Who Will Save the Poor Incumbents From the Super PAC Onslaught?

Today's New York Times tells the heart-rending story of U.S. representatives who run for re-election but don't necessarily win. Who is responsible for this disturbing development? Apparently a bunch of rich guys who give money to super PACs that advertise against members of Congress. The Times says one super PAC in particular is "increasing Congress's sense of insecurity": the Houston-based Campaign for Primary Accountability, which is "targeting incumbents in both parties," including Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), a four-term legislator who lost her primary fight on Tuesday to Brad Wenstrup, "a doctor and Iraq war veteran who has never held political office," even though "she was expected to prevail." This sort of surprise makes politicians "nervous," the Times reports, quoting Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) as an example:

People are very cynical toward the institution. That's shown in our 11 percent approval rating. It used to be that the individual member was a bit immune to that and it was the institution itself that suffered. But I do think that is transferring now unto the individual members.

Say it ain't so! Have these super PACs no sense of decency? "Obviously," says Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), a five-term congressman annoyed by critical ads, "when the Supreme Court made their decision to open up corporate war chests, this is the result." Not so obviously, it turns out. Super PACs, which can spend as much as they want on express advocacy as long as they do not coordinate with candidates, are indeed a product of Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 case in which the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on political speech by corporations, combined with a subsequent appeals court ruling and an FEC decision. According to the Times, however, the leading donors to the Campaign for Primary Accountability are not corporations but individuals, who have always been free to spend their own money on political advocacy.

"Members say there is little they can do to stop the onslaught of third-party activity," the Times reports. Can it really be that they have no recourse, that they just have to let people criticize them? This attitude reminds me of George Will's observation in a recent column that advocates of stricter speech regulations refer to super PACs as "outside groups." Will's reply: "Outside of what? Is the political process a private club with the parties and candidates controlling membership?"

The Times does give the president of the Campaign for Primary Accountability, Curtis Ellis, a chance to defend his group's cruel efforts to upset the expectations of innocent incumbents. "It is hard to raise the money you need to challenge an incumbent," Ellis says. "This is why we are using this new tool given to us by the Supreme Court to equalize the playing field for challengers." But the Times evidently could not locate a single independent observer who thinks Congress could benefit from a bit more insecurity and nervousness, given that incumbent legislators have a huge built-in advantage against challengers, as reflected in the fact that House members routinely get re-elected at rates of more than 90 percent. Even in 2010, when the Democrats suffered historically large losses and Republicans took control of the chamber, the re-election rate was 85 percent.

Addendum: Earlier today Katherine Mangu-Ward noted that the Campaign for Primary Accountability counterintuitively supported Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who despite his 15 years in the House counted as a challenger because he was running against Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) for the Democratic nomination in a newly redrawn congressional district. He lost.  

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  • ||

    Way to not tell us how to contribute to this PAC, Reason.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Clearly you're not paying attention. The Citizens United decision only benefits evul korporashuns. You don't need to contribute to a PAC because your views are already represented by your local incumbent Congresscritter.

  • o3||

    well CU darn sure doesnt benefit those 20-some states that regulated political speech per the wishes of their constitutents.

    >interesting to watch so-called states' righters twist themselves to justify federal intrusion

  • ||

    The federal government is funding challengers?

  • slowzone||

    "well CU darn sure doesnt benefit those 20-some states that regulated political speech per the wishes of their constitutents."

    So slavery is cool as long as the state approves it, got it, o3 is cool with slavery.

    ">interesting to watch so-called states' righters twist themselves to justify federal intrusion"

    Not as interesting as seeing you admit you're cool with slavery.

  • ||

    I happen to, consistently, believe that all the works of Pitchfork Ben Tillman were evil, including both banning contributions by corporations and Jim Crow and disenfranchising blacks.

  • slowzone||

    sorry forgot,

    "fuck off slaver!"

  • Zeb||

    One of the few things that the federal government shoudl be doing is preventing states from violating people's rights. Also, states don't have rights.

  • ||

    Federalism, how does it work?

  • ||

    States are people too, Zeb!

  • kilroy||

    Wait, isn't this the PAC backing Dennis Kucinich?

  • ||

    Wait, I thought the president just told us Super PACs were groovy.

  • ||

    They're groovy as long as they throw $ at him.

  • ||

    "This is why we are using this new tool given to us by the Supreme Court to equalize the playing field for challengers."

    I don't think the First Amendment came from the Supreme Court.

  • Zeb||

    "Given back to us" might have been better.

  • ||

    David Brooks must be catatonic over this. That article is comedy gold. What makes it even better is that it is not the usual whine for the poor Democratic Party you would expect from the times. It is a giant whine for the entire political class. We can't let those people into power.

  • ||

    "Outside of what? Is the political process a private club with the parties and candidates controlling membership?"

    Uh, as much as they can make it so, yes.

    The quotes in this are brutally indicative of the mindset of the political class and the lickspittle media. Can anyone wonder why we're fucked?

  • ||

    We think they are are team red and team blue. The reality is they are on one team, team them. And slubs like us are not on team them.

