3 Reasons Not To Get Worked Up Over Super PACs

Everybody and their brother – even Stephen Colbert - is freaking out about “super PACs,” which are an outgrowth of the Citzens United decision in 2010.

Traditional political action committees (PACs) are subject to federal limits on how much money donors can give in specific election cycles. Super PACS allow groups such as nonprofit corporations and unions to spend unlimited money on political speech as long as they don’t coordinate their activity with the official campaign of a given candidate.

But for all the bellyaching, here are three good reasons not to get worked up over super PACS.

1. Billionaires don’t need them to influence elections.

In the wake of an anti-Mitt Romney documentary from Winning Our Future, a group tied to billionaire Sheldon Adelstein, The New York Times fretted that the film – which has had little or no effect on Romney’s candidacay – “underscores how [Citizens United] has made it possible for a wealthy individual to influence an election.”

Actually, it’s always been legal for rich people to spend what they want as long as they make “independent expenditures” that aren’t coordinated with official campaigns. Billionares don’t need super Pacs to get their message out. But super PACS may just let the rest of us have our say.

2. Super PACS Go Negative – and That’s a Good Thing!

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose campaign finance legislation was rendered moot by Citizens United, complains that super Pacs not only flood elections with money but flood it with negative messages. McCain, who lost a run for presidency, admits that negative campaigning works, but doesn’t like the tone.

Yet study after study shows not only that negative advertising works with voters, but that negative ads actually contain more information than gauzy paeans to American and the virtues of the candidates who pay for such spots.

3. Super PACS Take Power Away From the Parties.

There’s no question that super PACs seek to benefit some candidates by taking aim at others. Adelstein, the moneybags behind the anti-Romney documentary, is known to be a Newt Gingrich fan.

But as long as super PACs don’t coordinate with candidates or official party apparatchiks, they take messaging out of the hands of party leaders and spread it around elsewhere in a way that has got to be more representative of more views of more voters.

Super PACs are the latest casus belli in the push for controlling specifically political speech in the name of making elections fairer. There’s no doubt that they are a loophole arising from the last round of campaign finance reform and the attempt to limit the amount of money politicians would have to raise to get their message out.

It’s time to recognize that the only way to stop creating new loopholes is by ending the always ineffective laws designed to lower the cost office-seekers need to spend to buy our votes.

About 3 minutes long. Written and narrated by Nick Gillespie. Produced by Meredith Bragg.

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  • o3||

    so its ok that obama's superpac is running anti-romney ads in FL?

  • o4||

    obviously since there's no attribution or accountability. stupid o3

  • o5||

    wait, u mean its a newt pac posing as obama's?

  • ||

    100%

  • Zeb||

    Freedom of the press means freedom of the press.

  • "Furious" Styles||

    I'm pretty sure Stephen Colbert has run his course in pop culture. It's time to cancel The Colbert Report, and let's bring back Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.

  • ||

    I'm pretty sure pop culture disagrees with you. The "pop" means popular.

    Btw, I love Colin Quinn [was just dreaming about Remote Control coming back last night]. I'm just saying Colbert's ratings are good and his advertisers are getting bigger.

  • Killersontherun||

    I loved that show. The last episode was unbelievably funny. A lesbian comedian (can't recall her name) made fun of the recently deceased (rip funny guy)Patrice O'Neil for being illiterate throughout the segment. Even to a functionally illiterate guy like myself, it still came across as hilarious.

  • cynical||

    #4: There are powerful, massive corporations that have shown a willingness to use their messaging to influence the outcome of elections. They were and are exempt from CFR efforts. They have names like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. (See also, Journolist scandal of the 2008 elections; the explicit media campaign against Ron Paul in 2012). Because their political messaging is in the "news" part of programming rather than the "advertising" part of programming, it more easily slips under people's BS detectors.

