American Crossroads. Independence USA PAC. Americans for Prosperity. We’ve all heard the names during commercials, but who are these people? What is a PAC? And for that matter, a Super PAC? 2012 has brought some big spending, but now, a large portion of that spending is coming from groups with names that include words like America, Freedom, Independence, and Priorities. Any patriotic American likes the sound of that, but who’s behind it all?
Here at Destination 270, I’ve decided to explain that and other common questions throughout the campaign cycle. So, I’m launching a type of mini-series within our blog dubbed ‘Election 101″ so posts my colleagues can be demystified somewhat. Onto our first topic: Super PACs.
What is a Super PAC?
Great question. Super PACs are a new addition in the political world. They were created in 2010 with the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in which Justice Roberts, claimed, ” The First Amendment protects more than just the individual on a soapbox and the lonely pamphleteer.” Meaning, that while individual voices are important, bigger entities are important as well.
You might be asking, why are political contributions protected under the free speech? Well, there is a simple answer. In politics, your money is proxy to your endorsement. So, donations to a campaign are tantamount to supporting your chosen candidate.
However, before Citizens United, there were limits to how much someone could metaphorically ‘speak up.’ Another thing this court case did was to allow an infinite amount of money flow into these new-fangled things being dubbed Super PAC’s. Political Action Committees were old hat. Super PAC’s became PAC 2.0 overnight.
But, the more important thing to take away from this is how and why they were created.
The main takeaways are twofold. On one hand, in order to protect the First Amendment the Supreme Court made a decision that more speech was better than limiting speech. Simply, they would rather have Super PAC’s spring up everywhere instead of not allowing Americans to fully exercise their right to free speech. Thus, Super PAC’s became a prevalent force in the political world overnight.
Case Study: Stephen Colbert and Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.
Perhaps one of the few ways to appropriately explain what a Super PAC can and cannot do is to see one in action. Enter Stephen Colbert. On his show “The Colbert Report” he was able to illustrate how one creates and maintains a Super PAC, while also illustrating the weird quirks in the system by having his own Super PAC sustained by his viewers. Some of those abnormalities became news for other affiliates, for example:
- A Super PAC can be composed of anonymous donors
- Super PAC’s do not have to disclose information explaining where their funds are coming from, although many do
- A candidate cannot be in collusion with a Super PAC, instead, the Super PAC must work independently from the candidate
Perhaps the last point is the one that can draw the most scrutiny. While the Super PAC’s members many not be in a campaign’s inner circle, many are run by people who unsurprisingly have a pretty good idea about what is going on. For instance, John Huntsman, a one time hopeful fo the GOP presidential nomination, had a Super PAC creating ads that could be traced back to his father.
When it’s All Said and Done
Super Pac’s have received major criticism since the Supreme Court decision came down in 2010. What we are seeing now, especially in the last push of this general election are Super PAC’s making huge media buys to help out their candidate in the final stretch of the election. But, it remains to be seen just how effective either party will be in using their PAC’s.