  • ||

    TEAM RED and TEAM BLUE are for the peons, the followers, the sheep; the ones who live the partisan life and put these people in power. The powermongers themselves are TEAM ARISTOCRACY and they know it.

    I heard you were on TEAM ROCKET, though, John.

  • ||

    Those records are sealed and known only to my minions at Free Republic.

  • ||

    Pikachu knows the truth and the truth will get out, John! Charizard will come for you!

  • Joe M||

    You know entirely too much about Pokemons.

  • ||

    So you think I should have said Psyduck instead of Charizard, then?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Cubone FTW.

  • Sparky||

    You poor misguided souls. Go Darkrai or go home.

  • Newcular Titties||

    I heard you were on TEAM ROCKET, though, John.

    I'm pleased to hear have gathered support from such an intelligent and verbose individual. With your vision and my leadership, the moon is within our reach.

    Team Rocket 2012

  • ||

    I prefer to refer to Our Annointed Masters as TEAM TOP, and we peasants as TEAM BOTTOM.

  • KDN||

    I prefer to refer to Our Annointed Masters as TEAM TOP, and we peasants as TEAM BOTTOM.

    Team pitcher and team catcher?

  • rts||

    So close with the alt-text, so close.

  • Gray Lady||

    RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAH!

  • ||

    I have something in my eye.

  • End Child Unemployment||

    Who will save the poor incumbents? The voters, by re-electing 90% of them, even though they allegedly hate congress.

  • Joe M||

    "It used to be that the individual member was a bit immune to that and it was the institution itself that suffered."

    How the fuck has the "institution" suffered?

  • Zeb||

    To politicians "suffering" mean having low poll numbers.

  • juris imprudent||

    Only if that turns into lower vote totals.

  • Ashlyn||

    Reading stories like this, I still hear the voice of my high school Spanish teacher moments after telling us we had a pop quiz.

    -¡Pobreciiiiiiiiitos! ¡Que láaaaaaastima!-

    -Ahora, siéntense y cállense.-

  • ||

    Pobrecitos y pobrecitas immediately came to mind as well. Must have had the same profesor de Espaniol.

  • ||

    with a tilde if I only knew how to work a computer....

  • ||

    and no "i" in Espanol. sigh...

  • Joe M||

    ...a new “super PAC” that is targeting incumbents in both parties...

    Scare quotes? Pathetic.

  • Hugh Akston||

    You wouldn't trust your car to an unqualified mechanic. You wouldn't let an unlicensed doctor perform surgery on you.

    Do you really want inexperienced nobodies rubber stamping new wars and deciding what your children are allowed to eat?

    Of course not. You want seasoned legislative professionals rubber stamping new wars and deciding what your children are allowed to eat.

    Vote Incumbent 2012.

  • Barack Obama||

    rubber stamping new wars

    Let me be clear. I don't need any rubber stamps to pursue military action.

  • ||

    +1 to both

  • kilroy||

    Well done.

  • LarryA||

    Can I have some more?

  • ||

    What the fuck is that thing? It's like an angry dried fig that just bit into an under-ripe lemon.

  • ||

    Looks she is demanding the eye of newt someone stole from her.

  • Tim||

    Didn't she make a video with Robert Palmer like, 30 years ago?

  • Tim||

    "She's so fine there's no telling where the money went..."

  • MJ||

    That was not 30 years ago! That was just back when I was...Oh crap, I am old.

  • ||

    Wait, PACs are getting rid of incumbents? Seems like a feature, not a bug.

  • Brandon||

    The NY Times: Status Quo Uber Alles!

  • Nipplemancer||

    “Obviously, when the Supreme Court made their decision to open up corporate war chests, this is the result,” [Rep. Jo]Bonner [Team RED!] said. He initially said he had no idea who was behind the group, but then allowed that he did know that one of its top donors, J. Joe Ricketts, the founder of TD Ameritrade, is an owner of the Chicago Cubs.

    “I’m going to have to take my little boy’s Cubs hat and throw it away, I guess,” he said with a shrug.


    Butthurt Rep is so butthurt he's taking it out on his son.

  • insyder||

    To repeat:

    If their philosophical goal is to take action against redistricting shenanigans done by the folks in power, which 90% of the time goes to making incumbents super-secure and 10% of the time goes to fucking against-the-grainers like RP or Kucinich, supporting someone is not inconsistent.

  • insyder||

    *supporting kucinich

  • Corie Whalen||

    What's up, y'all? I'm CPA's Political Director, and I'd like to explain our support of Kucinich. It's a redistricting year, and there are several incumbent pairings. The reason we chose Kucinich is because he's an independent guy who doesn't kowtow to leadership and was targeted for removal by redistricting. While it's true that our message is "anti-incumbent", the reason is because at the core of it, what we're trying to accomplish is leveling the playing field in a manner that gives the people more of a voice over the noise coming from the beltway. Kucinich did a good job of bucking his party and pursuing his own agenda regardless of leadership. We are sad to see him go.

    Oh, and for those who said they wanted to donate? Yes please! https://secure.piryx.com/donate/FnTy7rRg/Campaign-for-Primary-Accountability/

  • insyder||

    who is corie whalen?

  • ||

    Term limits and have congress meet every other year.

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    A little meaning


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