The Daily Beast
By Michael Waldman
Dec. 21, 2011
The campaign trail is ringing with pious denunciations of super PACs’ massive spending on presidential candidates, which would have been flatly illegal just a few years ago. More whining from campaign finance reformers? Actually, the condemnations are coming from none other than candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.
Hypocrisy, it is often said, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. But this is getting ridiculous. This week the former House speaker declared that attack ads from shadowy groups were bad for America. “Ask yourself,” he asked an Iowa town meeting, “do you really want to reward politics as usual, negativity as usual, attack as usual, consultant as usual, fundraising from Wall Street millionaires as usual?” Romney, in turn, called super PACs “a disaster.” “Campaign finance law has made a mockery of our political campaign season,” Romney said Tuesday morning on MSNBC. “We really ought to let campaigns raise the money they need and just get rid of these super PACs.”
Decades old bans on corporate and union campaign spending were overturned last year by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Other court rulings, together with Federal Election Commission inaction, have essentially combined to deregulate nearly all campaign spending. Individuals are limited in their campaign gifts, and corporations and unions are barred from donating directly to candidates. But spending by independent committees has long been unlimited. Now corporations can join individuals in giving those groups unlimited sums. And in the latest, most craven twist, candidates themselves can attend fundraisers for supposedly independent groups, so long as they personally do not urge giving unlimited amounts.