Campaign negativity, super PACs damage integrity of Republican primaries
Editor's note: This report is part of Stoganews.com's ongoing election coverage. To view the entire report, click here.
By Simran Singh, Online Contributor
The advertisement begins to play with footage of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. It follows this up with over two minutes of clips and quotes from news agencies and other politicians accusing the former of switching sides on topics and using unfair tactics to increase his wealth. And only at the end does the anti-Gingrich footage switch to the main message: a question asking Gingrich, “What will you tell us next?”—followed by the logo of the Texas representative Ron Paul’s election campaign.
Negative campaigning, or “mudslinging,” such as advertisements like these, can devastate a political campaign. However, it is a tactic that is used quite frequently, as observed during the current presidential election in our country. Contestants ran advertisements that attack both Democrats and their Republican competitors on a regular basis during the months leading up to the start of the primaries. The recent Republican presidential primaries show that such smear campaigns have become the norm rather than the exception. The race to the 2012 GOP nomination has brought about many nasty —and sometimes inaccurate—advertisements and speeches, more so than any other political race.
It is important to distinguish between the two main types of negative campaigns brought about by political opponents. Attack ads use any information that could be harmful to public perception of the rival candidate’s personal character or political position. These ads may not boost the attacker’s own stature in public eyes. Contrast ads, on the other hand, not only project the opponent in a negative light but alsohighlight the positive characteristics of the campaigner. Both seem to serve as ways for candidates to ridicule others and avoid making statements that could be used against them–but are unfair.
Experts have attributed the rise of negative campaigning to the emergence of Super Political Action Committees (PACs). Super PACs first emerged during the 2010 House of Representatives and Senate elections. A super PAC is a team that isn’t technically working for a particular specific candidate, but can raise unlimited funds and garner support for that contender. Even though they are officially independent of the candidates, their backing of a single candidate is very clear, and their impact on the final election results very tangible. In some instances, past staff members of the candidates manage these “independent” committees.
Super PACs seem to violate the spirit of traditional law, although they were legalized after a landmark judgment by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010. Even as one of the major beneficiaries of Super PAC funds, Speaker Gingrich, a leading contender for the republican nomination, has suggested that Super PAC’s are not independent of the candidates as required by law and that they at times make inaccurate claims. The secretive and underhand campaign operations can be really harmful to the sprit of true democracy. This may result in the Super PACs’ money being a more important factor in determining our next president than the candidate’s ability to lead our nation, even though a candidate’s merits should weigh more than his campaign’s wealth.
The effect that Super PAC advertising can have on election outcomes is very significant. For example, Gingrich had a sinking campaign earlier in the election season. Polls did not favor him, and personal attacks regarding his multiple marriages and alleged extramarital affairs aired by his opponents’ PAC-sponsored ads did not help his chances. However, when the “Winning our Future” Super PAC, supporting Gingrich, began using contrast ads to portray the forerunner, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, in a negative light compared to Gingrich, the latter pulled off an impressive victory in the Republican primary in South Carolina on Jan. 21.
“Winning our Future” has made recent headlines due to its brutal criticism of Romney through a short film titled “When Romney Came to Town.” The film that openly bashes the former Massachusetts governor is alleged to have serious inaccuracies. While it is heartening to note that speaker Gingrich has asked that the filmmakers revise their errors or take the film down, only time will tell how much damage it will have done before its revision.
These negative advertisements, though benefitting one contender, cannot be directly linked to the contender’s actual campaign. This leads to the beneficiary candidate not having to be accountable for the damaging claims made about other contestants. Thus, the creation of Super PACs may lead to manipulation, misleading information, corruption, and a general sense of inequality in the campaign process.
In addition, these smear campaigns may inflict damage to our core values of democracy, freedom and social responsibility. We, as the future leaders of this country, must be watchful of any political inequalities, as they will directly impact us in the near future. The only way to ensure that we reserve the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is to be aware of these tactics and prevent them from influencing our understanding of our government.
Simran Singh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.