By Teresa Welsh |
A PAC, or political action committee, is the name given to any private group organized and funded with the goal of electing a political candidate or advancing a legislative agenda. The term “super PAC” (for groups officially known as “independent-expenditure only committees”) gained popularity in 2010 after the landmark Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case was decided in a 5-4 vote, and the decision argued that, under the First Amendment, the government cannot prohibit independent spending by corporations and unions for political purposes. Soon afterward, the Federal Court of Appeals ruled in Speechnow.org v. Federal Election Commission that no limits could be placed on contributions to groups that only make independent expenditures. Super PACs are required to disclose their donors and are not allowed to coordinate with the candidates or agendas they advocate.
Since then, super PACs have started campaigns in support of particular agendas, most notably to back Republican presidential candidates. According to OpenSecrets.org, the pro-Romney super PAC Restore America has raised 12.2 million dollars this election cycle, and it released numerous advertisements in Iowa attacking Newt Gingrich. This week, the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future released a 28-minute documentary-style video called When Mitt Romney Came to Town that attacks Romney’s business career at Bain Capital.
Proponents of super PACs argue that free speech is protected under the First Amendment, and they contend that it’s a fair system since candidates are not allowed to coordinate with them. Opponents disagree, and many are disturbed by predictions of upwards of $2 billion being spent by super PACs on the upcoming presidential election. They also hold that the non-coordination caveat is impossible to uphold and are upset by the proliferation of negative ads.
Are super PACs harming U.S. politics? Here’s the Debate Club’s take:
Robert Weissman President of Public Citizen
Jennifer Marsico Senior Research Associate at the American Enterprise Institute