Democrats Soft Pedaling Super PAC, Citizens United Opposition

The DNC's tonal shift on Citizen's United comes as Democrats are trying to kick their super PAC efforts into gear.

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Democrats may not like Citizens United or "super PACs," but they're not nearly as vocal about it as they used to be. One little noticed piece of evidence that they're soft pedaling the issue can be found (or not) on the Democratic National Committee's website, which has quietly dropped the topics from its list of "Issues" it touts.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the tonal shift comes as Democrats are trying to kick their super PAC efforts into gear.

[Check out our collection of political cartoons on super PACs.]

Most pages on the DNC's website, www.democrats.org, have a series of drop down menus running along the top, including one touting "Issues." That list includes a dozen topics, from "Civil Rights" to "Jobs and the Economy" to "Open Government" to "Voting Rights." Under none of those topics can you find anything related to Citizens or super PACs. This was not always the case. Thanks to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, we can recall a time (last July is the latest date it has stored) when the DNC's website had a "What We Stand For" drop-down menu which included a baker's dozen set of issues, including "Fair Elections." It read, in part:

For too long, the voices of ordinary Americans were drowned out by the clamor of special interests and the influence of a privileged few in Washington. Democrats are committed to reining in the power of special interests and ensuring free and fair elections in which every American has a voice. Now, at a time when millions of Americans are struggling to get by, corporations are poised to unleash millions of dollars in secret, special-interest advertising intended to tip the balance in elections.

A recent Supreme Court decision overturned decades of election law, dealing a huge blow to efforts to rein in the influence of corporate money on elections. …

When I reached out to DNC Press Secretary Melanie Roussell on why Citizens United/Super PACs are no longer touted issues, she E-mailed back that, "We shuffled things around as part of our site update but it is still on the site: http://democrats.org/issues/fair_elections. We're as committed to fair elections and mitigating the corrosive effects of the Citizen United decision as we've ever been, despite Republicans standing in the way of sensible efforts like the Disclose Act."

[Read Robert Schlesinger: Republicans Support 'Disclose Act' ... Next Year]

The "Fair Elections" issue page does indeed remain on the site, tweaked slightly from its earlier incarnation. (The bit about the "voices of ordinary Americans" being drowned out by the "clamor of special interests" is gone, for example, and the villainous Karl Rove now stands beside corporations as "unleashing hundreds of millions of dollars of special interest advertising.")

All that said, however, it's not clear how anyone would find the DNC's "Fair Elections" page if they didn't already have the URL. The page may still live on the DNC's site, but it's an orphan, without any way of anyone finding it.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Are Super PACs Harming U.S. Politics?]

This is in keeping with a broader Democratic move to tamp down the aggressive rhetoric around the issue. Remember the 2010 State of the Union when Obama criticized the Supreme Court for the Citizen's United decision and asked Congress to "pass a bill that helps right this wrong"? As the Huffington Post reported last month:

That critical language continued through the 2010 election year, but has fallen largely silent since. … Criticism of unlimited and secret money from Obama has decreased markedly this year. Some noted the lack of a statement on Citizens United in his State of the Union. Failing to include any comment on the expected flood of independent group spending in the 2012 election was followed quickly by the Obama campaign's endorsement of an unlimited money super PAC -- Priorities USA Action -- organized on the president's behalf by a former White House aide to help him win reelection.

And therein may lie the rub. Not unreasonably Team Obama decided that rather than unilaterally disarming super PACs, they too needed a super PAC to match the fundraising behemoths that have sprouted up on the GOP side. Enter Priorities USA Action. One supposes that it's kind of hard to rail against super PAC contributors as clamoring special interests who drown out the voices of ordinary Americans and then turn around and ask them for money.

This might also be related to the relative problems that Priorities USA Action has run into so far, raising a paltry $9 million thus far, which barely exceeds the $8.3 million raised by the pro-Santorum Red, White & Blue PAC, and is dwarfed by the Newt Gingrich-allied Winning Our Future ($23.9 million), the Karl Rove-driven American Crossroads ($28 million), and the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future (almost $52 million). (Of course those figures are a counterbalance to the hard dollars raised by the campaigns themselves, with Obama pulling in nearly $192 million as compared to Romney's near $87 million).

  • Mort Zuckerman: No Easy Solutions for Big Money in Politics
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