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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