But that all changed after the election in 2012.
Barack Obama's narrow victory came after a brutal
campaign in which the parties spent some $2 billion, yet were almost matched
dollar for dollar by outside groups. The airwaves in swing states were saturated
with a level of political vitriol not seen in this country since the days
before the Civil War. The lack of coordination between PACs and
candidates, however, meant that while people were inundated with ads, the messages were often competing and disjointed, forgotten as soon as the commercial break was
over. Voters were angry, confused, frightened, and unmoved.
After the president's reelection, a group of senior Republican operatives, joined by energy executives, Christian conservatives, and wealthy Republican donors, gathered to commiserate over the outcome of the race, and to plot the way forward. But the meeting quickly devolved into chaos. Karl Rove and representatives of Crossroads GPS, his super PAC, nearly came to blows with Mitt Romney's campaign team -- both sides slinging accusations as to who allowed the election to slip through their fingers.
Then a junior staffer, there only to take notes, stood up.
"This is the problem," he said quietly.
Karl Rove, holding a folding chair over the prone and weeping form of Eric Fehrnstrom, paused. "What is it, son? Speak up."
"This," he said, taking a deep breath. "This is the first time any of us have been in the same room together."
Grover Norquist, who took shelter behind a potted plant at the first sign of trouble, stood up and cleared his throat. "But we were barred by law, kid. Sure, the leaders of PACs can talk, but what use is it if we can't coordinate with the campaigns?"
Karl unfolded the chair and sat down, his mind turning. "What if..." Karl squinted, shined an apple on his shirt, and took a bite. "What if there are no campaigns to coordinate with?"
Soon after, Crossroads GPS merged with the remnants of
the pro-Romney "Restore our Future" super PAC, and absorbed other smaller organizations as well. With unlimited resources and few disclosure requirements, this new entity, TruePAC, had the funds to hire away talented staffers and operatives from the
national party and campaigns. TruePAC enlisted polling firms, direct mail
distributors, and other mainstays of traditional political operations. And Rove
traveled the country delivering what became known as the PACs Americana Speech to
convince bundlers and major donors to eschew traditional campaigns and parties
to support his new organization.
His answer to a ban on coordination was to make coordination irrelevant. The PAC would be the campaign. The campaign would be the PAC. Because of the Supreme Court's ruling, campaigns really only existed to meet filing deadlines and conduct paperwork; beyond this, the real difference between an official campaign and a political action committee was a bunch of onerous rules and restrictions.