Super PACked

If I had to pick one word to describe the past couple weeks of my 10th grade year I would say hectic fits the bill pretty well. First week back, I was already hit with a mountain of AP US History and Honors Chemistry homework, not to mention a scrapbook project that I had to create completely in Latin and a film project that required outside work. It wasn’t like I took a break from work this summer; I was at two debate camps and also took a psychology course, both which were quite demanding. While many of my friends were at the beach I was listening to economics lectures (honestly, the closest I got to spending time outside was running across Stanford campus to my next debate round), but it was still a bit of a rude awakening. The second big wave came the next Tuesday, when I was assigned my first AP Gov homework. I will admit I was a little daunted by the plethora of social networking sites I was expected to become a member of, as well as the amount of reading and discussions I was mandated to participate in, but I survived, and I’m probably better for it. (I will also admit that I was very pleased to net the username “thefederalreserve” for myself on WordPress…)

In the past few weeks we’ve covered several topics, including the Constitution and Federalism. I was really excited to learn about federalism because I’ve done a considerable amount of research on it in the past so I could run it as an argument in debate, but I never had the history knowledge to fully explain it, so it’s really exciting to have that now!  I especially enjoyed our amendment assignment, where we had to write an amendment to the United States Constitution. Mine was about campaign funding reform (mostly focused on the banning of Super PACs, but also mentioning other corporations and independent expenditures) which I do admit I got a little carried away with – my response was about 7 paragraphs long.

As you can tell here, conservative super PACs tend to make a lot more money because their donors tend to be much richer. This graph is from February of this year, so it’s a little outdated.

It really got me thinking about the extra funding’s impact on the recent election, though – previously unparalleled amounts of money are being spent on and contributed to campaigns this year, and I really hope to be able to study or at least read about how much it really impacted the election. I read in Freakonomics that advantages in funding can only really affect a the amount of votes a candidate receives by about 1%, but Freakonomics was written before the emergence of Super PACs, so perhaps that has changed. Since super PACs are mostly confined to spending their money on advertisements, it will also be interesting to see how the media affects people’s votes. According to this article, the results of all the extra money are still unclear, and even though Romney has outspent Obama, Obama is leading in the polls. Perhaps Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s statement that campaign funding only affects voters by about 1% will hold true, no matter how much money is present. Of course, the trouble with this type of study is there are so many factors going into it and it’s impossible to isolate one particular variable. There are many, notably James Bopp who I was just reading about in an article in The Atlantic, who believe extra funding and advertisements are actually a good thing because they get the nation more involved in politics. I personally disagree; often, Super PAC funding just goes into negative ads about other candidates, which could mean many people who have only seen negative propaganda would be voting for candidates for all the wrong reasons. I’m also not a fan of the heavy focus of any politician on fundraising; perhaps the only solution would be to designate a certain amount of money to every candidate, provided by the government, and not allow the candidates to spend any other money on their campaign. Obviously, there are large problems with this plan and it would never be approved in the first place, but it’s still a problem that I believe is important to adress. To my alarm, in the same Atlantic article I learned that Illinois passed a new law for nonfederal elections saying that if a super PAC spends more than $250,000 in a statewide race, the contribution limit in the race will be eliminated, which seems to just make contribution limits irrelevant… but I digress.

If I can make one prediction, it’s that this year I’ll be living and breathing US history and politics. I’m taking AP US History, AP Government, doing debate, and covering American literature (including sermons by John Winthrop) in English class. Not only that, but it’s election year so even my peers that normally think of politics as boring and irrelevant have opinions to voice (though their eyes will still probably glaze over if I try to talk to them about federalism…)  Not that I mind particularly; it’s just a little weird when I sit down after finally finishing my work to play guitar and any lyric I try to write includes subtle references to a quote of John Winthrop’s or the text of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. That’s just life sometimes I guess, and I’m really excited to continue with the year!



  1. I thought this was a very thoughful blog post. I like the way that you evaluated sources but also considered the time frame in which they were written (Freakonomics). I thought it was great that you mention how the topics that we are focused on in our work find their way into our leisure and art. As a fan of social studies I always like talking politics but election years make doing so much more relevant. Good luck this semester. Great post.


    • I completely agree – talking politics is always fun, but election year really makes it so much more relevant and always gives people more to discuss. I do think it’s a little backwards how much more interested people get in presidential elections than state or congressional because of the large part Congresspeople and state lawmakers play in decision making, but I’ll admit I’m guilty of the same thing.
      Thank you very much for your response!


  2. I agree with your thoughts about Bopp’s premise. To say that unlimited campaign contributions open opportunities for greater political involvement of all citizens is no different than to say that early American property qualifications opened opportunities for political involvement. Civic participation can’t be about financial status if it is to be available to all citizens.


    • It’s really interesting that you compared super PACs to the property qualifications in early America… that’s a great historical example to compare it to, and I think it really helps to put it in perspective. Financial status played a role in elections even before super PACs, so to allow it to play an even bigger role could result in unfair representation of the wealthier people in the country, and subsequently, because these people tend to be more Republican, a disproportionate representation of conservative views.
      Thank you for your comment!


  3. Interesting, and very topical, post. I think you are right to suggest that Levitt and Dubner may miss the point. Winning an election is only half the story. The other half is what happens after an candidate gets into office–access, time spent fund-raising (as you note), and so forth. Are there any analyses of that issue?

    There was a debate topic about this not too long ago–you may have done it.


    • Thank you!
      I think I’m a little unclear about what you mean when you say winning an election is only half the story and then list access – access to what? I do agree however that fund-raising does go on after a candidate gets into office, especially during election years. Once a candidate is in office, they have to be very careful to not offend their donors in order to keep their funding, which, in some cases, could influence every decision they make and keep them from taking risks, which can be harmful or helpful depending on how you look at it. If there are analyses about these issues I haven’t researched them…
      I haven’t actually done a debate topic about this (I do parliamentary debate and we get a different topic every round) but I’ve got a brief about it anyway so I hope it comes up!


  4. I thought this was a well written blog post. I like the fact that you’re so interesting in federalism and your opinion on politics. I also like how you went into explaining the advantage of funding about the Freakonomics article. You have really put in a lot of thought into this post and it was a great idea to put in a graph to some facts about your blog. I hope you continue to have a great you!


  5. Hello,
    My name is Alecia Baxter and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I am in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class and currently majoring in Elementary Education. I personally thought that your post was very thorough and thoughtful. I thought that your point about PACs were true. Why is it that political advertisements only want to show the negative instead of the positive? Hope you enjoy your High School career before heading to college.
    Take care,
    Alecia Baxter
    University of South Alabama


  6. Hi, I’m Jessica, and I’m a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I thought I was busy, but you definitely have me beat! You have a lot on your plate to be in high school, and that motivates me actually. I liked the point you made about funding for the election. I believe it’s a waste of money for those pointless ads, and you’re right they could sway a person’s vote for all of the wrong reasons. I loved your post, and I hope to read more in the future.


  7. Hey,
    I am Melissa, and a student at University of South Alabama. I am in a class called EDM 310 and majoring in elementary education. I thought that your post was inspiring. You have so much on your plate and are handling it so well. You really seem to enjoy what you are studying and that makes all the difference. I couldn’t agree more spending all that money to swag votes in a negative way. Votes should be based on facts and true understanding of the candidate. Good luck with everything.


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