Editorial: Fight Money With Money — Rubens Bucks a Political Trend

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Embrace the irony,’’says the Mayday super PAC, which is battling the influence of big money in elections with — here comes the irony — big money. That is something to get your head around, a little reminiscent of the Vietnam-era declaration that a village had to be destroyed in order to save it.

But there’s fertile ground for irony in the political scene, which is flooded with cash thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which eliminated limits on independent political spending on behalf of candidates. In certain swing states like New Hampshire, the telephones have never stopped ringing since, with faux polling and Obamacare robo calls, while attack ads on the state’s major television station, WMUR, make viewers scramble for the mute button on the remote.

Mayday, founded by a Harvard Law School professor with ties to Silicon Valley and a former adviser to President George W. Bush, announced last month that it would spend $2 million to back Jim Rubens in his Republican primary race against front-runner Scott Brown and Bob Smith for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire. Mayday is backing Rubens because he supports campaign finance reform. A New York Times story noted that he favors giving voters a $50 tax rebate check every two years to be spent on candidate contributions. He has also called for a searchable database of contributions, and told the Concord Monitor, “Voters from across the spectrum are fed up with career politicians who go to work collecting campaign cash rather than solving the nation’s problems.”

Rubens is correct about the public’s disgust with the money virus that has infected our democracy. The cure won’t be easy, since, as the Times noted, Republican leaders such as Sen. Mitch McConnell and conservative legal scholars “deeply oppose’’ proposals that would restrict money in campaigns, “arguing that they are an infringement on free speech and healthy political competition.” Healthy wasn’t meant ironically there, it would seem.

Early polls showed Rubens trailing Brown by a wide margin, and national observers seem to take Brown vs. U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen as a November certainty, but we have seen primary polling fail badly in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, the big money is flowing. Public Citizen recently cited a March report that said $1.5 million had already been spent by outside groups targeting Shaheen. Karl Rove’s American Crossroads PAC reportedly had bought $650,000 in ads, and the Koch Bros.-backed Americans for Prosperity put $500,000 into anti-Shaheen ads. Democratic groups had burned through $350,000 targeting Brown.

For those disheartened about the effect of big money, there is the consolation that it doesn’t always rule the day. Polls are showing Brown losing ground in a match-up with Shaheen, so much so that Nate Silver, the stats guru who was highly accurate in calling the 2012 presidential election, gives Brown just a 10 percent chance of unseating Shaheen.

Of course, Rubens may have something to say about Brown’s chances, if Mayday’s money talks persuasively.

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