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Super Pacs and the Rise of the Non Campaign

Super PACs are a dream for the sort of person who likes being a political worker but hates the candidates: it will soon be possible to run a campaign without dealing with an actual contender.

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Before Rick Perry’s campaign was a campaign — way back, you know, three months ago, when the governor was busy telling everyone that he wasn’t going to run for national office — talk of Super PACs and the Citizens United case was all about how easy it would be for corporations to donate money to campaigns.

Now it’s clear they don’t need the campaigns at all.

It’s a dream for the sort of person who likes being a political worker but hates the candidates. And the dream is coming true. It will soon be possible to run a campaign without dealing with candidates or their spouses and families. Maybe not this cycle, but soon.

The dreamy part has to do with consultants going to work at 9 a.m. and getting out by 5 p.m. to go home and coach soccer like parents who aren’t in politics. No more banquets of pizza and Red Bull. No debate prep. No trips to those early primary states that are smaller than Texas counties. No white papers on boring issues. Fewer calls from the ankle-biters in the news media. None of the real or manufactured drama of a political campaign.

It could be a dream, too, for the candidates. Much of the money race will be offloaded to political action committees. Dialing for dollars will be someone else’s hated chore. They can focus on meeting people and talking and spreading ideas and kissing babies.

The pieces are falling into place. Big donors — corporations, unions and wealthy humans — can give money, spend it, form messages, buy advertising, trash their enemies, help their favorites, all without asking a candidate worried about a political reputation. Much of the money doesn’t even have to be reported.

The only real rule is that the campaigns and the moneyed PACs can’t work together. They can’t conduct a conspiracy to try to steal an election.

What’s more, they don’t have to. What if a multimillion-dollar Super PAC were organized and operated by people so close to the candidate that no communication was necessary?

Look at Make Us Great Again. Started by Mike Toomey, an Austin lobbyist, and G. Brint Ryan, a Dallas tax consultant and donor to Perry, it has a $55 million target budget, a stated goal of promoting Perry’s candidacy and an interesting initial message for donors: don’t give to the other Perry PACs, because we’re the genuine item.

What’s a donor to think? Toomey and Perry have been running in parallel since they were both State House members back in 1985. Toomey took a couple of years off from his lobby business to be Perry’s chief of staff. He did the legal work on a land sale for the governor. He owns an island in New Hampshire with David Carney, the governor’s top political adviser.

He says emphatically that he’s not talking to the campaign or anyone in it, and there’s no evidence to the contrary. But who needs to talk? Toomey knows the governor personally and politically, knows his policies, knows what will help and what will hurt. He’s got no reason to phone home.

And he’s got a great reason not to phone home, aside from the legal one: Perry and Carney and everyone else in the bunker can disavow whatever Make Us Great Again does. Every campaign has a moment when it goes too far, or walks something right up to the edge of propriety. Take two weeks ago, when Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, followed his introduction of the governor at the Values Voter Summit in Washington by telling reporters that he considered the Mormon Church to be a cult and didn’t think Mitt Romney was a Christian.

In the initial round of reports and reactions, Perry was guilty by association. That’s not the case with a Super PAC. If that particular dog goes off the leash and bites someone, Perry can act as surprised as the rest of us, even if he’s the beneficiary.

It won’t require the sort of conspiracy in which the parties meet in a parking garage at night and trade manila envelopes. It’s a community of interest — like-minded allies acting independently who know what to do even if they aren’t given any instructions. They just collect money and start putting together polls and advertising.

Candidates don’t have to get their hands as dirty. And the consultants can skip the town hall meetings.


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