Last month, veteran suburban rep Don Manzullo lost his primary challenge to young Adam Kinzinger in the state's new 16th district. Manzullo, a stalwart conservative served the old 16th for 20 years, was rarely challenged, and won in a rout each time he was. But the "new conservative" Kinzinger—a young, handsome Air Force pilot with three tours of duty in Iraq and two in Afghanistan under his belt, who interned for Peter Fitzgerald and served on the McLean county board in college—provided not only a tough challenge, but some odd bedfellows:
The ugly GOP primary fight drew some strange lines in the sand: On one side were tea-party groups with Manzullo, despite the fact they had rallied around Kinzinger in 2010. And on the other were House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Kinzinger, a freshman and rising Republican star.
Putting national weight behind a 32-year-old against a consistently conservative, consistently successful Rep caused some tension within the party faithful:
Consider, if you will, that Eric Cantor has a 60% rating in the Heritage Action for America scorecard. It is, more so than the American Conservative Union or any other ratings list, the best indicator of conservatives in Congress.
Manzullo — according to more than a half-dozen Republican sources — once said Cantor, a devout Jew, would not be “saved.” The remark occurred several years ago, when Cantor was serving as chief deputy whip, the sources said. Cantor allies were put off by the comment, Republicans said.
Rich Carter, a Manzullo spokesman, denied his boss ever made such a comment. But the allegations made the rounds within the upper ranks of the House Republican Conference, leading Manzullo to request a meeting with Cantor in January to discuss what he considered an untrue — and damaging — rumor.
It's not the first time a Manzullo comment about religion has caused a stir. In 2009, he inserted himself into the debate over moving Guantanamo detainees to Thomson, and his foot in his mouth:
An Illinois congressman who opposes the idea of moving terrorism suspects to a prison in his district issued a qualified apology Tuesday after a comment that critics viewed as insulting to Islam.
In an interview with television station WREX in Rockford, Ill., Republican Rep. Donald Manzullo said of terrorism suspects: "These are really, really mean people whose job it is to kill people, driven by some savage religion."
Manzullo apologized, clarifying that he was just referring to "terrorists who practice a violent, anti-modern version of Islam," and it blew over. Having caused a minor stir about anti-Muslim sentiments, the story's briefly flipped to anti-Semitism, which caused an awkward moment between Cantor and Politico's Mike Allen.
It's a bit of a sideshow, but the more important takeaway from the Politico article and the Kinzinger-Manzullo showdown is not about religion: it's money and the weird routes it can take through Washington. Manzullo was the top target of the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a non-partisan, or meta-partisan, or something PAC that went after not only the very conservative Manzullo but also Jesse Jackson, Jr. (J. Joe Ricketts, father of Cubs owner Tom, is one of the major donors.) Why go after both? That's the confusing part.
Anyway, Aaron Schock asked Cantor to donate $25k to help Kinzinger. That money came from ERICPAC (Every Republican Is Crucial PAC) and went to the CPA, which caused a campaign-finance fuss:
That's where Schock treads dangerously close to the line drawn by the FEC. In an advisory opinion issued last year, the FEC says that federal officeholders and candidates "may solicit up to $5,000 from individuals (and any other source not prohibited by the Act from making a contribution to a political committee)" on behalf of super PACs. Candidates may appear at fundraisers on behalf of super PACs, but they cannot be involved in asking for checks larger than $5,000 — the reason Cantor, Mitt Romney, Harry Reid or even President Obama, for that matter, can appear at fundraisers for supportive super PACs, but they have to leave the room before staffers ask for donations in order to raise unlimited sums.
Confused yet? Here, this won't help. Politico again:
Sources close to Cantor insist the super PAC donation was a staff mistake. Schock asked Cantor to chip in to help Kinzinger topple Manzullo in a tight race, and Cantor turned around and had his leadership fund — Every Republican is Crucial (ERIC) PAC — cut a $25,000 check directly to CPA. No one on Cantor’s staff questioned it or thoroughly vetted the contribution and the potential political fallout it could cause for Cantor inside the House Republican Conference, several sources explained.
So money went from Cantor's super PAC to a nonpartisan super PAC so that it could supplement the opposition to Manzullo, which was already going on with money from the "Cantor-aligned" super PAC Young Guns Action Fund. Make sense? Excellent. Because the FEC isn't going to be much help: "the FEC is so screwed up and divided along partisan lines that it’s doubtful anything will become of it."
One option is campaign-finance reform. Another is to wait for this neurofinancial network of super PACs to become self-aware, like HAL, and sort it out themselves.