A little over a year ago, in September 2010, Senate Republicans succeeded in blocking the DISCLOSE Act, a measure that would have added some transparency to the new campaign finance free-for-all unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Citizens United allowed outside interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of candidates for office. The DISCLOSE Act was an attempt to make sure that the sources of that money, at least, were made public.
After the DISCLOSE Act failed, however, a new creature in American politics began to grow: Super PACs, organizations that can spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of a candidate without revealing where that money comes from. Super PACS and undisclosed money played a big role in the 2010 elections, which we documented in our report Citizens Blindsided: Corporate Money in the 2010 Elections and America’s New Shadow Democracy. Undisclosed spending promises to be an unavoidable force in 2012, as well. In the lead-up to today’s Iowa caucuses alone, outside groups have spent an estimated $12.5 million in support of or opposing presidential candidates. A Super PAC run by former aides to Mitt Romney is widely credited for helping to take down Newt Gingrich in the weeks leading up to the caucuses.
But as Super PACs begin to take over elections, some prominent Republicans are beginning to sour on them. Mitt Romney, who has been the biggest beneficiary of Super PAC cash so far in the GOP primaries, has called their rise a “disaster.” Today, Mike Huckabee, who recently teamed up with Citizens United itself for a film promoting “fetal personhood” laws, called the rise of unaccountable Super PACs “One of the worst things that ever happened in American politics.”
It’s easy for Romney to bash Super PACs while continuing to benefit from their largesse and for Huckabee to do the same while working with the group largely responsible for their new influence. But will Republican leaders like Romney and Huckabee actually support greater disclosure laws, like the DISCLOSE Act, that would bring Super PACs out into the open?
The fight in Iowa has exposed the significant role that undisclosed and unaccountable money will play in the leadup to 2012. The Republican candidates and leaders like Huckabee should be asked if they like the new status quo, and if not what they would do to change it.