Despite their prior criticism, Democratic strategists are following Republicans into the forum of undisclosed political donations, engaging in an arms race of-sorts to drum up more outside-party cash than their opponents in 2012.
The change in strategy comes at the amusement of conservatives, who out-gunned Democrats in political donations during the 2010 mid-term elections. Democrats hit Republicans hard before the last election, casting their fundraising efforts — and those of their corporate allies — as an attempt to undermine American democracy with secret, possibly even foreign money.
But next year, that line will likely bite them back.
That’s because Democratic strategists have set about creating their own super political action committees and non-profit groups that can absorb unlimited donations from undisclosed benefactors. Two groups — Majority PAC, which will help elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate and American Bridge 21st Century, which will deliver opposition research to other Democratic organizations — are set to lead that charge on behalf of liberals in 2012.
On the other side is former Bush political adviser Karl Rove, whose groups — American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS — worked in tandem with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to advertise against Democrats in the last round of elections.
Together, American Crossroads and the Chamber out-spent Democrats in nearly every race they focused on, with a combined grand total approaching $70 million spent to influence American voters.
The massive influx of money into U.S. elections was thanks to a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission (FEC), which overturned nearly a century of campaign finance law that limited corporate donations and required the identity of donors be disclosed.
The Washington, D.C.-based Committee for Economic Development suggested last year that the ruling could have the effect of turning corporations into miniature political parties, leading to what one of the Center’s trustees called the eventual corruption of American democracy.
Democrats had attempted to pass a law — the DISCLOSE Act — to mitigate the effects of Citizens United, but it was opposed by conservatives and civil liberties advocates and failed to clear Congress thanks to a Republican filibuster.
Despite Democrats’ efforts to force the disclosures, the formation of groups to mirror the unofficial Republican fund raising machine will undoubtedly make politicizing the issue a tough moving forward.
The White House said last week it was still opposed to the new election rules set forth by Citizens United, and was preparing an executive order that would implement some of the provisions of the DISCLOSE Act. The order (PDF), which was still in draft form at time of this writing, would force corporations to disclose their political spending in-full if they wish to apply for federal government contracts.
Similarly, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) has filed a lawsuit against the FEC, claiming the new rules are in direct contravention to the wishes of the Congress and should be annulled before the 2012 presidential election.