    Anti-corporate speech restrictions are not about shutting down big corporations so the individual gets more say, it's about shutting down small activist corporations so the big establishment corporations get more say. Citizens United shows that: Look at the giant corporate voices bitching that a small documentary maker got the same rights that the corporate so-called "press" arrogates to itself, and itself alone.

  • Metazoan||

    Basically the story of regulation, summed up quite well.

  • Metazoan||

    BUT KORPORASHUN IZUNT PEEPUL

  • "Furious" Styles||

    I'm convinced that the liberals who says shit like that are actively being dishonest.

    Credit me for believing that they are capable of at least understanding that corporations are groups of people, no different than any other lawfully assembled people protected by the First Amendment...They just can't be stupid enough to believe otherwise.

    Though, I've been told I have to much faith in humanity.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    I'm convinced that the liberals who says shit like that are actively being dishonest.

    No. They're that stupid.

  • annonymous commenter some guy||

    Gentlemen, gentlemen! Can't it be both?

  • Tony||

    A corporation is a legal entity separate from the people who work in it, with its own rights and legal entitlement.s

    You'd think people who defend unchecked corporate power would know things like this.

  • cynical||

    A legal entity is an abstract concept. It's imaginary. It's just a way of defining and organizing relationships among physical persons. Corporations don't speak, think, or act -- people do, sometimes in the role of an agent of a corporation, which is just a more formalized way of being a member of a group.

  • Tony||

    But corporations have rights, granted by government, such as limited liability.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    "I have no idea what limited liability means"

    -You

  • DK||

    Tony is totally wrong about this. The right of limited liability does not apply to corporations, but to their shareholders. It just means that shareholders are only financially responsible for their stakes in the company and no more. If BP poisons the water, I can't personally be sued as a shareholder. The company still can.

    Note that limited liability does not apply to corporations or their officers. For proof, just look at Kenneth Lay. What courts decide companies owe for their misdeeds is an entirely different matter.

    Please stop being so intellectually dishonest.

  • emerson||

    Corporations aren't people, they're just started by people, owned by people, staffed by people, and deliver goods or services to people. See?

  • ||

    Corporations are constructs of the machines, sent back in time to destroy our way of life. Long live Skynet!

  • ||

    I've always been puzzled by how a script written by individuals and performed by individuals, magically stops being the speech of those individuals if someone else pays for it.

    SCOTUS missed a real opportunity in Citizens United to say that there is no such thing as corporate speech at all, and that all restrictions on speech are restrictions on the speech of individuals and should be treatd as such.

  • Zeb||

    Well, I suppose the argument would rest on the argument that the speech in question is work for hire. But that woudl still be beside the point since the constitution doesn't say anything about speech by individuals and gives press, which is almost never the work of individuals alone the same protection.
    I've always thought that these arguments would make a lot more sense in terms of press and not speech. I think campaign ads are better described as press than speech.

  • ||

    Well, I suppose the argument would rest on the argument that the speech in question is work for hire.

    So? That doesn't mean it isn't speech by an individual.

    But that woudl still be beside the point since the constitution doesn't say anything about speech by individuals

    True enough, but it puts the lie to the claim that we aren't affecting individual rights when we attack corporations.

  • ||

    Well, I suppose the argument would rest on the argument that the speech in question is work for hire.

    So? That doesn't mean it isn't speech by an individual.

    But that woudl still be beside the point since the constitution doesn't say anything about speech by individuals

    True enough, but it puts the lie to the claim that we aren't affecting individual rights when we attack corporations.

  • annonymous commenter some guy||

    Is it just me or are there an abnormaly high number of double posts today?

  • Zeb||

    I didn't say it was a good argument. But that's all I could come up with. I agree with you entirely. Speech is speach. It doesn't matter what their motivations are or who they are working for.

  • ||

    Corporate media are the ultimate Super Pacs.

    From 1791 to 1886 1st Amendment freedoms of speech, press and assembly were the sole rights of flesh and blood citizens.

