Debate Club

Super PACs Promote Attack Ads and Special Interests

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The pre-super PAC era was no halcyon day of U.S. politics. But things are far, far worse thanks to the super PACs and the flood of campaign money from the superwealthy and corporations facilitated by the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. Three key ways the Super PACs are debasing our democracy:

  1. Attack ads with no accountability. Everyone hates negative advertisements, but politicians air them for a simple reason: They work. Politicians, though, are restrained by the fact that voters may turn on them for running an overly negative campaign. Super PACs suffer from no such restraints. They don't have members to whom they are accountable, they don't care about their reputations, and regular people don't know who they are. Thus we have the specter of the Mitt Romney-supporting super PAC Restore Our Future destroying the Gingrich campaign in Iowa, and Romney disdaining any responsibility.
  2. Outsize influence by the megadonors. Super PACs aren't raising money in small chunks. A very small number of superrich individuals and corporations are ante-ing up cash in quarter million-dollar chunks. A handful of casino magnates, hedge fund managers, and oil and gas moguls are now exerting huge influence over the Republican presidential nomination process.
  3. An invitation to corruption. You can't have this much money coming from this small a group of individuals and corporations--and the amount of money will get much larger, soon, as independent organizations and trade associations ramp up their spending for the 2012 general election--without a deeply corrupting influence. We're virtually inviting scandals on the scale of Watergate, or worse.

It is true that the absurdity of the super PACs has provided wonderful material for Stephen Colbert. But the damage being wreaked on our democracy is no laughing matter.

[Newt Gingrich Amps up Negative Attacks on Mitt Romney.]

We need to fix not only the flawed Federal Election Commission decisions enabling super PACs, but the Citizens United decision that underlies the profusion of election spending by corporations and the superrich. That will require a constitutional amendment--an uphill fight, to be sure, but momentum is fast growing. For more on the movement for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy, see

Robert Weissman

About Robert Weissman President of Public Citizen

2012 presidential election

Other Arguments

198 Pts
Overturn Citizens United

Yes – Overturn Citizens United

Bernie Sanders Junior United States Senator from Vermont

148 Pts
Super PACs Need to Disclose Political Activity

Yes – Super PACs Need to Disclose Political Activity

Danielle Brian Executive Director of the Project On Government Oversight

-69 Pts
Super PACs Enhance Democracy

No – Super PACs Enhance Democracy

John Samples Director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute

-89 Pts
Super PACs Are a Form of Political Participation
-93 Pts
Super PACs Level the Playing Field

No – Super PACs Level the Playing Field

Bradley A. Smith Chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics

-103 Pts
Super PACs Engage in More Positive Than Negative Messaging

No – Super PACs Engage in More Positive Than Negative Messaging

Jennifer Marsico Senior Research Associate at the American Enterprise Institute

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