The new potentially-sort-of-boring-topic-about-which-we-should-educate-ourselves (this is the first election I’m paying attention to and I’m finding a lot of these things) is the issue of Super PACs and their effect on the current election.
To summarize, Political Action Committees (PACs) have been around for a while. They are organizations that raise money to use toward elections, usually television commercials — they are limited to collecting small amounts of money from individuals, political parties, and other PACs — and the stipulation was that they could only accept $5000 per person per year, which meant that (at least in theory) candidates’ support would be semi-related to the amount of supporters donating to them.
In 2010, however, it became legal for some organizations to receive unlimited donations from corporations and unions: organizations which accept these unlimited donations are called “super PACs.” They are like PACs, but much more evil. While PACs forced candidates to build a large support base to earn a substantial amount of money, a few millionaire individuals or corporations can fund a candidate’s entire ad campaign.
Super PACs are devastating to the essence of democracy: Why should congressional and presidential candidates care more about the votes of single constituents than the needs of unions and corporations when campaigns can be made or broken by union and corporate funding?
Super PACs allow campaigns to distance themselves from negative ad campaigns while reaping the benefits from commercials slandering political opponents — Mitt Romney’s PAC (the idiotically named “Restoring Our Future” — okay, one might restore hope for the future, but not the future itself) spent $3 million running negative campaigns against Newt Gingrich, effectively killing his campaign.
Super PACs allow corporations and unions to spend huge amounts of money on elections — billions, in the 2010 midterm election — and that directly translates into influence on government decisions. If you’re imagining large men in suits grinning evilly while photographing themselves with dollar bills coming out of their ears, keep imagining it: there’s a picture of Mitt Romney that looks exactly like that.
Super PACs are a key factor in the commercialization of the political process. Since the late 90s, the money involved in elections (adjusted for inflation) has increased at an alarming rate. The amount of money that went into the 2008 election ($1 billion, 86 million) was more than twice that of the 1996 election (599 million dollars, adjusted for inflation) — Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign alone spent more than was spent in 1996 ($799 million).
Super PACs do not have to report the amount of money they receive, or how they spend it. A candidate’s super PAC can fund ridiculous amounts of illogical and negative commercials without having to pin the candidate’s name on the commercials at all. A candidate’s super PAC can also donate money to other PACs, effectively buying the good will of other politicians. Recent Supreme Court decisions deem this legal.
You should buy one of these tshirts on Colbert's website. And protect democracy.
The Colbert Report flaunted the troubling legalities of Super PACs in last Thursday’s episode, when Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC
(Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow) was transferred from Colbert to Jon Stewart as Colbert announced his fake intention to run for president. Colbert is not supposed to coordinate with the super PAC, his lawyer said on the show, but he could remain business partners with Stewart and the staff of his PAC didn’t have to change, even though they clearly knew everything about his election strategy.
Super PACs are the final step in making political campaigns entirely about money and slander. The political scene becomes a game of who-can-find-the-most-loopholes, with politicians focusing their energies on how to betray the spirit of the law without breaking the letter of it, which seems quite bad indeed.