    From 1886 to 1973 flesh and blood citizens and media corporations enjoyed equal freedoms of speech and the press.

    From 1974 to present only the commercial media enjoy unrestricted freedom of speech and the press. Following reports of serious financial abuses in the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress amended the FECA in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs.

    2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) The term "expenditure" does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate;

    By granting corporate media exemptions from campaign laws government created a "royal", "State approved" press with more power than any Super Pac.

    News corporations have exercised their power to destroy or pick candidates. From the beginning news stories have attempted a self fulfilling prophecy by picking Romney as the eventual Republican nominee, despite the fact he has not been able to appeal to more than 28% of conservatives. And the news destroyed Herman Cain's candidacy with unproven innuendo and attempted the same character assassination on Newt Gingrich. And media hosts have denied Buddy Roemer a podium at the GOP Presidential debates despite the fact he is for campaign reforms. Yet the media hypocritically judge the viability of a candidate by how much money he is able to raise while decrying the evil of money in politics, most of which flows to them to purchase campaign ads!

    How does exempting corporate media and regulating grass roots restore the voice and influence of flesh and blood people? It does not! To restore equal protection under law, the press exemption must be extended to individuals and groups!

    The 1st Amendment is not a loop hole in campaign laws. Campaign laws are corruption of the 1st Amendment! What part of Congress shall make no law do Americans no longer understand?

    We the people have the right to assemble (money, talent and persons) and use speech and the press to petition government for a redress of grievances! Many down thru the centuries have died to establish these unalienable rights.

    Corporations, neither profit or non-profit, have stolen your vote and they cannot. It is up to you to listen to communications from diverse sources and decide for yourself which candidates or side of issues best suit you. And if you find a TV or radio commercial offensive; turn it off or change the channel. If you cannot do that, it does not matter who spent how much saying what!

    The National Rifle Association purchased a radio station to get around existing campaign laws. Should citizens and citizens groups have to buy a radio station to enjoy freedom of speech or a newspaper to enjoy freedom of the press?

    Before you insist on more people muzzling campaign laws watch this video: http://www.ij.org/freedomflix/33-sampson and read the Citizens Guide to participating in Federal elections. http://www.fec.gov/pages/brochures/citizens.shtml

  • ||

    The excerpts below are from page 25 The Media Monopoly by Ben H. Bagdikian Fifth Edition paperback.

    It is normal for all large businesses to make serious efforts to influence the news, to avoid embarrassing publicity, and to maximize sympathetic public opinion and government policies. Now they own most of the news media that they wish to influence.

    Under law, the director of a company is obliged to act in the interests of his or her own company. It has always been an unanswered dilemma when an officer of Corporation A, who also sits as a director on the board of Corporation B, has to choose between acting in the best interests of Corporation A or of Corporation B.

    Interlocked boards of directors have enormously complicated potential conflicts of interest in the major national and multinational corporations that now control most of the country’s media.

    A 1979 study by Peter Dreier and Steven Weinberg found interlocked directorates in major newspaper chains. Gannett shared directors with Merrill Lynch stock brokers), Standard Oil of Ohio, 20th-Century Fox, Kerr-McGee (oil, gas, nuclear power, aerospace), McDonnell Douglas Aircraft, McGraw-Hill, Eastern Airlines, Phillips Petroleum, Kellogg Company, and New York Telephone Company.

    The most influential paper in America, the New York Times, interlocked with Merck, Morgan Guaranty Trust, Bristol Myers, Charter Oil, Johns Manville, American Express, Bethlehem Steel, IBM, Scott Paper, Sun Oil, and First Boston Corporation.

