The anti-incumbent "Super-PAC" known as the Campaign for Primary Accountability is claiming another scalp this primary season. The group ran an ad campaign against Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat from the El Paso area seeking his ninth term in Congress. Reyes was defeated by Beto O'Rourke, who won a bare majority in a five-way race. The incumbent reportedly tried to portray O'Rourke as a stealth Republican, but from early outside reports one of the big issues of the campaign, as opposed to whatever issues the CPA raised in its ads, was the drug war. O'Rourke has advocated the legalization of marijuana while Reyes has been portrayed as a profligate drug-warrior. On his website, O'Rourke champions term limits and decries the "taxpayer-funded campaign advantages" incumbents enjoy, but I don't know if anti-incumbency and advocacy of term limits makes you a Republican in Democratic clothing. More likely it was O'Rourke's passive enjoyment of CPA support -- though I don't know if CPA explicitly endorsed him in their anti-Reyes ads -- that damned him for some Democrats, many of whom selectively see Super-PACS as conspiracies of the rich when it suits them. In any event, anti-incumbent sentiment has been insufficient to secure victory in every campaign CPA jumps in on. Elsewhere in Texas, their ad buys failed to topple an octogenarian Republican incumbent.
The unsavory thing about CPA is its status as an outsider interfering with any given constituency's choice of its representative, but they're not the only ones playing that game. By now it seems to be taken for granted that every local campaign is everyone's business, but that's arguably only a logical extension of the idea of national partisanship, for good or ill. If we take a stand that each congressional district is nobody else's business, we have to take that stand across the board, not selectively according to class or ideological bias. If it isn't rich outsiders' business then it isn't unions' business or any other lobby's business unless they have an authentic, live tie to the district. The problem with the debate over Super-PACs, Citizens United and political advertising in general is the tendency to see it in bipolar either-or terms. For right-wing defenders of unlimited spending on political ads, to limit or regulate spending can only serve to benefit incumbents. Justice Scalia said as much during his visit to Troy; allowing regulation was to let (implicitly self-interested) incumbents set the rules. From the other side, unregulated spending is the shortcut to plutocracy even though labor unions and other entities opposed to the reign of the rich enjoy the same "corporate" rights under Citizens United rules. But there are never just two sides to the scenario. There are people who question unconstrained spending by the wealthy who are neither incumbents nor sympathetic to incumbents. The rich are not the only "corporate" threat to the integrity of political campaigns. It just won't do to say that either "the rich" or "the incumbents" have too many unfair advantages, or that either group is somehow a stigmatized class with no right to publicize its cause. The only fair position, in local elections, is to say to the outsider, whether it's a rich individual or a collective of poor people, that the election is none of its business. It shouldn't be the Campaign for Primary Accountability's business if a district in Texas wants to keep sending the same person to Congress. The CPA can argue that entrenched incumbency is a problem for everyone, but it can only be solved district by district, and rightfully only by the people of each district. It may be a harder argument to make that only those people have a right even to discuss the matter, thus leaving CPA and other entities out, but if anyone actually believes that political campaigns have an integrity that's compromised by outsider spending of any kind, that may be the stand that has to be taken.