$350 Million dollars. That’s the estimated amount of money spent during the 2012 election. An estimated $240 million of that is not even spent by candidates. The 2012 races has seen the greatest number of Political Action Committees (PACs) ever. These committees spent millions and millions of dollars to help candidates get elected, or legislature passed without regulation. What started as advocacy groups supporting a cause, has turned into big corporations protecting their money and their personal interests. PACs can be beneficial but without more regulation their corruption hurts our government more than help it. The term “Super PAC,” was coined by reporter Eliza Newlin Carney of the National Journal on June 26, 2010 (“What are SuperPACs?”). This was the new nickname of PACs with seemingly endless amounts of money.
Originally there were two types of PACs, one was Separate Segregated Funds (SSFs). SSFs were created by corporations, membership organizations, or trade associations. These organizations could only solicit for money from people directly associated with the sponsor organization. These groups could not pool money from multiple groups or corporations (“What are SuperPACs?”). This prevented mass amounts of money from multiple groups being pooled in one place.
The other type of PAC was a non-connected committee. These committees were not sponsored by business or any organization. They were strictly limited to soliciting directly from the public. They were also subject to certain contribution limits (“What are SuperPACs.”). This allowed for the pubic to advocate for causes without being tied up with corporations. The contribution limits also prevented one billionaire from dictating the entire group. Overall these PACs worked to support causes that were important to the people. They also had regulation from the Federal Election Committee (FEC).
The FEC is directly responsible for regulating election campaign finance. They investigate how PACs and campaigns are spending money. They also enforce limitations and prohibitions on expenditures made by political campaign organizations (“What is the Federal…”). This system worked well to keep groups of organizations and the upper class from trying to push legislature to protect their money. This was all before Super PACs became a game changer in recent years.
Super PACs differ from the regular PACs in one major way: they have almost no regulation. They can raise money from many companies as well as the public with no legal limitations. They can spend that money however they feel will support the cause with no regulation. In recent years they do not have to tell the FEC where the money is coming from (Kroll). Their whole job is to try to influence the election and once the election is over, they try to push for certain legislature to be passed. This system leaves a lot of room for corruption and dark money. How can the government approve of these groups that run around and do what please with money that no one knows where it came from?
There were two major court cases that dramatically changed how PACs were regulated. The first was Citizens United vs. FEC. Citizens United was a PAC that produced a film about Hilary Clinton during the 2008 presidential race. The FEC tried to apply the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA). In attempt to regulate “big money” campaign contributions BCRA applies to a variety of restriction to “electioneering communications.” Electioneering communications is any broadcast near election time that is clearly supporting or against a candidate (“The Nut…”). In section 203 of the BCRA prevents corporations or labor unions from funding electioneering communications. Section 201 and 311 also require a disclaimer in the communication when it is not authorized by the candidate it intends to support (“Citizens United…”). Citizens United won the court battle saying it was an infringement on Freedom of Speech, in the first amendment. This opened up the doors for PACs to pay for things like political advertisements. A candidate’s success was no longer solely in the hands of the candidate themselves.
The second big lawsuit that dramatically effect how PACs were regulated was Speechnow vs. FEC. Speechnow is a non-profit organization formed by individuals who seek to pool resources to make independent expenditures for the defeat or election of a federal candidate. On February 14, 2008 a complaint was filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act provisions governing the contribution limits and disclosure. The act forced PACs to limit donations from individuals or corporations. The act also forced PACs to fill out reports and forms for every donation and expenditure with extensive detail about how the money was acquired and where it was going. Speechnow also said that reporting required of what the PAC does is unconstitutionally burdensome. In the end Speechnow won the lawsuit. It was decided that was limited the freedom of speech by limiting how much money an individual can spend and therefore how much an organization spends (“Speechnow…”). This ruling blew the door open for PACs to do what they please with money. It also destroyed any chance of a smaller PAC to have any voice in comparison to huge corporation and billionaire funded Super PACs.
Most Super PACs are supporting a position and not necessarily a candidate. This was the case with Freedom Watch a Super PAC started by Carl Forti. Forti has been deemed king of dark money in politics. This was evident when Freedom Watch spent as much as $200 million dollars to counter labor unions and rights for workers (Kroll). They also ran ads defending George W. Bush’s foreign policy and supporting Republican congressional candidates. Freedom Watch pushed the limits of legal regulation in 2008. Before Super PACs were required to put a donor’s name on the paperwork when disclosing reporting their money transactions. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee filed a complaint to the FEC about the absence information required about the donor. The FEC decided that outside spending groups no longer have to reveal their donors. This now means instead of trying to gather honest money, from billionaires or not, it opens the window for fraud and money laundering. The overwhelming opportunity for corruption is evident. What’s the point of going through the motions of doing PACs right when it’s so easy to blatantly steal?
PACs are not all bad. It is easy to forget their good intention with all the corruption going on. Truth is, without PACs certain groups would not be able to advocate and get funding for certain programs. For example, let’s say a hospital in New Hampshire wanted to start a PAC for better care of the mentally ill. They could raise money and educate the public about problems in heath care about treatment programs. The group could then go to congress and try to get legislature passed that would better support the mentally ill. This is example of a group that is trying to change government for the good of the public. They have a cause that is important and is for the good of the people. This type of PAC is focused on doing things for others, not for personal gain.
The problem is corporations are using them to protect their money or power. For example, Monsanto, an agriculture giant produces a genetically modified bug resistant seed. Buying these seeds would mean that farmers would not have to use as many pesticides. The seeds have been a huge success for the company as millions of farmers started using them to produce their corn. Unfortunately the seeds are expensive and may potentially produce corn that could be unhealthy to eat. If farmers choose not to switch to Monsanto seeds they can harvest seeds from last season’s crop. Certain government legislature has been passed that make it illegal to harvest seeds from last season’s crop. Monsanto seeds then monopolize the market and force farmers to purchase their genetically modified expensive seeds. In the next election there might be a candidate that wants to repeal the law that makes harvesting seeds illegal. With that aw repealed Monsanto could lose billions of dollars from farmers who find it easier and cheaper to harvest seeds. This would give Monsanto incentive to start a PAC that made sure that candidate was not elected. Monsanto is a huge corporation that has the ability to spent millions and millions of dollars to protect their personal gain and personal money.
The sad thing is, the FEC had the power to regulate PACs. They had laws that prevented corruption. The government itself is corrupt enough to overturn those laws and rules. Without a big government change the rules cannot be fixed if the rule makers are creating the problems. How can you blame them, corporations are spending million supporting them and tearing down their opponents. It’s not limited to right conservative big wigs either. Both democrats and republicans have this problem. The whole damn government is corrupt. The ones really suffering from this is the groups of people PACs are supposed to support, the underrepresented. They are the people who actually need help.
Bailey, Kirk. “What Are SuperPACs?” For Dummies. Web. 27 Sep. 2012.
Bailey, Kirk. “What is the Federal Election Commission?” For Dummies. Web. 27 Sep. 2012.
“CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION.” The Oyez Project. IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Web. 27 September 2012.
Food, Inc.. Dir. Robert Kenner. Perf. Eric Schlosser. Magnolia Home Entertainment, 2009. Film.
Kroll, Andy. “Mitt Romney’s $12 Million Mystery Man.” Mother Jones. Feb. 2012. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.
“The Nuts and Bolts of Electioneering Communications.” Open Secret. The Center for Responsive Politics. Web. 3 Oct. 2012.
“Speechnow Vs. FEC.” Federal Election Commission. Web. 5 Oct. 2012