- "Super" political action committees are spending millions of dollars on ads in Iowa
- One group supporting Romney has been attacking Newt Gingrich
- A recent Supreme Court ruling allows those PACs to spend unlimited money in a campaign
It's not the Occupy Wall Street protesters yelling "mic check" who are bugging Newt Gingrich at his events these days.
It's the attack ads occupying the airwaves in Iowa.
A new spot from the pro-Mitt Romney super political action committee Restore Our Future starts with the simple question: "Know what makes Barack Obama happy?" The answer: "Newt Gingrich's baggage." In the ad, luggage bearing the names of the former speaker's past liabilities then spills out onto an airline baggage carousel.
"Newt has more baggage than the airlines," the ad says. The spot doesn't mention Gingrich's personal baggage. But it might as well.
Gingrich has demanded that Romney call on the super PAC to pull its negative ads. "I object to lies. I object to negative smear campaigns," Gingrich said Tuesday.
But Romney makes no apologies. "If you can't stand the relatively modest heat in the kitchen right now, wait until Obama's hell's kitchen shows up," Romney said in New Hampshire on Wednesday.
Unfortunately for the former speaker, it's about to get hotter. The 2012 campaign is now a high stakes version of Pac-Man. In the battle of Romney versus Gingrich, guess who the ghost is?
The Restore Our Future super PAC is not only run by former Romney political operatives. It also is funded in large part by big donors who still work at Romney's former investment firm, Bain Capital.
None of this is a mystery to Gingrich.
"We need to understand that these are his people, running his ads, doing his dirty work, while he pretends to be above it," Gingrich said Tuesday.
According to an analysis of disclosure forms from Restore Our Future conducted by the nonpartisan government watchdog Center for Responsive Politics, the pro-Romney super PAC has spent $430,380 on ads in Iowa. That's more than the $325,770 spent by the Romney campaign. Combined, they are outspending Gingrich in Iowa by more than seven to one.
Bain employees have given $1.25 million to Restore Our Future. Contrast that to the $84,500 contributed by Bain employees directly to the Romney campaign.
Contributions to federal candidates are limited to $2,500. There are no limits on donations to super PAC's. That's part of what makes them super.
In its landmark 2010 decision in the case of "Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission," the U.S. Supreme Court green-lighted the activities of super PAC's, effectively allowing them to legally raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.
Viveca Novak with the Center for Responsive Politics said Bain's connection to "Restore Our Future" gives Romney a clear advantage in the race.
"He automatically has access to extraordinary amounts of money through these individuals who are connected to securities and investment firms, which are part of the world he used to inhabit," Novak said.
Romney has suggested he has no legal authority to pull the super PAC spots. "My goodness, if we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the big house," Romney said in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
Novak said Romney could do more.
"If Romney wanted to he could call a press conference and call on the super PAC to take down the ad," Novak said.
Romney defended "Restore Our Future" by pointing to the pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA, which has already started attacking his campaign.
That PAC, run by former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, has one spot featuring a now infamous photo of Romney during his days at Bain. The picture shows Romney in a suit stuffed with money. As Romney has pointed out, the president's advisers have set their fundraising goal at $1 billion.
The Romney campaign said its own spots are positive. Its latest ad stars Romney's wife, Ann, who extols the virtues of good moral character. "If you really want to know how a person will operate, look at how they've lived their life," Ann Romney says in the ad.
That sounds like another subtle swipe at Gingrich, who has a new ad featuring his wife, Callista. "From our family to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year," she says in the spot.
With super PAC fever spreading, a little holiday cheer doesn't hurt.