Super PACs: Changing the nature of the game

According to Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University, “Super PACs are changing the nature of the game…they’re the political equivalent of baseball players on steroids.” The unfair advantage gained from steroids results in severe punishment in baseball, yet the unfair advantage of super PAC money in politics is fair game.

The super PACs effects are greater than one might expect. U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) guaranteed “there will be a scandal, there is too much money washing around politics, and it’s making the campaigns irrelevant.” Super PACs, by definition, are Political Action Committees, which are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigning provided there is no direct contact with any candidate or political party. As a result, an immense amount of power is now available to corporations and the wealthy.

Our “democratic” political system has turned towards becoming an oligarchy of wealthy businessmen, who are more politically powerful than ever before because money, unfortunately, is so influential. Politics are becoming less relevant, and money can more easily influence the outcome of an election for their own gain. Thus, the election season has become less about political ideologies, and more about spending money to dig up dirt on the opposition.

All this campaign spending can also have a negative effect on the voter turnout of an election. With candidates bashing each other and pulling up “history” on each other, it’s not surprising that voters are increasingly becoming apathetic because of the fact that both candidates are depicted as the bad guy. Lower voter turnout is a negative, no matter what political party one stands with.

In the Citizens United case in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court regarded the limited campaign spending issue as a First Amendment “violation,” arguing that “political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation.” In protecting these “peoples’” rights, the Supreme Court has opened the door to corruption in American politics.

With the help of Massachusetts’ politicians and advocacy groups, states such as Kentucky and Montana have challenged the unlimited campaign spending in an attempt to rid their states of any future corruption. However, as seen with the recent Montana ruling, the Supreme Court is not wavering on its decision. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) argues that there will be very little super PAC reform as long as the current Supreme Court Justices remain. This has a debilitating effect on local elections, since money from super PACs can have a more profound influence on the outcome, more so than during a presidential election.

Created by Jeremy Singer-Vine. Source: Federal Election Commission.

Misleading and even false information is advertised with very little repercussion towards the funder. For example, an advertisement called “Stopwatch” from Crossroads GPS, a non-profit group, claimed that President Obama is adding $4 billion to our national debt every day with money borrowed from China. Even if they are factually incorrect, Crossroads GPS can publish ads without fear of consequence. Since Crossroads GPS group is a non-profit, it can legally contribute unlimited sums of money for a campaign while being able to withhold where all of the monetary contributions originated. This gives corporations the freedom to invest large amounts of money into a candidate’s campaign secretly and avoid reprisals from the public.

Though politicians have received much ridicule for taking support from super PACs, they have little choice. In reality, politicians have to use these super PACs or else they would be putting their opposition at an advantage. A $10 million contribution by Sheldon Adelson to Mitt Romney’s campaign will force Obama’s to match it. Unlimited campaign spending started with Citizens United and has, since then, pulled almost every running politician into accepting super PAC donations whether they agree with the idea or not.

Many groups are currently trying to draft amendments to create limits on campaign spending. The controversy surrounding the issue will make reform difficult. Fortunately, groups in Massachusetts have attempted to introduce laws requiring donor disclosures for non-profits. The passing of such a law would be the first of many steps towards the gradual reduction of the power of super PACs.