In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided by a 5-4 vote the landmark case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which ruled individuals and corporations feeding money into “super” political action committees had no spending limits.
Proponents such as Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp Jr. maintained that such limits violated the First Amendment’s guaranteed right of free speech.
Two years later in the Indiana U.S. Senate race, Hoosiers saw $50 million spill into the Republican primary between Sen. Dick Lugar and Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock, and in Mourdock’s general election showdown with Democrat Joe Donnelly. Of that $50 million, about five times the amount spent on any other Senate race in state history, some $30 million came in obfuscated fashion from Super PACs.
If you live in Southern Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, you get Exhibit B on the impacts of the Citizens United decision. Joseph Albert Hollingsworth III, who goes by "Trey," is a Tennessee carpetbagger who showed up in Jeffersonville last September, renting a posh apartment in a gated community.
He registered to vote in October. His Republican campaign lists a local Post Office box as its headquarters. It has no publicly listed phone number or email address. A source did show me a check from “Trey For Congress Inc.,” listing a “228 S. Washington St., Ste 115, Alexandria, VA.,” address. Usually, Indiana campaigns begin in Indiana.
Joseph Albert III has loaned his campaign at least $680,000, and a murky Super PAC called Indiana Jobs Now has spent at least $200,000, assailing a rival candidate — Attorney General Greg Zoeller — with a dubious and inaccurate claim that he supported immigration “amnesty.” He has virtually no Hoosier donors.
Zoeller, who’s spent the past seven years in office ardently combating consumer fraud, decided to call Hollingsworth a “political scam artist” during National Consumer Protection Week in March.
“We were talking about the red flags associated with a scam,” Zoeller said. “We’ve been warning, beware of the scam artist. If you show up from out of state, if you have no one who can give you a reference, if there are no bona fides, the red flag goes up."
Clark County Republican Chairman and Sheriff Jamey Noel recalls receiving a call from young Joseph Albert III last fall, with the future candidate refusing to reveal his name.
Last Tuesday, another 9th CD candidate, State Sen. Erin Houchin, of Salem, tried to call Joseph Albert Hollingsworth III out.
“I’m calling on Trey Hollingsworth to come clean on his shady attacks on Greg Zoeller,” Houchin said while seated in a Franklin City Hall conference room. “These anonymous attacks aren’t anonymous to Trey Hollingsworth. He knows who is behind them. Since Trey has no donors to his campaign and no support in Indiana, it’s unfathomable that his super PAC would be funded by anyone other than himself, his family, or his close associates.”
The problem is, it’s a federal crime for an announced candidate to coordinate in any fashion with a super PAC, but I suspect it happens all the time. It’s the biggest wink-wink, nod-nod in American politics.
When State Sen. Mike Delph pondered a U.S. Senate bid last year, he told me Bopp urged him not to declare his candidacy until after he had met with Washington super PACs. Going back the summer of 2011, it appeared Mourdock, who was supported by Bopp, had information regarding Club For Growth polling and stated he expected outside help in his pending race against Lugar.
So in the Mysterious 9th, we have a field that includes Zoeller, Houchin and State Sen. Brent Waltz, all of whom worked their way through the party ranks, attending dozens of county Lincoln dinners, marching in scores of parades and attending local service clubs and churches.
They now find themselves in a tossup race against a rich carpetbagger from Tennessee, who believes he can buy an Indiana congressional seat.
Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody tweeted, “It’s ironic that INGOP candidates in the 9th CD are pressing one another to reveal funding sources when their party pushed Citizens United.”
Voters in the 9th CD now have the front-row seat to what you could call an unintended consequence. This might be an excellent opportunity for a federal district attorney or a local prosecutor to explore the intents, limits and abuse of American election laws.
In the meantime, between now and May 3, enjoy Joseph Albert Hollingsworth III’s suspense drama.
Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @hwypol. The opinions are the writer's.