This week’s Think Again column is called “The Conservative Class Warfare Against Free Speech” and it focuses on Republican efforts to control academic research and writing, here.

Now here’s Reed:

Playing for Time (and Money)

While T.S. Eliot famously called April the “cruellest month,” it’s anything but for two distinct segments of American society: baseball fans and, in recent, alternating odd-numbered years, those few individuals who have somehow convinced themselves that they would actually want the job of President of the United States. For both the former, which count me as among the afflicted, and the latter, this time of year is usually all about eternal hope and making open, unqualified pledges of devotion to one’s cause.

But something’s gone awry with the political calendar this year and, perhaps not surprisingly, the Beltway press wasn’t prepared for it. Reversing a recent trend for earlier and earlier starts to the primary season, this cycle nearly every legitimate Republican candidate for president (and even those who are decidedly not so legitimate) has so far shown little interest in publicly declaring his or her candidacy. (Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, when not churning out ridiculous, chest-thumping videos in apparent homage to Michael Bay movie trailers, has at least announced the formation of an exploratory committee.) Indeed, the GOP hopefuls are so coquettish about their intentions this election cycle that the traditional first Republican primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Library, which attracted 10 candidates in early May of 2007, had to be postponed this week due to a lack of official invitees.

Of course, jumping in early and polling well the year prior to a presidential election doesn’t guarantee success in the eventual primaries, let alone Election Day, just ask Rudy Giuliani. So, it’s perhaps understandable if potential candidates continue to hedge their bets a bit, especially since the past two years haven’t been kind to any of the GOP frontrunners’ approval ratings. What’s more, this coyness also allows them to strategically deflect some of the typical campaign trail media spotlight and, no doubt, gives a few of those with no real shot at the nomination something of an ego boost.

But among Republican presidential hopefuls, this newfound hesitancy to officially join the race is less about peaking too early or controlling their message and more about the adapting to a radically different fundraising environment, as this McClatchy article points out:

“One key reason for this year’s late start is money, both how they raise it and how they spend it.

“‘The Internet makes a big difference,’ said an adviser to one potential candidate, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy. ‘People can raise money a lot faster’ if they haven’t declared their candidacy, which then kicks in federal campaign-finance regulations.”

In other words, declaring your candidacy when you should and playing by the rules is for suckers. Granted, FEC fundraising rules, particularly in the run-up to a presidential bid, have been more honored in the breach than in the observance by both parties for more than three decades, as this Campaign Legal Center white paper from earlier this month makes clear. And in that respect this cycle is no different, as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour and Sarah Palin have all used the time-honored tactic of setting up state-level and federal leadership PACs to amass large campaign warchests for potential primary runs while skirting many of the FEC’s stricter contribution rules that are supposed to govern those candidates who are legitimately “testing the waters.” Or as the CLC concludes, “Nearly all of the likely candidates in the 2012 presidential election are raising and spending funds outside federal candidate contribution limits, with many also receiving corporate contributions banned by federal law.”

And that last point is the most salient. In fact, the anonymous advisor in the McClatchy article is somewhat disingenuously justifying the GOP field’s collective Hamlet routine in terms of the last electoral battle rather than the conditions of the next one. Sure, Obama’s dynamic 2008 fundraising campaign, which raised nearly $750 million, far surpassing what it would have gotten had it accepted federal matching funds, proved that harnessing the Internet has the power to bring in heretofore unseen amounts of campaign cash. But conservatives responded to this threat by not only building a similar online fundraising capability, they went one better in preparation for 2012 by successfully using the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision to radically realign political power in favor of corporations and undermine transparency in our democracy.

Indeed, the recent mid-term elections were but a test drive for the newfound power of these now financially unfettered outside advocacy groups, whose spending more than quadrulped from $68.9 million in 2006 to $294.2 million last year, according to this 2010 post-mortem from Public Citizen. What’s more, that same report notes: “$228.2 million (or 77.6 percent) was spent by groups that accepted contributions larger than $5,000 (the previous maximum a federal political action committee, or PAC, could accept in a single election cycle) or that did not reveal any information about the sources of their money.”

The Democratic majority in the House was the first victim of this onslaught of secret, coordinated political spending and the right-wing’s plans for 2012 are only bigger and bolder. And while the Democrats can counter this spending somewhat with their own outside advocacy groups, the real threat to our democracy can be found in this Center for Public Integrity article, which details how the prospect of facing such a sea of secretive corporate money can cause even the most devoted individuals to turn away from politics altogether, disillusioned by what they see as a now-hopelessly unfair process of funding our elections.

