A hypocritical New York Times editorial against anti-incumbent super-PAC
Incumbents in Congress usually have a huge fund-raising advantage over challengers. Big donors correctly assume they will probably be in office for years, and curry favor with contributions that only wealthy challengers can match. So why not try to neutralize this advantage by spending money on behalf of challengers?
It’s a seductive notion, and a group of well-heeled activists decided to take action, raising money to help defeat selected incumbent House members — of both parties — in competitive primary races. They say they are doing it in the name of good government.
But the method they are using — a super PAC that can collect and spend unlimited amounts of money — is the opposite of good government, and demonstrates the inherent danger in allowing big money to steer election results. The handful of donors say their motives are pure, but the public has no way of knowing what their long-term goals are, or whether they have personal interests in the races they have chosen.
The Campaign for Primary Accountability, as the super PAC is known, has raised nearly $1.8 million for attack ads against liberal and conservative incumbents of both parties. A spokesman says it targets only House members with multiple terms, facing contested primaries in districts dominated by one party, and where the PAC’s polling shows voters’ discontent with their representation.
The PAC spent $200,000 to help defeat Jean Schmidt, a three-term Ohio Republican, who lost her primary this month to a more conservative newcomer. It unsuccessfully tried to oust Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat who was running against the more liberal Dennis Kucinich in a new district, and last week failed to unseat Spencer Bachus, a powerful Alabama Republican who is under an ethics investigation. It plans to keep spending in primaries, and the power of its money in small Congressional districts [Comment: Huh? All Congressional districts in a state have about the same number of people.] is making many longtime members nervous. [Comment: As well it should! Now, maybe they'll pay attention to the concerns of their constituents.]
Many incumbents deserve to be challenged, but the PAC thinks that end justifies any means. [Comment: So what? It's all protected by the First Amendment, right?] Since it lacks any ideological compass, it used a Tea Party argument against Ms. Schmidt — one ad complained that she voted to raise the debt limit — and a liberal argument against Jesse Jackson Jr., an Illinois Democrat, who the PAC says has not been strong enough in using government to protect women and children.
And for all of its populist talk about being “the equalizer” in these races, 95 percent of its money so far has come from just four wealthy men with conservative bents: Leo Linbeck III, a Houston builder who has campaigned against national health care reform; Eric O’Keefe, who helped found U.S. Term Limits; Tim Dunn, chairman of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility; and J. Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade, who has crusaded against earmarks and federal spending.
Political entrenchment is a problem in a Congress where 90 percent of the districts are dominated by a single party and incumbents can often take their re-election for granted. Those who want to change that can better spend their money supporting nonpartisan redistricting in state legislatures. They can also oppose state attempts to limit voter turnout, and use their money to encourage voter registration and participation in both primary and general elections. [Comment: In other words, The Times only supports the usual ineffectual solutions. Did it ever occur to The Times that so-called attack ads can "encourage voter registration and participation in both primary and general elections"?]
And they can lay down the weapon of the super PAC, which gives corporations and the wealthy an outsized voice in campaigns. Attack ads, which are their stock in trade, are tainting the political process and turning off many voters. [Comment: If those voters stay home, incumbents win yet again.] Unlimited political money breeds corruption and cynicism, and cannot produce a better government.