If you live in America, you cannot escape the result of the Supreme Court decision in 2010 that changed political campaigns. Known as Citizens United, this decision allowed those with big checkbooks to contribute unlimited amounts of money for a politician, as long as they do not give directly to the politician’s campaign.
That is why we now have Super PACs—they are used as the vehicle to transfer money. If an individual wants to give directly to a campaign, he or she can only give $2500 per election, and a political action committee can only give $5000, but if you are really rich or you are a corporation, and you want really heavy influence, you can now just give to the Super PAC who backs your candidate, and then sit back and enjoy the air war on TV that you paid for. And as a bonus, voters in each state won’t even know you and your partners were the ones who brought ugly ads to them until after they have voted, so they won’t know that you had a particular agenda.
For example, Mitt Romney’s group, “Restore Our Future” (never mind that you cannot restore something that has not existed yet), will not file until January 31st, well after New Hampshire and South Carolina, and on the day Florida goes to vote after seeing thousands of ads attacking other Republicans from Romney’s people. Governor Romney said he cannot talk to “Restore Our Future,” but that Super PAC is full of his former top campaign aides who know Romney intimately, so it is a pretty thin wall.
We could still win our future though, if Newt Gingrich has anything to do with it. The Super PAC that supports him, “Winning our Future,” is running ads about Governor Romney’s business dealings, thanks to one donor who gave a check for $5 million dollars to the PAC to pay for those attacks. If he had given directly to the campaign, he could only have given $2500 for the primary, but now, the Supreme Court has allowed him to give unlimited money to take Governor Romney down.
Pity the poor voter in South Carolina right now. According to McClatchy newspapers, New Hampshire voters saw 2,800 ads. By the second week in January, the South Carolina voters had seen nearly twice that many, and Super PACs were responsible for 69% of the spending on TV ads.
Does this matter? Does it influence voters? They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. Senator John McCain told CNN, “Now it’s the system under which we operate, which leads to this kind of campaigning and will lead to corruption and scandals. I guarantee it.” CNN reported that McCain said the Supreme Court, “basically unleashed—without transparency—and without accountability—huge amounts of money from those so-called ‘independent campaigns’.”
Right now, the Republicans are shooting at each other, but the general election is right around the corner, and Democrats have now answered with some Super PACs of their own. What we saw in 2010 was just a teaser to what we will endure this year. Super PACs and their very wealthy donors are drowning out the voices of the small-dollar donors. David Woodward, a professor of political science at Clemson University, said in the Kansas City Star, “it goes back to politics before we had campaign finance reform and Watergate. It’s just a complete reversal that has brought us full circle to where it’s rich guys playing politics.” Or, I might add, playing for friendly policies and legislation.
These Super PACs will once again be active in congressional races and Senate races, but in a bigger way than in 2010. Jeff Roe, a Kansas City, Missouri based Republican strategist said, “It will have huge impact.” We all remember the deceptions, the distortions, and the trickery from 2010 and from the 2012 Presidential primary. Is there anything we can do to stop it in the general election this year?
Yes, there is. Educate yourself. We all have a civic responsibility to pay attention and learn. There are so many places to check facts now, like FactCheck.org. Listen to the candidate debates, and watch C-Span programs. Look up voting records. Watch several major news shows. Visit websites like The Sunlight Foundation, and see information on Super PACs. Ask candidates if they will support legislation to take this kind of money out of politics. We are citizens, not merely spectators, and we still have the power to be heard. Speak up!