What is wrong with Super PACs?

SuperPACs are the potent loophole formed when the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution meets the idea that corporations are citizens (established in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission). This allows individuals, corporations, and unions to give unlimited amounts to political action committees (PACs) as long as those PACs operate independently of campaigns.

Stephen Colbert has created the most famous SuperPAC (Stephen Colbert’s SuperPAC) as a way of illustrating and mocking the absurdity of campaign finance law.

As the New York Times has reported, there are numerous connections between candidates and the Super PACS that are supposed to function independently of their campaigns. In fact, the Times story maps out how tangled the relationship between campaign and “independent” PAC gets in just one building.

I am not convinced that SuperPACs will have as much impact as many fear. To date, most SuperPAC spending has involved paying for some pretty foolish television ads. I think that broadcast adverting is greatly overrated. In fact,

Zero Mostel in the ProducersMy suspicion is that SuperPACs function largely as a way for political entrepreneurs to fleece rich donors.  If you’ve seen The Producers, you an idea of what I think the consultants who run these SuperPACs are up to. Karl Rove has founded Crossroads GPS and is seducing conservative donors much like Zero Mostel seduced little old ladies. Rove takes big bucks from donors and promises to attack Obama. Then, millions of dollar go to air an ad that most American will ignore as typical Washington blather. The conservatives who paid for the ad will love the ad and never understand how little appeal it has to independents who might actually be persuadable.

Part of being independent expenditure committees is being so darn independent that you can come and go from the political world. Just like a bad show disappears from Broadway, the cast of a SuperPAC can be a miserable failure and then reappear later with a new name.  Candidates have to live with their failure. They can’t change their names. Political action committees have many lives and little accountability.

Your money going up in smoke
So, what’s so bad about this? After all,  these big donors are not buying elections. No harm, no foul.

Two problems:

First, just because these donors are not buying voters doesn’t mean that they’re not buying politicians. For example, one couple has given at least $10 million to PACs associated with Newt Gingrich. If Gingrich becomes president, these donors are going to remind him that they put up big bucks to help him win. Maybe a President Gingrich would not be influenced by this kind of donation, but it’s hard to believe that he would not feel some obligation coming from that kind of contribution.

Second, when we make a mockery of campaign finance laws we’re making a mockery of all laws. Watching our political leaders doing an end-around the laws that they find inconvenient could lead someone to reach a similar conclusion about immigration or drug laws.


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