At the moment, Mitt Romney's worst nightmare is an earnest former aide to Newt Gingrich named Rick Tyler, who sits on a $5 million pile of cash that he plans to turn into a negative ad campaign aimed at the former Massachusetts governor.
Tyler runs Gingrich's super PAC--a theoretically independent committee of affluent Newtniks who have been working since last month to help the former House Speaker win the GOP nomination. Arriving just in time for the 2012 race, thanks to a landmark Supreme Court decision, super PACs are outraising and outspending the campaigns, supposedly without any coordination with the candidates.
Even Tyler finds this situation absurd.
Super PACs, he admits, are "a horrible abomination for a freedom-loving people in a constitutional republic." So are campaign-finance rules that allow his organization, Winning Our Future, to purchase an anticipated $3.4 million in South Carolina television time in the coming weeks to cast Romney as a corporate raider who profited from firing people. Doing this while maintaining a measure of independence from Gingrich, as the rules demand, requires what Tyler calls "a big shell game."
The game works like this. The Supreme Court says unlimited campaign contributions from corporations, unions and billionaires are potentially corrupting. This is why casino king Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Venetian and a longtime Gingrich friend, is allowed to give only $2,500 to Gingrich's 2012 primary campaign. But a series of court rulings in 2010 created another option: Adelson can write a seven-figure check to Tyler, Gingrich's ally and friend, who will spend the money as Gingrich wants it spent. The catch? Tyler, who worked for Gingrich a few months ago and still considers him "like family," is barred from speaking with his candidate or the campaign directly about the ads or his spending strategy.
But this is hardly an impediment. "I follow my lead from Newt Gingrich," Tyler explains. "I watch what he says on TV. I read about him in the newspaper." A few weeks ago, when Gingrich was running a positive campaign in Iowa, Winning Our Future spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on largely positive ads. But when Gingrich signaled a new negative tone, Tyler's group pivoted too, first recirculating an old 2008 ad attacking Romney and later purchasing a short documentary about the underbelly of Romney's business success, called King of Bain: When Mitt Romney Came to Town.
And then Gingrich seemed to endorse those purchases in public. Asked in a recent debate to demand that Tyler stop the anti-Romney campaign, the candidate dodged. "I hope that it's totally accurate," Gingrich says instead of the movie, "and then people can watch the 27 minutes of his career at Bain and decide for themselves."