By Robert Schlesinger |
Super PACs are not an evil tolerated under the First Amendment--they are what the First Amendment is all about. A super PAC, after all, is simply a group of citizens pooling resources to speak out about politics.
In 2010, the first election after the U.S. Court of Appeals decision in SpeechNow.org v. FEC struck down the federal law prohibiting super PACs, turnout rose over the prior midterm elections in 2002 and 2006. There were more competitive races than in anyone's memory, largely because the ability of super PACs to raise money quickly allowed citizens to take advantage of fast-breaking developments. Super PACs even leveled the playing field--the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates outspent Republicans by roughly $180 million, including an edge of approximately $65 million from traditional PACs, but super PACs cut that Democratic spending advantage in half.
This year, super PACs have already made it possible for a broke Rick Santorum campaign to keep fighting after his strong showing in Iowa; and for New Gingrich to stay in the game after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. President Obama will easily outspend his GOP rival this fall, who will have used up much of his money in the primaries. Super PACs, however, will help level the field.
Similarly, in 2010, super PACs helped challengers win numerous races in which they were vastly outspent by incumbents. For example, Democratic Congressman Dan Maffei of New York outspent his opponent, Ann Buerkle, by more than $2 million, but Buerkle won a narrow victory with the help of just over $500,000 in independent expenditures from super PACs. Similarly, in North Dakota, Rep. Earl Pomeroy had a $2 million advantage in traditional PAC money over his challenger, but super PAC spending partially offset that advantage and helped Dan Berg score an upset win.
Super PACs disclose all of their expenditures and all of their donors (probably some contributors to this symposium will tell you otherwise--they are wrong, confusing super PACs with traditional nonprofits such as the NAACP or the Sierra Club).
Super PACs are helping to shatter the old, established order, create more competition, and break the hold of special interests lobbyists--big business actually joined the "reform" community in opposing super PACs in court.
Are super PACs harming politics? Of course not. How odd that anyone would think that more political speech was bad for democracy.
About Bradley A. Smith Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics
Robert Weissman President of Public Citizen
Jennifer Marsico Senior Research Associate at the American Enterprise Institute