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Campaign finance

Brian Kaneb | Friday, November 16, 2012

Campaign finance reform has long been a controversial issue, but its impact on elections has become increasingly clear in recent years. Supporters of the two major presidential candidates were set to spend at least 76 percent more in 2012 than in 2008. Whereas it was once an impressive feat for the campaigns to get their hands on $1 billion just four years ago, FEC reports indicate they are bound to break the $2 billion barrier this time around.
President Obama even used his 2010 State of the Union address to scold the Supreme Court Justices for their role in Citizens United. All this points to the need for the government to reign in what is commonly called ‘outside spending,’ and more specifically ‘Super PACs.’ The Citizens United decision allowed these groups to use unlimited funds to push for political causes, provided they do not coordinate with the actual candidates in the race.
Of course campaign finance reform is a politically charged subject, so some may be suspicious of the motives behind my conclusion. Republicans, for example, probably find it nearly instinctive to oppose more stringent campaign finance regulations. This makes sense considering conservative Super PACs outspent liberal Super PACs by an impressive $269 million during the past two elections cycles. While this may appear to give Republicans an advantage on the surface, in reality they would benefit from outside spending losing much of its influence over elections. The Republican Party took the country by storm during the 2010 midterm election, but it learned that a hands-off approach to campaign finance cannot guarantee victory. The influx of outside spending was unable to either gain them a majority in the Senate or win them the presidency.
Though there are countless reasons behind the Party’s failure this past week, the lack of cohesiveness amongst conservatives certainly did not help. Conservative Super PACs deserve much of the blame for this. Their omnipresent role in the election – it was tough to turn on the TV without seeing negative ads this past month – only served to associate them with Mitt Romney and the other Republicans in the eyes of the average voter. It is thus no surprise when Karl Rove, whose group American Crossroads raised more than $100 million for Republicans in 2012, comes across as the unofficial spokesman of the Party. This is not necessarily an issue – Rove has won elections before – but it does become a problem when others want similar roles.
After all, what happens when dozens of powerful individuals form SuperPACs? They make use of different strategies because each one believes his/her approach will be remembered by history for winning the elections. This left voters confused about the direction of the Republican Party when they went to the polls, and certainly played a roll in GOP’s loss.
Republicans were uncharacteristically decentralized this past election cycle, and should realize that even outside spending has a tipping point.

Brian Kaneb is a junior studying political science. He can be reached at bkaneb1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.