Setting policies by means of SuperPACS

A case-study in contemporary policy-setting.  The Republicans put off Hispanics, which is arguably demographic suicide.  So how to change the anti-immigration stance associated with the party?  Reason? Discussion?  Debate?  Coming to a consensus?  No.  Start a super PAC that will give money to pro-immigration Republicans and sponsor primary opponents against Republicans who vote the wrong way.

Prominent Republicans are launching a new super PAC they hope will help begin repairing the political damage left by years of anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric that has dominated GOP primaries and alienated crucial Hispanic voters.

The organization, to be called Republicans for Immigration Reform, aims to undermine what organizers call the “extremists” who have pushed party nominees to stake out far-right positions such as opposing a pathway to legalization for millions of illegal workers, students and children.

Even before it raises money and establishes target races for 2014, the group’s organizers told The Washington Post, it will help smooth the way for wavering Republican lawmakers to vote next year for an immigration overhaul. Such a measure suddenly gained momentum last week after GOP leaders watched President Obama’s dominance among Hispanic voters help carry him to an electoral college landslide.

Spearheading the group is Carlos Gutierrez, the Cuban American commerce secretary under President George W. Bush. He is joined by Washington lawyer Charlie Spies, co-founder of the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, which, illustrating the very trend that the new PAC aims to thwart, aired some tough ads during this year’s primaries accusing Romney’s rivals of supporting “amnesty” and being “too liberal on immigration.”

“There’s currently only energy on the anti-immigration reform side, and we want to be able to provide some cover for Republicans that vote in support of an immigration reform approach,” Spies said.

Spies and Gutierrez declined to cite a fundraising goal, but both enjoy close ties to corporate America, which generally favors looser immigration laws. A super PAC can accept unlimited donations. Spies’s pro-Romney group raised $142 million for the 2012 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“This is not small ball,” Gutierrez said. “We’re serious, and we are going to push the debates on immigration reform to a place where I believe the Republican Party should be in the 21st century.”

via New super PAC hopes to give cover to pro-immigration Republicans – The Washington Post.

Let us bracket the issue of immigration reform and whether Republicans need to loosen up on the question and make major efforts to attract Hispanics.  I myself agree that something on this order needs to be done.  So let’s not talk about that.  Let’s discuss this method of forming policy and making laws.

On any issue, we can now expect a SuperPAC to fund one side and probably another SuperPAC to fund the other side.  (I am not disputing their “rights” to do so.  Let’s not talk about that either.)  They work by rewarding, threatening, and punishing lawmakers with money, using campaign contributions–given, withheld, or given to an opponent–as a means of coercing support of a legislative agenda.

Doesn’t this replace democracy with plutocracy, so that money becomes the actual means of governing?  This strike me as a step beyond simply raising money for a campaign.  As we have seen, raising and spending money will not necessarily win you an election.  You get special interests making contributions but that may or may not determine how a lawmaker votes.  This tactic, by contrast, seeks to determine which candidates can run for office in the first place and fixes their position on an issue, which is determined not by the give-and-take of a rational process but by the SuperPAC that has quite literally bought their vote.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • James Sarver

    “This tactic, by contrast, seeks to determine which candidates can run for office in the first place and fixes their position on an issue, which is determined not by the give-and-take of a rational process…”

    This sounds an awful lot like what political parties seek to do. If you don’t think so, try getting a party endorsement while speaking against the party platform. Or getting elected to anything as an independent. Highly unlikely. Unless of course you are wealthy. There you go with the “plutocracy”. So what’s new or different about what superPAC’s are doing?

    We were doomed to this once we let the bundt cake pan of a two party system be forced down over our constitutional system of politics. Alternate views that don’t fit either party have to attempt to assert themselves in that context.

  • James Sarver

    “This tactic, by contrast, seeks to determine which candidates can run for office in the first place and fixes their position on an issue, which is determined not by the give-and-take of a rational process…”

    This sounds an awful lot like what political parties seek to do. If you don’t think so, try getting a party endorsement while speaking against the party platform. Or getting elected to anything as an independent. Highly unlikely. Unless of course you are wealthy. There you go with the “plutocracy”. So what’s new or different about what superPAC’s are doing?

    We were doomed to this once we let the bundt cake pan of a two party system be forced down over our constitutional system of politics. Alternate views that don’t fit either party have to attempt to assert themselves in that context.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    You know, I’ve rarely heard anti-immigration rhetoric from the right, but I have heard a lot of claims from the left that the right is anti-immigration.

    Maybe it’s time for the GOP (Paul Ryan, I’m talking to you!) to put together an acceptable immigration reform package–based on the idea that we want to have opportunity, but we also want to be able to keep criminals out. Put the Democrats on the defensive for once.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    You know, I’ve rarely heard anti-immigration rhetoric from the right, but I have heard a lot of claims from the left that the right is anti-immigration.

    Maybe it’s time for the GOP (Paul Ryan, I’m talking to you!) to put together an acceptable immigration reform package–based on the idea that we want to have opportunity, but we also want to be able to keep criminals out. Put the Democrats on the defensive for once.