    Louis Brandeis, before joining the Supreme Court, called this linkage “the endless chain.” He wrote: “This practice of interlocking directorates is the root of many evils. It offends laws human and divine. . . . It tends to disloyalty and violation of the fundamental law that no man can serve two masters…. It is undemocratic, for it rejects the platform: ‘A fair field and no favors.”‘

    * “When the first edition of The Media Monopoly was published in 1983, critics called Ben Bagdikian’s warnings about the chilling effects of corporate ownership and mass advertising on the nation’s news “alarmist”. Since then, the number of corporations controlling most of America’s daily newspapers, magazines, radio, television, books and movies has dropped from fifty to ten.” [ from the fifth edition of The Media Monopoly rear book cover] * The sixth edition says the number of corporations controlling most of America’s daily newspapers, magazines, radio, television, books and movies has dropped to six.

  • ||

    Kudos to the author of the article.

    Where in the Constitution is the authority to make political coordination a crime and by what logic do campaign laws make it one?

    Amendment 1: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    On Wikipedia lookup the words:

    “Assembly”: “Freedom of assembly, the individual right to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests.

    “Association”: “Voluntary associations, groups of individuals who voluntarily enter into an agreement to accomplish a purpose.” 501(c) non-profit organization is given as an example.

    “Coordination”: “Coordination is the act of coordinating, making different people or things work together for a goal or effect to fulfill desired goals in an organization. Coordination is a managerial function in which different activities of the business are properly adjusted and interlinked.”

    In sports the lack of coordination leads to lost games. In orchestras the lack of coordination results in dissonance. Choreography without coordination lacks grace. Lack of coordination in business results in lost profits.

    Oh well, I guess uncoordinated political campaigns are good training for political candidates that will work in our dysfunctional government.

    Despite the fact the 1st Amendment forbids Congress from writing laws that abridge our freedoms of speech, press and assembly, unconstitutional campaign laws abridge all three.

    Americans spend 7 billion a year on potato chips. Is 8 billion for elections really too much money?

  • Carlos Slim||

    Do we really want a republic where secretive billionaires control the message?

  • ||

    If you believe that secretive billionaires control the message though political speech, then is your problem with campaign finance, or democracy itself?

  • cynical||

    I think the key to understanding that post was in the handle.

  • Libertarian2||

    I thought we did!

  • ||

    I am a (classic) liberal and a Colbert fan but this notion that Super-PACs are evil is only true in that individuals cannot donate unlimited funds.

    $2300 max donation for an individual is only absurd when contrasted with unlimited PAC money.

    Just let any entity donate what ever they want - full disclosure required, of course.

  • Libertarian2||

    I don't agree with your "of course" statement. If the idea of a secret ballot is sacred, why not the idea of anonymous donations?

  • KPres||

    "I am a (classic) liberal..."

    Yeah, you keep saying that. Like your trying to convince yourself.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    The biggest reason why CU is good for campaigns is because it's no longer rich individuals and the political establishment with the sole power of controlling the message.

    For the first time ever, I have a say, by pooling my money with others who think similarly. We control the message and to whom that message is disseminated without outside interference from political insiders. We decide what is important to focus on rather than who Newt fucked while he was married etc.

  • ||

    Yes, somehow your point is never acknowledged. It's always some abstract, villain billionaire somewhere controlling the message. Never a group of people with a common purpose, trying to exercise free speech.

  • Tony||

    Whether laws or exploitation of laws accords with an esoteric accounting of liberty is beside the point. The point is that wealthy interests have overwhelmingly more influence on elections and public policy than the vast majority of people who are affected by them. That's not democracy, it's oligarchy, i.e., not freedom.

    I don't like messing with the 1st amendment anymore than people here do, but if it's determined that money and speech are the same thing, then free speech = oligarchy, then speech is too free. Sorry. It is a problem whether it's technically constitutional or not.

  • ||

    If your goal is to regulate away the influence of the wealthy on public policy, _through public policy_, then I hope you're prepared to wait a long time for results.

  • cynical||

    Don't be silly. I'm sure those corrupt bastards in Congress will vote any day now to make it illegal to bribe them.

