Rich super PACs prolong flagging presidential campaigns

Julie Bykowicz
Associated Press

Washington – — Jeb Bush’s recent cancellation of advertising plans in Iowa and South Carolina was yet another cost-saving step for a down-in-the-polls presidential campaign that had already thinned its staff. If not for his flush super PAC, the Republican might be gone from the contest by now.

That group, Right to Rise, has burned through half of its $103 million — which still leaves it with about as much cash as John McCain spent during the entire 2008 GOP nominating contest.

In the 2016 race, money isn’t buying love from voters. It is, however, buying some candidates more time.

Less than a month before voting begins, the Republican field is still thick with a dozen presidential hopefuls. Super PACs are one reason why.

Like Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich are leaning heavily on these outside groups to communicate with voters. Nearly 96 percent of the money for Bush, Kasich and Christie commercials has come not from their official campaigns, but from their supportive super PACs, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media’s CMAG.

This is the second presidential campaign since super political action committees burst on the scene after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The 2010 case made it clear that donors can contribute unlimited amounts of money to groups supporting specific candidates, so long as the candidates don’t directly control the spending.

That means that at any given time a wealthy admirer of a candidate can write a huge check to a super PAC to help keep that person in front of voters, through commercials and mailings. Some super PACs, including one for Carly Fiorina, even have campaign-like voter outreach efforts such as door-knocking and publicizing events that feature the candidate.

Those super PAC investments work as an incentive against a candidate giving up too soon, however dim the prospects.

While super PACs have dumped buckets of money into politics, they’ve also helped ensure a more competitive democratic process, said Bradley Smith, a former federal elections commissioner who advocates for looser fundraising restrictions.

“The complaint used to be that the candidates would fold up before anyone even voted,” said Smith, founder and chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics. “It’s not a bad thing that’s not the case anymore.”

Bush’s super PAC Right to Rise has pumped more than $50 million into its advertising campaign, yet he remains in the single digits in most preference polls.

The group is pressing ahead. It has booked at least $24 million more in ads over the next nine weeks in 10 states, including early voting Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, CMAG shows.

Kasich, governor of Ohio, just began airing his first television ad on Tuesday, according to the campaign.

But his super PACs have been busy for months. They’ve showered New Hampshire viewers with almost $10 million worth of commercials and plans to buy more ad time.