Forget traditional campaigning methods. Million-dollar ads purchased by Super PACs have affected primary results more than other forms of campaigning, including personal appearances by candidates, campaign speeches or town hall meetings, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
What Are Super PACs and How Are They Legal?
Technically known as independent spending only political action committees, Super PACs can raise unlimited sums of money then spend it to overtly advocate for or against candidates. Super PACs have grown in number since the Federal Court’s March 2010 decision for SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission, which upheld a previous decision with Citizens United. It ruled that limiting campaign contributions to an independent organization for political expression is tantamount to limiting expression, which is a violation of the First Amendment. “By enjoining the FEC from enforcing limits against prospective donors to SpeechNow.org, the court has ensured that everyone is free to associate and speak about politics,” said Steve Simpson, senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represented SpeechNow. “No one should have to choose between their First Amendment right to speak and their First Amendment right to associate.” Lawyer Stephen Hoersting said in a statement: “The court affirmed that groups of passionate individuals, like billionaires — and corporations and unions after Citizens United — have the right to spend without limit to independently advocate for or against federal candidates.”
Super PACs: Good or Bad for Politics?
Most of the money Super PACs receive comes from corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals, most of who remain anonymous. Because candidates names are not affiliated with a Super PAC since it remains illegal for funds to be given to an individual, Super PACs provide an effective means for candidates to attack their opponents without getting their hands dirty. It absolves them from responsibility for the negative content within the ad, for example Mitt Romney’s denial that he’s ever seen the ads attacking his opponent Newt Gingrich.
President Obama, who criticized the Citizens United decision, has come under fire for reversing his stance and giving his blessings to Priorities USAAction, a Super PAC organized to help his reelection effort. “President Obama’s flip-flop on Super PACs reeks of hypocrisy,” David Bossie of Citizens United wrote. “He spent the last two years criticizing the decision – even lecturing the Supreme Court during his 2010 State of the Union Speech. Now, President Obama and his $1 billion campaign are fully embracing it.”
But others say that the Democrats are playing the game according to the rules the GOP fought for. “Who wouldn’t want to run in an election with an advantage that can be measured in hundreds of millions of dollars?” Bill Burton, former White House Deputy Press Secretary wrote, “We may not like the rules, but we didn’t choose them.”
Inundating airwaves with ads during election season can be one way to contribute to political discourse. There is nothing more democratic than an election where groups of individuals can express their political opinion to the masses. But it can also turn off voters who see Super PAC ads as smear campaigns despite their attractively patriotic names such as Restore Our Future; Red, White and Blue; and Freedomworks For America. Such monikers conceal the political agenda and present the Super PACs as unbiased truth-tellers for the greater good. Yet many criticize them for being nothing more than the mouthpiece of the mega rich, and yet another way in which the proverbial one percent can manipulate the electoral stage by distorting issues more than illuminating them.
A full list of Super PACS and the candidate each supports can be found here. Below are a few:
|Restore Our Future||supports Romney||$7,795,104||Conservative||$12,231,700|
|Winning Our Future||supports Gingrich||$4,204,685||Conservative||$0|
|Make Us Great Again||supports Perry||$3,793,524||Conservative||$0|
|Our Destiny PAC||supports Huntsman||$2,453,204||Conservative||$0|
|Endorse Liberty||supports Paul||$1,165,542||Conservative||$0|
|House Majority PAC||$1,105,843||Liberal||$2,110,000|
|Red, White and Blue||supports Santorum||$727,200||Conservative||$0|
|Club for Growth Action||$574,102||Conservative||$1,344,592|
|9-9-9 FUND||supports Cain||$468,445||Conservative||$0|
|Citizens for a Working America PAC||supports Romney||$455,000||Conservative||$858|
|Priorities USA Action||supports Obama||$321,229||Liberal||$3,161,535|
|Santa Rita Super PAC||supports Paul||$317,542||Conservative||$0|
|Freedomworks for America||$249,230||Conservative||$0|
|Leaders for Families||supports Santorum||$218,411||Conservative||$0|