  • DonS

    Dr. Veith, it seems as if you are complaining about politics, and how it’s conducted. What is wrong with people who disagree with the approach their party has taken on a particular issue banding together and pooling their resources to try to influence the discussion? The idea of getting together and sitting around a table talking through an issue — that’s a think tank. Great idea incubator, but 99.99% of voters pay no attention to them. To implement those think tank ideas into the political mainstream — to counter the media message on a particular issue — to be heard by the voters — takes a lot of money. Money is how you convey a message to millions of voters across a huge geographic area.

    You admit that “As we have seen, raising and spending money will not necessarily win you an election.” But then you seem to insist that somehow this evil SuperPAC will be different. They won’t be different. They are going to try to use their resources to influence the discussion and selection of candidates. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. It will depend not on their money as much as whether they can formulate and convey a message that resonates with Republican primary voters and, prior to the primaries, campaign donors.

  • DonS

    Dr. Veith, it seems as if you are complaining about politics, and how it’s conducted. What is wrong with people who disagree with the approach their party has taken on a particular issue banding together and pooling their resources to try to influence the discussion? The idea of getting together and sitting around a table talking through an issue — that’s a think tank. Great idea incubator, but 99.99% of voters pay no attention to them. To implement those think tank ideas into the political mainstream — to counter the media message on a particular issue — to be heard by the voters — takes a lot of money. Money is how you convey a message to millions of voters across a huge geographic area.

    You admit that “As we have seen, raising and spending money will not necessarily win you an election.” But then you seem to insist that somehow this evil SuperPAC will be different. They won’t be different. They are going to try to use their resources to influence the discussion and selection of candidates. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. It will depend not on their money as much as whether they can formulate and convey a message that resonates with Republican primary voters and, prior to the primaries, campaign donors.

  • kerner

    I can’t add much to this. But the previous 3 commenters are right. It isn’t plutocracy to start an organization, raise money from like minded people (wealthy or not), and use that money to assert your position. It’s just the way that political positions are advanced.

  • kerner

    I can’t add much to this. But the previous 3 commenters are right. It isn’t plutocracy to start an organization, raise money from like minded people (wealthy or not), and use that money to assert your position. It’s just the way that political positions are advanced.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Kerner (@4), the fact that it’s the way things are done does not in any way preclude that it’s also plutocracy.

    Money is not merely a means of spreading ideas in our discourse. It is a method used in an attempt to trump ideas bantered about in our discourse. A man who doesn’t have the best ideas, but does have lots of money, can easily trump people with good ideas and little money. Is that honestly surprising? Do I need to remind you who the GOP candidate for President was this year?

    Inasmuch as SuperPACs can more easily throw money around now, they can more easily manipulate our public discourse. Duh. I mean, who saw that coming?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Kerner (@4), the fact that it’s the way things are done does not in any way preclude that it’s also plutocracy.

    Money is not merely a means of spreading ideas in our discourse. It is a method used in an attempt to trump ideas bantered about in our discourse. A man who doesn’t have the best ideas, but does have lots of money, can easily trump people with good ideas and little money. Is that honestly surprising? Do I need to remind you who the GOP candidate for President was this year?

    Inasmuch as SuperPACs can more easily throw money around now, they can more easily manipulate our public discourse. Duh. I mean, who saw that coming?

  • DonS

    A man who doesn’t have the best ideas, but does have lots of money, can easily trump people with good ideas and little money.

    tODD @ 5: Exactly! Which is why Citizens United is actually a good decision for the latter. The rich man doesn’t need a SuperPAC. He can get his message out on his own. It is the rest of us who need to be able to join forces and pool our resources to share our good ideas publicly and counter the monopoly otherwise enjoyed by that rich man.

  • DonS

    A man who doesn’t have the best ideas, but does have lots of money, can easily trump people with good ideas and little money.

    tODD @ 5: Exactly! Which is why Citizens United is actually a good decision for the latter. The rich man doesn’t need a SuperPAC. He can get his message out on his own. It is the rest of us who need to be able to join forces and pool our resources to share our good ideas publicly and counter the monopoly otherwise enjoyed by that rich man.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DonS (@6):

    The rich man doesn’t need a SuperPAC. He can get his message out on his own.

    Yeah, that didn’t actually happen.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DonS (@6):

    The rich man doesn’t need a SuperPAC. He can get his message out on his own.

    Yeah, that didn’t actually happen.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 7: Um, no. It certainly does happen. There are countless small donors to PACs. It’s just not the way the media likes to report it.

    tODD, the rich man has an unchallengable constitutional right to use his own money however he wants to promote a political message. Campaign finance laws like the really stupid one struck down in Citizens United only serve to prevent the less well heeled from having the same media access by joining forces. You might be OK with that, but I’m not.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 7: Um, no. It certainly does happen. There are countless small donors to PACs. It’s just not the way the media likes to report it.

    tODD, the rich man has an unchallengable constitutional right to use his own money however he wants to promote a political message. Campaign finance laws like the really stupid one struck down in Citizens United only serve to prevent the less well heeled from having the same media access by joining forces. You might be OK with that, but I’m not.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DonS (@8), your theory runs rather contrary to the fact that the top PACs are clearly funded by “the rich man”.

