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National Editorial & Columnists

So far, Super PACs are less than impressive

Money can’t always buy elective office

Money can’t buy you love, and apparently, it also can’t always buy a congressional seat in Illinois.

The 2012 election will be remembered for many things, including being the first Super PAC election. This is the first election influenced by the Supreme Court decision that allowed huge Political Action Committees, or Super PACs, and other groups to spend unlimited funds on elections.

And spend they did. More than $45 million was spent on Illinois congressional races. That’s more than any other state but California, and it’s about the same amount that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a huge campaign spender, spent in two gubernatorial elections.

But about 60 percent of that money went for losing candidates, as Democrats swept nearly all of the congressional races.

Super PAC money isn’t just a Republican thing, however. In many races, spending by the committees was significant on both sides. And it’s clear that a certain amount of Super PAC money is necessary to compete.

“People with money beat people without money, but the person with the most money doesn’t always win,” Kent Redfield, a campaign finance expert at the University of Illinois at Springfield, told The Associated Press. “Getting outspent 2 to 1 isn’t fatal if your 1 is big enough.”

Republican Rodney Davis, who defeated Democrat David Gill in the race for the Illinois 13th District House seat, proved to be the exception in this election. According to the Sunlight Foundation, a group that closely follows Super PAC spending, Davis received $118,395 in support from the Super PACs and nearly $3.7 million was spent opposing Gill. Gill received $58,785 in support, and a little more than $3 million was spent opposing Davis.

That’s another aspect of the Super PAC money; the majority of it is spent being negative.

These independent Super PACs can spend unlimited money, but their campaigns cannot be coordinated with the candidate. Candidates can’t afford to repudiate the efforts of the Super PACs. It would be political suicide to refuse such help when your opponent’s supporters are flooding the airwaves.

But many of the TV commercials funded by those committees do little to aid democracy. Many are inaccurate, and quite a few are childish. Almost all of them are an insult to the voter’s intelligence.

Across the nation, nearly two-thirds of Super PAC spending went to losing candidates.

Maybe that’s a glimmer of hope. Although it’s hard to base any conclusions on one election season, let’s hope the Super PAC results indicate negative, insulting and inaccurate campaign ads aren’t as effective as Super PAC managers believed.

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