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Road to GOP primary takes 'tumultuous' turn

by Michael SmerconishTwo weeks from today, voters go to the caucuses in Iowa.

by Michael Smerconish

Two weeks from today, voters go to the caucuses in Iowa. And in this, the 11th hour, there has been yet another sharp turn in the road with regard to the tumultuous GOP primary. This one is different than those which preceded it. Prior dalliances with candidates ended with discontent upon closer scrutiny.

Ron Paul has been notable for his steady numbers. But Michele Bachmann had the mojo and lost it. Same with Rick Perry. And Herman Cain.

Those looking for an alternative to Mitt Romney then seemed to settle on Newt Gingrich. In Iowa, a PPP survey from two weeks ago showed Gingrich in first place in that state with 27% of the vote. This week? Gingrich is down to 14%, trailing Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.

Nationwide, Gallup released a daily tracking poll that confirmed Gingrich's lead has evaporated. A CNN poll confirms that standing. So what happened? As we have discussed here, and as is documented on the front page of today's New York Times,  Gingrich has been on the receiving end of a barrage of negative attacks not only from his opponents, but also from their Super PACs. Gingrich has struggled in the face of the attacks, trying to honor a promise he made to remain positive. He will now mount a bus tour to try and combat the negativity.

But that will be tough to do in the face of 1,200 negative ads.  That's right. According to figures from Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, Iowans have been shown commercials with a negative message about Mr. Gingrich more than 1,200 times in the last few weeks.

The biggest player by far in the state has been Restore Our Future, a "super PAC" supporting Mr. Romney. So far it has spent $2.6 million on television ads depicting Mr. Gingrich as tainted by scandal, soft on illegal immigration and corrupted by decades of work in Washington.  The Boston Globe notes today that Super PACs, the new campaign weapon of choice since last year's Supreme Court ruling that struck down contribution limits on corporations, labor unions, and wealthy individuals, are playing an increasingly muscular role in the days before the first contests in the Republican presidential nominating contest.

With two weeks until the Iowa caucuses and three weeks until the New Hampshire primary, committees aligned with specific candidates have poured more than $7 million into ads in the early states. They say all's fair in love and war, and so too, in politics. But here is one thing that is unfair: the anonymous nature of these attacks.

That needs to change. Iowans will go to the polls on January 3rd, but there need be no disclosure on who is donating to the Super PACs funding this attack until January 31.

The Globe noted that the identities of many of the donors to these super PACs may not be disclosed to the election commission until January 31, the date of the Florida primary, when year-end reports are due. In theory, at least, if one candidate gets hot through the early contests, the nomination could be wrapped up before the public knows who paid for the advertisements that will fill the airwaves with increasing frequency.

Citizens United changed the way in which campaigns are being funded, but there can still be transparency.  In the Internet age in which we live, there is no reason why we cannot have full and immediate disclosure of all contributions in real time.