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SANTA FE — Super PACs have overwhelmed the political scene this year. Their presence is gigantic. It takes 10 million $10 contributions to equal the hundreds of millions that one high roller drops in.
During the presidential primary nearly every candidate had a personal billionaire on hand for any help that might be needed. And the way these billionaires sidled up to the candidate of their choice — even appearing on stage with them — it seemed obvious that the rule about not coordinating with the candidate’s campaign was a complete joke.
Comedy Channel program hosts Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart had a slapstick routine for several programs in which Colbert formed a Super PAC staffed by volunteers from Stewart’s office, which was just down the hall in the same building.
Stewart, as a candidate, supposedly wanted to follow the rules and not do any coordinating. But that was rich guy Colbert’s total plan. So Colbert chased Stewart all over the building with doors slamming and Stewart screaming for help.
Sadly, Colbert raised over $1 million for his Super PAC simply by making a joking request for funds one night. The donations didn’t cause Colbert any paper work since names of Super PAC contributors are secret.
The ongoing routine was amusing to many of us. We knew it was exaggerated but also figured there was some truth to it. We’ve seen hints of that sort of activity in New Mexico.
But the Los Angeles Times came up with an interesting slant on the subject this past weekend. An article talked about the problems Super PACs were causing the Mitt Romney campaign.
Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by these independent groups ripping up President Barack Obama. But the Romney campaign knows that what it needs to do now is to convince voters that Mitt Romney will make the best president.
But promoting Romney is not the aim of independent expenditure groups such as Super PACs. Billionaires Charles and David Koch, the guys behind Americans for Prosperity, which spent $18 million on media just last month, say they aren’t interested in what is best for the Romney campaign. They are out to promote their own interests.
The Times article says 54 percent of the anti-Obama or pro-Romney ads we see are from outside groups while only 10 percent of Obama’s ads are from outside groups.
This difference means that the Obama campaign can coordinate its ad campaign much more effectively than can the Romney campaign, which has to keep guessing what its helpers will do and then fill in the gaps.
The number of ads seen nationally by and about the two candidates are about equal but the Obama campaign is more able to have discipline in executing an overall strategy.
The Romney camp says its most important issue definitely is the economy. Polls show that is where the public interest lies. But Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS is running ads on healthcare.
The Republican Jewish Coalition is attacking the president about his policies relating to Israel. And the Koch brothers are talking about free-market deals.
Another Romney disadvantage identified by the Times article is the federal law that requires TV stations to offer candidates the lowest available rate for airtime. That deal is not available to political parties and outside groups.
As available airtime shrinks in key states and prices rise, candidate campaign dollars are going a lot further than those from independent groups.
This presidential campaign, likely more than any other in history, boils down to the huge difference between big money and little. President Obama has a Super PAC. It brings in some money but not a big portion of his total. That comes from hundreds of thousands of little donations.
The Romney campaign’s decision to go after big donors is turning out to have some unexpected consequences. Expect to see an effort soon to extend low-cost ads to Super PACs.
Jay Miller is a syndicated columnist based in Santa Fe.