Super PACs

Lobbying Okay; Lobbyists Not So Much

New survey data indicates Americans don't mind lobbying; they just don't like lobbyists. 

The 2014 Public Affairs Council survey shows support for lobbying has grown since 2012, despite the seeming dysfunction in Washington, DC that has led to fewer bills being passed by Congress. 

[New York Times columnist Charles Blow consulted the Library of Congress website to compare the productivity of Congress in the first 19 months of each term from the 104th Congress (1995-1996) to the 113th Congress (2013-2104). The 113th Congress has passed the fewest bills (108) of any Congress in the last two decades. Its closest rival was the 112th Congress with 110 bills.]

According to the nonpartisan Public Affairs Council, strong majorities of Americans favor lobbying to protect jobs (84 percent), open new markets (79 percent), create a level playing field (74 percent) and reduce business costs (68 percent).

Spending Big Money to Fight Big-Money Contributions

Most political action committee solicitations don't start with "Embrace the irony," but the crowd-funded Mayday Super PAC is different. It is spending big sums to rail against big-money Super PACs. 

The brainchild of liberals, big donors and Republican strategists, the Mayday PAC is an attempt to get the issue of big money in politics on the table as a discussion topic in the upcoming general election and beyond. 

This isn't civil disobedience to fight injustice. This is an all-out attempt to spend money to fight money. Think of it as the anti-Koch brothers PAC.

The Mayday ad campaign is scheduled to launch next week in Iowa and New Hampshire. The campaign in New Hampshire will support Jim Rubens, a former GOP state senator, in a Republican primary against transplanted former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown in the Granite State's upcoming GOP primary. In Iowa, Mayday is backing Staci Appel, a Democrat, for an open congressional seat. 

Mayday is aligned with another new organization, Every Voice, that will focus on state races, with the same overall message, but with a different emphasis on raising money at the grassroots level from small donors to offset big-donor giving.

Deserting the Middle Ground

The ideological middle in Congress is an endangered species. And, contrary to popular belief, it may not be the fault of politicians.

Many have speculated that congressional redistricting, which occurs every 10 years, is a major culprit. As the theory goes, districts are made politically safer for incumbents, which means they cater more to the majority and neglect the minority.

However, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post says data may not support that theory. He cites the work of a trio of political science professors who wrote a paper titled, "Does Gerrymandering Cause Polarization?" Their answer is "no."

Political Nanotargeting

Many people think of politics as a lot of hot air. It turns out politics may be more like rocket science.

Since the 2004 George W. Bush presidential campaign, Republican and Democratic political strategists have been using nanotargeting to reach and activate their political bases. To target ads, operatives pore over voting histories, housing values, recreational preferences, automobile ownership, TV viewership as well as favorite restaurants, drinks and websites.

Who knew that your zest for Arby's or the number of bedrooms in your home could drop hints about your political leanings?

In a recent piece in The New York Times, Thomas Edsall, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, probes this intensifying segmentation — and polarization — of the American electorate. Here are some tips Edsall offers in spotting stereotypical Republicans and Democrats:

  • Someone who reads The Washington Post or watches the Comedy Channel is more likely to be a Democrat. People who reads The Wall Street Journal or watches Country Music Television or the Golf Channel are probably Republicans.

  • Among the top 10 favorite TV shows of Republicans are "The Office," "The Big Bang Theory," "Desperate Housewives" and "The Biggest Loser."  Democrats prefer "Late Show with David Letterman," "PBS NewsHour," "House of Payne" and "60 Minutes."

  • McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's appeal to the political middle. You can spot the Republicans eating at Macaroni Grill, Outback Steakhouse, Arby's and Chick-fil-A, while the Democrats chow down at Popeye's, Dunkin' Donuts and Chuck E. Cheese.

  • The Democratic drinks of choice are cognac or Budweiser. Republicans favor light beers, Guinness and scotch.

  • Don't look for GOP presidential ads on "30 Rock" or Democratic ads on professional football games this fall.

Clearly these are generalized views of American political sympathies. But they are the basis for making critical, make-or-break advertising choices. As Edsall notes, "Incremental shifts among key constituencies — Hispanics, single white working class women and private-sector unionized employees — can be decisive."

Colbert: Seriously Funny

Faux news shows have become so prevalent that a lot of people actually depend on them for information, opinions and distortions. Conveniently, they also get a good laugh when they view shows such as The Colbert Report.

But as The New York Times Magazine noted in its weekend edition, Stephen Colbert is more than funny when it comes to pointing out the foibles of federal election laws; he is seriously funny.

Colbert, with the assistance of a former Federal Elections Commission chairman, has created what is known as a Super PAC and called it Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of "soft money" — money contributed directly by corporations or unions — to support or oppose candidates, as long as they don't coordinate with the benefitting campaigns. What coordination actually means isn't clearly spelled out.

Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow is more than a comedic parody, unlike Colbert's effort in the 2008 election to get on the ballot in South Carolina as a presidential candidate. His Super Pac is real. It has 170,000 names on its database, 30,000 of whom have contributed to the Super PAC. "This is 100 percent legal and at least 10 percent ethical," Colbert says.

The Super PAC has done such oddball things as stage a TV ad campaign in Iowa to cast caucus votes for Rick "Parry," a word play off the real name of real GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry.

Even stranger, Colbert's Super PAC pitched South Carolina Republicans on the idea of the naming rights of its primary election – "The Stephen Colbert Super PAC South Carolina Primary." Ha ha, you say. But South Carolina Republicans actually considered the $400,000 offer. The idea got sidetracked by a South Carolina court, but Democrats in the Palmetto State apparently considered a sweetened $500,000 proposal to appeal the rebuff to a higher court.