Suppress the Vote!
The grip of the super PAC on the Republican primary season has been well-documented. They are wrecking balls operating outside the candidates’ direct control, fueled by massive influxes of cash from a handful of wealthy patrons. The millions spent by the pro-Santorum Red, White and Blue Fund and the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, have prolonged their respective candidates’ rivalry with the front-runner, Mitt Romney, whose own Restore Our Future has bludgeoned the competition from Iowa to Florida to Michigan.
And that’s just the start. In the general election, super PACs will evolve into full-blown shadow campaigns. This transition is already underway, with the super PACs supporting Republican candidates beginning to take on voter persuasion operations — like sending direct mail and making phone calls — that have traditionally been reserved for a campaign operation or party committee.
The phenomenon won’t be isolated on the right. President Obama recently embraced the outside groups that he had rejected, saying that he would not unilaterally disarm. The president has dispatched one of his most trusted aides to run Priorities USA, the White House’s super PAC of choice.
There is one pointed difference in the behavior we can expect from the two sides in the general election. Whereas liberal groups have generally been interested in increasing voter turnout, conservatives have tended to want to suppress it.
In the general election, right wing groups may try to use super PACs to affect the vote in this fall’s election. And if we fail to recognize super PACs’ enormous potential to suppress voting before it happens — and don’t regulate them appropriately — millions of Americans could be disenfranchised on Nov. 6, 2012.