THE RISE OF SUPER PACs AND THE DEMISE OF DEMOCRACY

ABSTRACT: The rise of Super PACs (Political Action Committees) in the last four years and their ability, along with that of wealthy individuals and organizations, to spend unlimited amounts of money in US political campaigns are dramatically reshaping our politics. This is a new version of a very old game  –  pay to play – where private interests buy access and influence in our political system and policy making. As a result, independent spending – spending on political campaigns separate from and independent (theoretically) of the candidates’ campaign committees themselves – skyrocketed in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles to over $400 million, ten times its level in 2008.

In the two-year 2012 election cycle, 132 wealthy Americans provided 60 percent of the Super PAC money raised. Super PACs have become the primary vehicle through which the wealthy elite exert political influence that overwhelms the common good and the voice of the vast majority of the people. Super PACS are just the latest, but certainly the most toxic, in a trend of increasing spending and influence by wealthy special interests in our political system.

FULL POST: The rise of Super PACs (Political Action Committees) in the last four years and their ability, along with that of wealthy individuals and organizations, to spend unlimited amounts of money in US political campaigns are dramatically reshaping our politics. This is a new version of a very old game  –  pay to play – where private interests buy access and influence in our political system and policy making. [1]

First, a little historical background on the rise of political spending and influence by wealthy individuals and corporations. In 1976, the Supreme Court (in the Buckley vs. Valeo decision) declared that the First Amendment gave rich people the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence political elections –  so long as that influence was “independent” of a political campaign. It also allowed them to spend unlimited sums on their own campaigns if they ran for an elected office.

In 2010, the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case gave corporations, unions, and other organizations the same right to spend unlimited money in political campaigns that it had given to rich people. In March, 2010, another court ruled that if rich people could spend as much as they want independently of any political campaign, they should also be free to contribute as much as they want to any independent political action committee. Thus the Super PAC was created – free to accept and spend unlimited amounts of money, so long as it did not coordinate with any candidate’s campaign (at least not openly). As a result, independent spending – spending on political campaigns separate from and independent (theoretically) of the candidates’ campaign committees themselves – skyrocketed in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles to over $400 million, ten times its level in 2008.

In the two-year 2012 election cycle, 132 wealthy Americans provided 60 percent of the Super PAC money raised. That number will go up in 2014. If it goes up to say 3,000, the funders of these Super PACs will still represent only a tiny minority of the 300 million Americans.

Super PACs have become the primary vehicle through which the wealthy elite exert political influence that overwhelms the common good and the voice of the vast majority of the people. That’s the “democracy” we have now –  a political system that has corrupted the intended representative democracy spelled out in our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence.

Super PACS are just the latest, but certainly the most toxic, in a trend of increasing spending and influence by wealthy special interests in our political system. As they learn to effectively coordinate campaigns without technically coordinating (because that would be illegal), they are becoming a critical component of any effective political campaign. Candidates quickly learn the dance that assures that funding gets directed to the Super PACs that support them. However, there is, in effect, no accountability for the statements or actions of these Super PACs, as the candidates can claim a lack of knowledge and control of their actions.

The single greatest fear of any candidate, particularly any incumbent, is that thirty days before an election, some anonymously-funded Super PAC will spend $1 million against him or her. Therefore, candidates work to ensure that a Super PAC will be there to support them if needed. Candidates will position themselves as the kind of elected official a Super PAC wants to support and protect from a last minute assault.

My next post will discuss the growing presence of secret donors and “dark” money in our political campaigns because of Super PACs that do not disclose their donors. I’ll also review the increasing ability of wealthy donors to contribute large sums directly to candidates’ campaigns and the impact that all of this big money in our politics has on who runs for office. Then, I’ll present solutions to this corruption of our democracy, in addition to the MAYDAY Super PAC strategy, which I described in my previous post on 6/10/14.

 

[1]       Lessig, L., 6//4/14, “What’s so bad about a Super PAC?” https://medium.com/law-of-the-land/whats-so-bad-about-a-superpac-c7cbcf617b58 (This blog post is, in large part, a summarized excerpt from this article.)

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