Trevor Potter is an unlikely repeat guest for a late-night comedy show. As the former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, the courtly Washington lawyer is a leading expert on campaign finance law — not the kind of material that generates a lot of laughs.Well, I kind of like all the ads actually.
So the fact that he's appeared seven times on "The Colbert Report" in the last year, helping host Stephen Colbert set up his own "super PAC" as part of a mischievous political parody, underscores an unexpected development in the 2012 presidential race:
Super PACs have seized the zeitgeist.
An indirect outgrowth of the Supreme Court ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case, the independent political groups have mushroomed in the last year. They are now dominating not just the action in key primary states such as South Carolina, but the political conversation. In the last month, the number of Google searches for the term "super PAC" was about five times higher than the last year's monthly average.
Spending by such organizations has exceeded $27 million already this year, according to the FEC, much of it going to biting television ads. Pummeled by super PACs aligned with their rivals, the Republican presidential contenders are now loudly denouncing their influence.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in recent days that all of the candidates wished the outside organizations would disappear and that their outsized sway was "a very bad idea."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced to disavow an error-riddled documentary aired by a super PAC run by his former aides, while he and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have had to defend themselves against attacks by Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC. At a campaign stop in Columbia, S.C., this week, Santorum accused Romney of sending "his henchmen" to spread disinformation.
The complaints mark a sharp turnabout for Republicans, who had largely heralded the Citizens United decision, which allowed unlimited corporate and union spending on campaigns. (The campaigns themselves remain under strict fundraising limits.)
The candidates are not opposed to unlimited fundraising but, once confronted with how the decision is playing out, have blamed one another, not the court.
More at Washington Post, "Obama ‘destroys’ Romney in new pro-Gingrich ad."