In California’s redrawn 30th district, where two incumbent Democrats are fighting over the same seat, Rep. Brad Sherman has made hay out of a $10,000 donation that a California utility implicated in a pipeline explosion made to one of two super PACs backing his opponent, Rep. Howard Berman. Sherman proposed a pledge aimed at silencing outside groups, but Berman demurred.
“We’ve been prepared to sign a document which would limit the influence of outside groups in this race,” said Parke Skelton, a Sherman campaign consultant.
“Congressman Berman is not only opposed to super PACs, but he has co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United,” a Berman spokeswoman responded.
The conflict between Berman’s public opposition to super PACs and his tacit acceptance of their support underscores Congressional ambivalence, particularly among Democrats. They have promised hearings and legislation to curb unrestricted money, yet even President Barack Obama has now dispatched surrogates and Cabinet members to raise cash for a super PAC backing him.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) have solicited money for Majority PAC and House Majority PAC, two super PACs backing House and Senate Democrats. Some Senate Democrats, including Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Tim Johnson (S.D.), have also donated directly to Majority PAC from their personal leadership PACs.
“What I found unfortunate, and frankly, hypocritical, is that the other side complains about Citizens United — but when it benefits them, they are happy for it,” said GOP businessman Rob Cornilles, who partially blames a half-million dollars in spending by House Majority PAC and by the women’s PAC EMILY’s List for his January loss to now-Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D) in Oregon’s 1st district special election.
Not that Democrats are the only ones conflicted about outside spending.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has had harsh words for the conservative group FreedomWorks, which spent about $300,000 on an anti-Hatch mailing. But an apparently pro-Hatch nonprofit dubbed Freedom Path has sent out its own mailer assailing two Republicans now challenging Hatch.
Republicans, too, are rounding up super PAC funds. Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and other GOP House leaders have appeared at fundraisers in Washington, D.C., and Naples, Fla., for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC that backs House Republicans.
Some Democrats argue that GOP outside spending hands them a campaign weapon. The first TV ad put out by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who according to her campaign has faced $2.4 million in attack ads by groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads GPS, features dark, grainy images of the TV spots.
“They’re not from around here, spending millions to attack and attack,” an ominous voice intones. “But what they’re doing to Claire McCaskill is nothing compared to what their special interest agenda will do to you.”
Outside spending “will at best be a double-edged sword for Republicans,” one Democratic operative said. The same may hold true for Democrats torn between rejecting super PACs and embracing them.
Roll Call has launched a new feature, Hill Navigator, to advise congressional staffers and would-be staffers on how to manage workplace issues on Capitol Hill. Please send us your questions anything from office etiquette, to handling awkward moments, to what happens when the work life gets too personal. Submissions will be treated anonymously.