Why is a Republican super PAC bankrolling ads for a Democrat in North Carolina?
In a perfect world elections would look something like this: Different politicians would say the things they would do to help their constituents, and then those constituents would go and vote for the politician who they think would do the best things. But because we live in about as imperfect a world as possible, elections have become as much about gaming the system to sow chaos and confusion for an eventual win-by-attrition as they are about actually offering solutions for problems the voters face.
For proof positive of how just how screwy our political system has become, look no further than North Carolina, and its upcoming Democratic Senate primary to choose who will run against Republican Sen. Thom Tillis in November. There, a series of high profile television ads for progressive state Sen. Erica Smith have begun targeting her fellow candidate Cal Cunningham, a favorite among national Democratic Party officials. The ads, however, aren't from Smith, but from a mysterious, newly created group called the "Faith and Power PAC" — a group which, according to Federal Election Commission filings, is funded by the Senate Leadership Fund. The Senate Leadership Fund is a super PAC with deep ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in Congress.
"Mitch McConnell meddled in our election to try to mislead voters, and it’s clear why — he knows Thom Tillis has failed [North Carolina] and he’s terrified to face me," Cunningham said in a statement posted to Twitter on Friday, in response to the revelation of the Republican group's trickery. "I’ve got a message for McConnell and his allies — your scheme won’t work and I’ll see you in November."
Speaking with McClatchy, Smith herself stressed that she had asked for the Republican-sponsored ads boosting her campaign to be taken down. “What we’re concerned about is that people are sending a message I can’t be trusted because I’m working with Republicans, that’s so far from the truth of what this is,” Smith said. “I have no dealings with this super PAC."
The ads, which tout Smith's support for Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal, describe her as "the proven progressive" in the Democratic primary race, boasting that "Erica Smith is one of us."
Confirming his group's meddling in the Democratic race in an interview with The Hill, Senate Leadership Fund President and CEO Steven Law bragged that "we basically stole a page out of [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer's playbook" — an apparent reference to Kay Hagan, the late former Democratic senator for North Carolina, having run anti-Tillis ads during the 2014 Republican primary race. Those ads, however, were paid for by Hagan's campaign itself.
"We've been thinking about it for a long time," Law added, noting that "we had donors who were interested in taking on such a project."
While neither party is blameless when it comes to machinations like this, the overall corrosive effect of this entire practice is increasingly clear: Rather than let voters simply decide who they like better as a candidate to represent them in a general election, even that choice is being taken away from them — and put in the hands of big money donors and the shadowy super PACs they hide behind.