Share this article

print logo

Citizens United ruling has backfired on GOP

In politics, as in life, be careful what you ask for.

The ultra-right resented the century-old laws that barred corporations from making unlimited gifts to candidates.

So a U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts, recruited in part by the conservative Federalist Society, handed the 1 percent the notorious Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling. It said corporations are, like people, entitled to "free speech" and whose campaign money can't be tied down by law.

This is the first presidential primary run since that 2010 decree. Donors are heaving money into primaries at up to $5 million a pop, according to data published by the Sunlight Foundation. Under the old rules, givers were limited to $10,000 a cycle.

Instead of the control they sought, the super-rich and Citizens United have unleashed a bruising perpetual Republican primary that has turned a promising GOP presidential season into a debacle.

For Democratic President Obama, plagued by unemployment rates of 8 percent plus and an energy policy flown into the wilderness, the primary season is a dream come true.

Obama's worst fear was needing to survive a long struggle against Mitt Romney, a venture capitalist who had the reputation as a moderate former governor of Massachusetts, and who in 1994 gave Sen. Ted Kennedy his only serious challenge at the polls. That at least was the Romney you saw before the most bitter Republican primary in a century.

Democrats are now relishing taking on a Republican field led in turns by a disassembled Romney; a defeated Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum, whom many see as an eerie sectarian extremist; and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, possibly the most ethically challenged presidential candidate in history. Gingrich left the House under a low-hanging cloud seeded by charges he manipulated campaign money, and played games with the IRS. Now the FEC is probing him again for possibly using his new campaign fund for personal expenses.

Super PACs have already poured more than $57 million into the primary campaign. Sudden, precipitous gifts from zillionaires are the only way Santorum and Gingrich have been able to stay in the race. Romney's best results came in states where his super PAC cash cascaded in. Romney has already spent $25 million, with another $16 million in hand, according to Sunlight.

Even so, super PAC campaigning has barely started. There are more than 350 of them, including Obama's Priorities USA, which spent about $390,00 -- all against Romney.

In the meantime, Romney segued from a moderate who might have appealed to independents in the general election to a right-winger in order to cope with Gingrich's and Santorum's eccentric posturing, and manipulation of the tea party by Washington lobbyists. This has made Romney much easier prey for Obama.

The mega-rich, with their radical agenda of social, or wedge, issues, embraced super PAC campaigning oblivious to the fact that the Republican Party is trending into a stagnant or shrinking force in politics.

Pew Research Center data show only 28 percent identify themselves as Republican voters, with Democrats and Independents tied at 34 percent.

Pew's numbers also show that the more congressional Republicans hug themes of the ultra-right embraced by Romney, Gingrich and Santorum, the lower they slip in public esteem. Pew's Andrew Kohut last week said some of the worst erosion of voter support is in House districts held by the 60 members of the Republican Tea Party Caucus.

At the moment, Santorum, who seems like a pale imitation of the "Church Lady" on "Saturday Night Live," leads the GOP field. How would Republicans draw independents and women to a federal ticket led by him?