Ultimately, that’s what’s really behind the Republican presidential contenders near-universal willingness to hang back from officially declaring their candidacies. Romney, Huckabee and other undeclared GOPers know that their campaigns won’t be the only large political expenditure dog in their fight to unseat President Obama. In fact, millions of additional dollars are already being spent on conservative campaign ads from groups like the US Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, with even more to come in the general election next year. So why bother with the inefficiencies of an extended primary campaign and lots of message-muddying intra-party debates when one can outsource a much more unified political framing of Obama to the likes of Karl Rove. After all, that leaves those Republicans vying to be the next president with more time to devote to what is increasingly the most important activity in American democracy, raising money.

The Mail:
To the Asbury Park Press

Thank you for your March 27 front-page story by Michael Symons, "As poverty rises, NJ cuts target aid." The article is one of the few that highlights the contradictions between a policy of large tax cuts, on the one hand, and cuts in services to those in the most dire conditions, on the other.

Also, you’ve shone some light on anti-poverty workers and analysts such as Adele LaTourette, Meara Nigro, Cecilia Zalkind and Raymond Castro, among others, all of whom have something important to add to the discussion: real information and actual facts about what is happening below the poverty line.

These are voices that in our current climate are having a hard time being heard, not just in New Jersey, but nationally. Finally, your article shows that the cuts are eating away at the lower edges of the middle class, not just those already classified as in poverty, and are likely to continue to get worse over the next few years. I’m always glad to see my hometown newspaper covering these issues.
Bruce Springsteen

Michael Green
Las Vegas, NV

I have the book, No Cheering the Press Box, which consists of oral histories of old-time sportswriters—it is magnificent. But the subject hits home with me, partly as a onetime reporter who made his share of mistakes, and now as a historian also writing for the media and still making mistakes. Also because of a story.

In Las Vegas, our main daily, the Review-Journal, has been very right-wing in its editorials. This is vexatious to me but, hey, it’s the editorial page. However, last year, the R-J’s news columns became, in many ways, an open campaign newsletter against Harry Reid. Some reporters didn’t play along; some did. Headlines and layout often were skewed. The LA Times even did a story on it and noted that the editor, Tom Mitchell, hung up on its reporter. After Reid won the election, publisher/columnist Sherm Frederick suddenly became a consultant/columnist (he has had ill health, to be accurate about it) while Mitchell became "senior opinion editor." The theory is that Reid’s victory prompted their firings—according to some, because the owners, the wealthy Stephens clan, feared having to deal with Reid; in my opinion, because Stephens realized they did their worst to Reid and he STILL won, showing their inefficacy.

Now to my bigger point about objectivity. I am a history professor and do a lot of teaching and writing on Nevada. At one point, I was banned from being quoted in the political columns because I am openly, actively, a liberal Democrat; before that, at a local columnist’s suggestion, I had to be identified as a liberal Democrat, which was fine with me if the paper identified another oft-quoted academic as a Republican, which he is. Strangely, that policy disappeared. But the R-J bosses apparently concluded that I could not separate my political bias from my work as a historian. Yet the publisher and editor wrote weekly columns—and still do, now in their different roles—that often make Pat Buchanan look sane, and claim that their newspaper is fair because they are fair journalists. They lose me somewhere in that argument, and they demonstrate one of the big problems with modern journalism (and pre-modern, for that matter): the unwillingness to admit error and bias.

Danny Grainger
Greer, SC

Doc, report from here in the land Michelle Bachmann characterized as a "GOP Paradise." Pretty much business as usual. Our former Governor Sanford has been tracked on the beaches of tropic climes, while our newly elected Governor Nikki Haley has been busy demonstrating no relent in the assault on my sensibilities. After campaigning to "take the state back" from the good old boys, she has been busy setting up her own new network of good old boys to replace it, all of them Republican or Tea Party and campaign contributors most of all. She dumped Darla Moore, who has helped obtain pledges of $70 million for the University of SC business school, dumped her in favor of an attorney who donated $3,500 to her campaign for a seat on the school Board of Trustees.

She, as a result, pissed off all the USC students, alums and rooters of the sports team quite severely. This I have to take as a momentary feeling of mild exultation, here ensconced as I am in this Paradise. Oh, did I mention the new Lt Governor has over 90 charges of campaign finance abuse leveled at him by some entity dedicated to ethical charges in the state. Distressed at having to spend a lot of his personal money getting elected he went the route of piling up many personal expenses on the campaign tab.

So, here in Paradise…well, it is far from it, frankly. I wish I could live in a Paradise like NYC but I am far too limited financially. So we slog on. It has its entertainment value, however. Finally, what I actually wanted to ask: which is the better song "Suspicion"?…the 1962 Elvis original, or the Terry Stafford 1964 hit cut?

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