  • DK||

    Ha! I'm sure Tony will ignore the fact that the vast majority of Congresspeople are quite wealthy. Yet he'll never criticize his political heroes in the DFL. Nancy Pelosi, for instance, has a personal fortune >$40 million. The Kennedys are inordinately wealthy. Where's the worry about the undue influence of their money on U.S. politics?

  • Zeb||

    Fine. Maybe it is a problem. That in no way makes Citizens United an incorrect decision. If you don't like the consequences, the remedy is to amend the constitution. You really think weakening the first amendment is a good idea?

  • Colonel_Angus||

    It is not a problem. Don't give that motherfucker any slack.

  • KPres||

    Oligarchy is preferable anyway, since the political power offers wealthy people a means at retributution for all the money that's been stolen from them through progressive taxation and other Democratic corruptions.

  • ||

    " as long as super PACs don’t coordinate with candidates or official party apparatchiks

    There's the rub. This stupid straw-man relationship is a joke. I hate pretenses like this, and find them insulting to our intelligence. Well, same with the whole election system for that matter.

    Of course the election system shows that the intelligence insult is well-deserved.

  • ||

    A straw man is a component of an argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. How does this apply, exactly?

  • LarryA||

    Reason 5: Super PACs provide information to folks on both sides of an issue. Publish an ad that says, "Ms. Jones is a low-down dirty rotton skunk who opposes requiring prayer in public schools" and you'll convince me to vote for her.

  • LarryA||

    For example, since the anti-gun NGAC is promoting a February 14 boycott of Starbucks, the gun-rights reaction may make Valentine’s Day the biggest coffee day ever.

  • Kelley||

    You mean Sheldon Adelson.

  • ||

    The ironic thing is this: let's allow those who hate "money in politics" the ability to prohibit campaign donations, political speech, etc. What you get is a system that gives great advantage to people who can fund their own campaigns and already have huge political machines. Who are these people? The incredibly wealthy and powerful.

    All these attempts to deny the influence of money just end up helping the wealthy and powerful by hurting their competition. That's not freedom, _that's_ oligarchy.

  • ||

    Nick, the problem here is, the people working the Superpacs DO work for the campaigns and there is no enforcement to prevent it from happening.

  • ||

    Recognizing that any regulation of campaign financing is inherently a diminishment of free speeech, such regulation must be carefully crafted and in the form of an amendment, so that it may be fully debated in the amendment process. Here's my idea, with commentary in (...)


    TOM BEEBE’S AMENDMENT

    (Commentary in {..}, not part of proposed Amendment}

    No candidate for the Presidency or either house of Congress shall accept contributions in cash or in kind from any organization or group of persons for expenses incurred in a campaign for that office. All such contributions shall be made only by individual citizens who shall attest that the funds or other items of value are from their own resources and that they have not received, nor have they been promised, offsetting items of value from any other party in exchange for their contribution. The identity and extent of contributors to such campaigns shall be made public for a period of thirty days from receipt before being employed or used as collateral for a loan by such campaigns. Organizations of any type, {i.e. corporations, unions, gun rights advocates, environmental protection groups, even “Susie’s Flower Shop”, a theoretical small business cited in the Citizen’s United Case,} may, without restriction, expend money to advocate a position on any issue before or likely to come before the electorate insofar as no candidate’s name or description is included in their expressions of advocacy.

    {The intent of the above is to bring “transparency” to campaign financing by removing any group from the process whereby that group may conceal the identity of an individual contributor as well as limiting the influence of such groups or “special interests”. It further prevents an organization from making such contributions when an individual within that organization, such as a union member or corporation stockholder, may oppose the candidate. Considering the large equity position in certain corporations that the federal government has recently taken in response to the economic crises, this is particularly important in excluding such influence. The money from “special interest” groups will then go to promote that for which they exist, their “special interest”. The media will be directed to expositions on the issues facing the electorate, thus enhancing discussion and hopefully understanding of issues, bereft of personalities.}

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