing about floods of foreign money influencing our election pre-Citizens United. No one in their right mind can compare this to 2008.

If I chip in ten bucks for a candidate, I have to disclose my name, my employer etc. If I'm a billionaire and buy commericals, those rules don't apply.

Posted by: chi-town | October 25, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

You don't need to see an ad financed by secret cash to know that:

unemployment is 9.6%

Obama tripled Bush's deficits

The health care fiasco is "balanced" over 10 years by taking in 10 years of revenue and paying out 6 years of benefits, and cutting doctors Medicare pay 25%. In other words, a crock.

To paraphrase J. Carville:

"It's the agenda, stupid."

Posted by: drjcarlucci | October 25, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Of course you didn't hear about it. That's the HYPOCRISY that I am talking about. Obama alone in 2008 spent more than $103 million in uncoded donations. Why wasn't that a big deal?

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

The argument that airhead Dem lap dog Gene Sargent is hurting Democracy may actually have some merit to it.

Posted by: PS7900 | October 25, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

drjcarlucci, why do you think the Dems are talking about this instead?

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

We cannot support two more dismal years with the ones in power now our economy an health care have to be overhauled just as the impeachment. After the vote. Impeach the whole Government an Gongress.

Posted by: JWTX | October 25, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Interestingly, the "The Plum Line" is currently running an advertisement paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce regarding Dino Rossi. It's not that bad that the Washington Post refuses to take the money, I guess.

Posted by: clawrence12 | October 25, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Are Dems really scapegoating outside groups?

====================================

Yes, and Sergeant should have a word with his colleague EJ Dionne because his latest column is a screed that desperately tries to make the latest excuse stick.

Posted by: bbface21 | October 25, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

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