In 2008, as volunteers for the Obama campaign, CabinGirl and I went down to Obama headquarters and got a walk sheet on election day. We were assigned to Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and we went out and knocked on the doors of registered Democrats to make sure they had voted or knew where to vote. While we were doing that, we kept tripping over members of the SEIU who were canvassing the same neighborhoods, and for the same purpose. We were needlessly duplicating our efforts and annoying voters at the same time. The problem was created because the Obama campaign couldn’t coordinate with the unions. This year, Republicans are having the same problem on steroids with the Super PACs. Mitt Romney has a traditional campaign. Ron Paul has a hybrid campaign that resembles an underfunded traditional campaign. Santorum and Gingrich are running Super PAC campaigns.
The super PAC backing Santorum’s presidential campaign, Red White and Blue Fund, has reported spending more than $340,000 on a phone-banking operation it started during the South Carolina primary. It’s placed 1.5 million so-called “voter identification” calls in Florida, and is also targeting Florida voters with three direct mail pieces, touting him as – among other things – “the right choice for Florida Republicans.” And it’s planning to release a memo this week laying out a path through which Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who’s trailing Romney and Gingrich in polls, can compete for the nomination — precisely the kind of thing that campaigns often do to try to influence media coverage.
But the super PAC supporting Gingrich, Winning Our Future, has perhaps the most ambitious organizing plans. While it’s only reported spending about $240,000 on phone banking – a tiny fraction of the $6 million it’s spent mostly on ads attacking Romney – it has trumpeted its intention to build a shadow campaign of sorts to boost the former House Speaker. It plans to set up field operations and hire state directors in Florida, Nevada, Minnesota, Arizona and California, and has begun purchasing voter files and courting the state operations built by the now-aborted presidential campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
These Super PACs are moving beyond airing negative advertisements to doing the traditional work of political campaigns, but they are not legally allowed to coordinate with the real political campaigns. When they’re buying ads, they can see from public records where the real campaigns are spending money and then fill in the gaps. But they can’t see where the campaigns are sending direct mail or canvassing. They can’t share feedback from the canvassing campaigns, which would allow them to identify households that should not be visited again.
Even worse, from a political coordinator’s point of view, these Super PACs can’t attract volunteers, so they have to pay for canvassers. This produces door-knockers who are untrained and have no real commitment to the candidate. It’s not only horribly wasteful and inefficient, it is also as likely to alienate voters as to attract them. Voters are getting too much contact, and it’s not quality contact. It’s probably better than nothing, but only barely so.
I need to go back and read the majority decision in Citizens United so I can mock their reasoning. I wonder what they think now that they can see a campaign like Gingrich’s which has been outsourced almost completely to an unaccountable Super PAC.