By the time these words are printed, my friends in South Carolina will no longer, at least for a few months, be bombarded by constant negative ads on TV, radio and the internet and a steady flow of glossy fliers in their mailboxes.

The Republican presidential primary will be over in that state.

This has been the year of the Super PAC (Political Action Committee) attacks. Even in South Carolina, with its reputation for raw and combative politics, people say they are tuning out and turning off.

There’s the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future PAC spending $3.4 million targeting Romney. Their materials claim Romney to be one of the most ruthless and greedy “Wall Street corporate raiders” and accuse him of exploiting small businesses and employees.

There’s the Restore Our Future PAC that favors Romney spending $2.3 million on ads pointing out the character flaws of both Gingrich and Santorum. Restore Our Future wants voters in South Carolina to know that Gingrich has lots of political baggage — he took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, was fined $300,000 for ethics violations, supports amnesty for illegal immigrants and unforgivably “teamed with Al Gore and Nancy Pelosi on global warming.”

Then we have the Red White and Blue Fund supporting Santorum’s bid; and the Make Us Great Again PAC promoting Rick Perry’s bid to be the Republican presidential nominee.

According to an analysis by Reuter’s, PAC spending has doubled since the last presidential primary four years ago at this same time in the presidential primary process. More than $10 million will be spent in South Carolina by these Super PACs in a month’s time.

That’s the equivalent of three well funded, year-long statewide campaigns for governor of the state of Maine.

Lest we think that Super PACS support only Republicans, there is a pro-Obama PAC called Priorities USA Action. We’ll certainly be hearing from it by the time the leaves start to turn again next fall.

This insanity is brought to us by the United States Supreme Court that in 2010 voted 5-4 that the First Amendment allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money in campaigns as an exercise of their free speech.

In so voting, the court overturned a provision of the McCain-Feingold Act that prohibited unions, corporations and not-for-profit organizations from broadcasting electioneering communications within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary election.

Four members of the court understood the ramifications of this decision and the impact it would have on elections in America.

Writing for the minority, Justice John Paul Stevens concluded that, “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

The Constitution was read by four very smart people (Justices Stevens, Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor) to allow limits on political spending by corporations, unions and non-profit organizations.

The Constitution’s grant of free speech is not clear on this subject. What is clear is that the respect for elections that is at the heart of our democratic process is being sullied.

Negative campaigning has been around since our nation began. According to some historians, mudslinging was brought to us by two of our most respected founding fathers, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In 1800, President Adams was being opposed by Jefferson, his own vice president. While both men likely were at home in Massachusetts and Virginia, their campaigns were active.

Jefferson’s camp accused Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

Adam’s supporters called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

It’s not the negative campaigning that is new. It’s the money being spent on it today without any limits by special interests. It’s a very dangerous race to the bottom.

Kay Rand is former chief of staff for Maine independent Gov. Angus King.

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