Last week in AP GOV we delved into a topic that has proved to be one of the most interesting for me so far: the landmark case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The Supreme Court decision back in 2010 that allowed unions and corporations to contribute freely to campaign budgets has become a prevalent issue in the current presidential race, specifically in relation to the notorious Super PACs. During the 2010 case these political action committees were deemed acceptable by the Court, which stated that, “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” With the 2012 campaign well on its way, we as observers must now evaluate the path the Super PACs have taken. Is there apparent corruption?
With out a doubt, the money collected through these independent expenditure political action committees is primarily from donors tied closely to the business community that could easily gain advantages through borderline corrupt means if their endorsed candidate were elected. In fact it is estimated that alone wealthy donors and business have made up about 80% of the money collected. One of the major donors, Harold Simmons heads metal and chemical making companies that often clash with environmental and safety restrictions. So far, Simmons has donated large sums of money to Gingrich, Perry, and Romney.
A particular aspect that has bugged me throughout this election is that Super PACs are formed with obvious biases. As “independent expenditures” one would assume that such committees could not favor one party or candidate over another, but with several of the major Super PACs, this is clearly the case. Of the 17 listed in the New York Times article “Who’s Financing the ‘Super PACs’ ” (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/01/31/us/politics/super-pac-donors.html) 7 are affiliated with a candidate. It is illegal for the candidate to be in position or control of the PAC, but it is perfectly lawful for former aids, former chiefs of staff, or former campaign aides to a specific candidate to found and proceed to run the committee. Another similar issue that has surfaced during this campaign is that it is permissible for the candidate to “talk to his associated PAC via the media. And the super PAC can listen, like everybody else.”
Through satirical means, comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart have pointed to this curious legality of the campaign financing system. When Stephen Colbert chose to jokingly run for the President of South Carolina in the Republican primaries, he was forced to release control over his Super PAC Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Colbert then turned the PAC over to his good friend and executive producer Jon Stewart. Throughout his short lived campaign is was also legal for Colbert to “volunteer” on behalf of the Super PAC and for him to speak directly to the PAC throughout the campaign. The duo made fun of the obvious coordination that arose from this arrangement when Stewart sarcastically stated, “Stephen and I have in no way have worked out a series of Morse-code blinks to convey information with each other on our respective shows.” To again point out the ease with which PACs can continue to directly support a single candidate, Jon Stewart renamed the PAC “The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC.”
Another concern that is all too familiar is the relationship between money and opportunity. Many of the Republican opponents have argued that Romney’s lead is due to his obvious financial advantages. Looking at the Super PAC monetary values, the PAC associated with Romney, Restore Our Future, has collected the most money by far ($36.8 million). The Super PAC that has collected the next highest funds ($23.4 million), American Crossroads is listed as having no known candidate ties.
On the other hand, the Super PACs have proved to be an effective way of promoting the “underdogs” in the race. For example, it can easily be argued that money has kept the Gingrich campaign afloat. In fact, Gingrich’s associated Super PAC, Winning Our Future, has raised the third highest money amount and raised the most money in January 2012 alone.
Personally, looking at all these extraordinary lavish campaign budgets is quiet baffling. Earlier in the post when I said that businesses contributed 80% of the funds collected in Super PACs it was extremely difficult to comprehend this as the large sum of $54 million. Of course this is a completely oversimplified view, but it just seems like there are so many better ways to spend this money. I realize that for a candidate, especially one that is relatively unknown, to cut his or her campaign budget can be detrimental, but in the midst of a recession it is fairly sad that such extravagant amounts of money are used for self-promotion.
Thank you for reading!