Fight Club Politics

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Besides the super-covered Florida primary, yesterday also marked a smaller media darling: the reporting deadline for 2011 campaign contributions at the Federal Elections Commission. Today’s New York Times includes a helpful “Who’s Financing the Super PACs?” table that lists the names of those individuals who contributed over $25,000 to each of the candidates’ super PACs.

Unlike candidates, who can accept only $2,500 per donor, there is no limit on super PAC donations from individuals and corporations — they can spend unlimited amounts of cash on the candidate of their choice. And have they ever: Talking Points Memo’s Evan McMorris-Santoro wrote over the weekend that Romney and his “Restore Our Future” super PAC outspent Newt 5 to 1 in Florida:

“According to my Democratic source, the total ad spending through Tuesday in Florida by the Romney campaign and its allied super PAC, Restore Our Future, is $15,340,000. The total spending for Gingrich’s campaign and his super PAC, Winning Our Future, is $3,390,000.”

And make no mistake, these ads are more Fight Club than debate club.

According to The New York Times Caucus blog, 92 percent of the ads in the Florida primary were negative. Increasingly, the presidential campaign is shaping up to be a Tyler Durden-like match-up in which the candidates slug it out in ads while denying they have anything to do with them.

(The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about fight club.)

Despite rules that candidates and super PACs cannot communicate or coordinate with each other, most super PACs are run by former campaign staffers. And as Elizabeth Drew wrote recently in an excellent piece in The New York Review of Books:

“The connections between the candidates and the Super PACs supporting them aren’t very well hidden. Romney’s former national political director, Carl Forti, famous for his years of efforts to get around limits on outside spending, set up the pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future. Romney appeared at a fund-raising event for the Super PAC and attended a private dinner with a small group of its top donors. Restore Our Future paid an estimated $4 million for ads run in Iowa attacking Newt Gingrich just when he appeared to be a threat to Romney there.

In debates in New Hampshire, both Gingrich and Romney disavowed any connection with ads by Super PACs set up on their behalf; and then they went on to recite just what was in those ads.”

Unless the negative onslaught proves ineffective with voters, we may indeed be in for the “bloodiest campaign ever,” as predicted by Joe Hagan in last week’s New York magazine cover article that featured a beaten-up and bandaged Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

I sure hope he’s wrong, because as those of you who remember Fight Club know, the ending’s not pretty.

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