    Romney may not have “needed” a SuperPAC. In theory, he could have got his message out on his own. And yet, we have history, in which lots of rich men gave big to PACs, and those PACs acted to support Romney.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DonS (@8), your theory runs rather contrary to the fact that the top PACs are clearly funded by “the rich man”.

    Romney may not have “needed” a SuperPAC. In theory, he could have got his message out on his own. And yet, we have history, in which lots of rich men gave big to PACs, and those PACs acted to support Romney.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 9: Do you care to be a little bit bipartisan here? PAC’s go both ways and Democrats also have the captive, legally required dues of union members to work with. Obama substantially outraised Romney, to the point where, at best, Romney and Obama were at rough parity in campaign resources. And, if Romney was so reliant on those oh-so-evil PAC’s, then why did he, um, lose?

    Sure, wealthy people contribute to PAC’s, but they don’t have to. They can go directly into the market if they want to. On the other hand, people of average means have no option to exercise effectively their free speech rights absent an ability to join together with other like-minded people.

    If you have another better way to ensure this ability, let’s have it.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 9: Do you care to be a little bit bipartisan here? PAC’s go both ways and Democrats also have the captive, legally required dues of union members to work with. Obama substantially outraised Romney, to the point where, at best, Romney and Obama were at rough parity in campaign resources. And, if Romney was so reliant on those oh-so-evil PAC’s, then why did he, um, lose?

    Sure, wealthy people contribute to PAC’s, but they don’t have to. They can go directly into the market if they want to. On the other hand, people of average means have no option to exercise effectively their free speech rights absent an ability to join together with other like-minded people.

    If you have another better way to ensure this ability, let’s have it.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DonS (@10):

    And, if Romney was so reliant on those oh-so-evil PAC’s, then why did he, um, lose?

    Because someone had to. I’m not claiming that PACs are only a Republican thing. I’m just talking to mainly Republicans. Thus my examples. Romney and Obama both are products of the current system where money speaks louder than ideas.

    And you paint a pretty picture when you talk about “people of average means” banding (their money) together to have a say in the public discourse, but this doesn’t appear to be reality. Where is the PAC driven by average people that is raising anywhere near as much money as the PAC driven by the obviously well-to-do? That is to say, can you provide evidence that your idyllic scene bears any resemblance to reality?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    DonS (@10):

    And, if Romney was so reliant on those oh-so-evil PAC’s, then why did he, um, lose?

    Because someone had to. I’m not claiming that PACs are only a Republican thing. I’m just talking to mainly Republicans. Thus my examples. Romney and Obama both are products of the current system where money speaks louder than ideas.

    And you paint a pretty picture when you talk about “people of average means” banding (their money) together to have a say in the public discourse, but this doesn’t appear to be reality. Where is the PAC driven by average people that is raising anywhere near as much money as the PAC driven by the obviously well-to-do? That is to say, can you provide evidence that your idyllic scene bears any resemblance to reality?

  • DonS

    tODD @ 11: Constitutional rights are, by their nature, idyllic. The real world is often uglier. But if you look at the donor lists of any of the PAC’s out there, you will see that a large percentage of their donations are from donors giving less than $200, and thus exempt from disclosure. On the conservative side, I know this is the case for National Right to Life, Family Research Council and, yes, Citizens United.

    For example, in the case of Citizens United, take a look here http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?strID=C00295527 at their current donor report at Open Secrets. CU had total receipts of $2,740,666 in the 2012 cycle, yet only $207,548 came from donors giving $200 or more. Hardly dominated by the “wealthy”. Similarly, National Right to Life http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?strID=C00111278 had $1,961,574 in receipts in 2012, only $158,803 of which came from donations of $200 or more.

    Don’t believe everything you hear in the media or from the unions, who have a vested interest in the near-monopoly they’ve enjoyed in the political world for years.

  • DonS

    tODD @ 11: Constitutional rights are, by their nature, idyllic. The real world is often uglier. But if you look at the donor lists of any of the PAC’s out there, you will see that a large percentage of their donations are from donors giving less than $200, and thus exempt from disclosure. On the conservative side, I know this is the case for National Right to Life, Family Research Council and, yes, Citizens United.

    For example, in the case of Citizens United, take a look here http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?strID=C00295527 at their current donor report at Open Secrets. CU had total receipts of $2,740,666 in the 2012 cycle, yet only $207,548 came from donors giving $200 or more. Hardly dominated by the “wealthy”. Similarly, National Right to Life http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?strID=C00111278 had $1,961,574 in receipts in 2012, only $158,803 of which came from donations of $200 or more.

    Don’t believe everything you hear in the media or from the unions, who have a vested interest in the near-monopoly they’ve enjoyed in the political world for years.


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