I don’t know how you feel about how Super Political Action Committees (PACs) will influence the presidential election, but I can see nothing but trouble coming from them.
In the last few weeks, PACs have begun spending the tremendous amount of funds they’ve amassed strictly for the purpose of running interference for one candidate or another. The groups are spending millions of dollars to help their candidate of choice overcome the gains of opposing candidates who may be gaining traction.
The new super PACs have been created from a series of federal court rulings, including the Supreme Court's Citizens United case in 2010 that removed restrictions on corporate and union spending in elections. The groups can't coordinate directly with campaigns but many of them are staffed by longtime supporters of the candidates this election cycle. The super PACs are not subject to the $2,500 cap on donations to a candidate’s campaign, and a few super PACs have reportedly already accepted individual contributions of over $1 million.
As a result, campaign-finance watchdogs have assailed the rulings as a dangerous return to the pre-Watergate era. The filing changes also have the effect of shielding donors until a time when many candidates affected by their negative advertising have likely dropped out of the race. Providing cover for a candidate while the super PACs go on a “seek and destroy” mission to neutralize competing candidates is the slick new way these groups avoid election transparency. And, of course, every candidate and elected official will tell you transparency in government is one of their highest priorities.
The super PACs, for their part, claim to be doing nothing illegal, following established law and exercising their free-speech rights. The new rules take political spinning to an entirely new level and just think, during the primaries these are allies slugging it out. Imagine how vicious it’s going to get later this year when it’s Republican against Democrat, two sides you know will never kiss and make up.
We expect our elected officials to be individuals of high principles — the best and brightest, but their creation of the super PAC’s once again speaks to their true intentions. Where campaign contributions are tightly controlled by federal election laws, there is no bottom line for PACs as the folks running them can do whatever they want with the funds raised. Legally, spending responsibilities rest with the group’s treasurer, who reports to who ever is ultimately controlling the super PAC. While candidates are prohibited from using campaign money for their personal expenses, there’s no such restriction for these PACs.
The Federal Election Commission, which regulates campaign money, has repeatedly asked Congress to amend the law to prohibit PACs from spending donations on non-political expenses. Lawmakers, who often use political contributions for personal expenses through vehicles known as leadership PACs, haven’t followed through on the request. And why should they when we allow them to conduct their affairs in this manner?
It’s not gang warfare, but I have a very bad feeling that by the time we hit Election Day in November the airwaves will resemble something akin to it, as the gloves come off. Of course, those behind the PACs will expect their interests to be rewarded. I always find it so amazing that these elected officials, who seem so genuine and sincere when campaigning and asking for your vote, can condone such tactics, but like it or not this is the way big-time politics are played and will continue to be until we let them know we’ve had enough.
Are we there yet? I know I am.
Dan Alexander is publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.