Power of money in politics

Power of money in politics

Posted: Monday, January 16, 2012 7:00 pm

By DOUGLAS COHN and ELEANOR CLIFT WASHINGTON — Money, money, money makes the polls go around, and money is pouring into South Carolina thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ill-conceived decision in the Citizens United case that eliminated limits to political action committee (PAC) spending. South Carolina already has a well-deserved reputation for hardball politics, but thanks to a business-friendly environment that attracts foreign investment, the state is far more progressive than it was even four years ago. Mitt Romney finished fourth in the Republican field in 2008, but when primary voters go to the polls in South Carolina later this month, Romney is expected either to win outright or perhaps battle his closest rivals, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul for a place in the winner’s circle. The question is whether or not the state’s voters can still be swayed by attack ads because those ads are already inundating every media market in the state. Romney goes into South Carolina with momentum from New Hampshire. He ended up with a better-than-expected 39 percent of the vote, beating back eleventh-hour attacks from rival candidates on his record as a job creator when he headed the private equity firm, Bain Capital. Those attacks may gain more traction in South Carolina because the state is a magnet for manufacturing, and the workers employed in the factories and plants that dot the state have the kind of jobs that are the first to go when the money men cut a deal. Romney chided “desperate Republicans” for attacking him and putting capitalism on trial, and conservative talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity called on the GOP field to cease and desist. Texas Governor Rick Perry had been calling Romney a “vulture capitalist,” and a Super Pac aligned with Gingrich geared up to spend $3.4 million on radio and TV ads attacking Romney in South Carolina. A poll taken in the state the day after Romney won New Hampshire showed Gingrich just two points behind Romney, 21 percent to 23 percent. The poll was conducted for The Augusta Chronicle and The Savannah Morning News, Georgia-based newspapers with a particular interest in tracking Gingrich’s appeal as a hometown candidate. Gingrich is not a native Southerner (he was born in Harrisburg, Penn.), but has been playing up his Southern roots going into South Carolina. Gingrich is embarked on doing to Romney what Romney did to him in Iowa, which is to launch a barrage of negative ads that will take the frontrunner down in the polls. The difference is that Romney was able to pretty much destroy Gingrich without getting the blame for going negative. A Super Pac aligned with Romney and run by former Romney aides and allies, “Restore Our Future,” spent more than $4 million in Iowa highlighting Gingrich’s checkered past. Romney’s insistence that he had nothing to do with it infuriated Gingrich, who has been candid about wanting his revenge. When Las Vegas casino operator, Sheldon Adelson, a longtime Gingrich backer, stepped forward to bankroll the Gingrich-aligned Super PAC, “Winning Our Future,” Gingrich’s fingerprints were all over it. A year ago in his State of the Union address, President Obama warned that the Citizens United ruling would “open the floodgates for special interests,” and that is being played out in real time in the GOP primaries. Obama is unlikely to raise the issue when he stands before Congress on January 24th for this year’s SOU since he is now embarked on a reelection campaign that demands big bucks. With Republican-aligned groups aggressively building their bank account for the months ahead, Obama and the Democrats have no choice really but to join the arms race. South Carolina for now is all about the Republicans, and how much money they can spend to take down each other, but it’s really about the kind of politics we want as a country, and whether elected office should go to the highest bidder. Supreme Court justices, are you watching? Published in The Messenger 1.16.12

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