I wrote something near the end of my recent post about Lt. Gov. Molly Gray’s negative campaigning that bears closer attention. Gray has been attacking her primary opponent, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, for maybe accepting, or inviting, or leaving the door open to Super PAC spending in the campaign.
Her attacks are greatly exaggerated, and I hope to God they don’t pay off in the August primary. (I’m not against Gray as a candidate, I’m just against the negative bullshit.) But there may be knock-on effects for future Vermont Democratic campaigns. Gray is poisoning the well regarding Super PACs and, I’m sorry, but in our current campaign finance landscape, we can’t live without them. As I wrote previously,
Progressive Super PACs have been a necessary addition to the political armory as a counterbalance to all the conservative Super PACs that litter the post-Citizens United landscape. To forswear all Super PAC money is to disarm yourself in the middle of a gunfight.
Super PACs were created after a 2010 court ruling. In the words of OpenSecrets.org, “Super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.” Super PACs cannot donate directly to candidates or coordinate in any way with candidates.
After that court ruling, a whole bunch of conservative Super PACs sprung into being. They threatened to throw our entire political system off kilter through the sheer power of virtually unlimited money.
Then, Democratic and progressive groups started organizing their own Super PACs. They managed to reset the balance — at the cost of setting fire to colossal amounts of cash.
And Molly Gray wants to give up that advantage for the short-term sake of her political fortunes.
Gray conflates all Super PACs with “dark money” and implies that they are inherently evil. That’s not true. A wide variety of liberal and progressive organizations run Super PACs. Planned Parenthood has one, for Pete’s sake. Labor unions have them, as noted above. LGBTQ advocacy groups have them. Are they evil?
Now, I don’t like Super PACs, and I’d much rather get all the money out of politics. But we don’t live in that world. Unless or until that 2010 court ruling is overturned, we will need Super PACs. If we don’t have them on our side, we’ll be Bambi facing Godzilla.
This doesn’t matter to Gray, or to Balint. They’re doing fine without Super PAC support, and whoever wins in August will have no trouble defeating Anya Tynio or Ericka Redic in November.
But other Democrats in other races may face mountains of conservative money. And if they feel constrained to deny Super PAC support because Molly Gray made the concept seem inherently toxic, their chances of winning are greatly diminished.
Speaking to liberals and progressives: Do you want to tie the hands of Super PACs run by Planned Parenthood and LGBTQ groups and labor unions, while big conservative organizations submerge us all in a flood of money?
Maybe you do out of some misplaced sense of moral superiority. But I sure as hell don’t, and I hope that Gray’s campaign tactic doesn’t prevent other Democratic candidates from welcoming Super PAC spending where it’s needed.