Michael Beckel, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, says the super PACs are blazing "new territory" that effectively undoes McCain-Feingold. "They now have the freedom to say pretty much whatever they want, whenever they want, and pretty much as loudly as they want," Beckel says.
The PACs are likely to change the presidential campaign dramatically, Corrado says. While then candidate Barack Obama discouraged outside groups from running independent campaigns on his behalf so his own campaign could control the message, President Obama won't have a choice next year, Corrado says. Until the GOP nominee is determined, Obama will likely be spending his campaign energy and money countering conservative super PACs—and will be aided by Priorities USA Action, a super PAC founded by two former Obama aides. Supporters and former aides to GOP candidate Mitt Romney have also created super PACs, Beckel says. [See editorial cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican who is not running for re-election next year, says it was the severity of McCain-Feingold that led the movement to create super PACs. Party and campaign committees, at least, were subject to disclosure requirements, but now, Hutchison says, super PACs are part of the game—"with much less accountability and no good" for the process.
Meehan, distraught over the undoing of his signature legislative accomplishment, laments that backers of the 2002 law had won "essentially every court case after the law was passed. Then, Sandra Day O'Connor left the court" and everything changed, Meehan says. [See who's on the Supreme Court.]
The only thing Congress can do now, aside from the unlikely attempt to get a constitutional amendment, is to impose more disclosure requirements, Wertheimer says. But even that will take a motivating event, perhaps a huge campaign finance scandal, McCain says. And "there will be, someday, a type of scandal associated with campaign finance," McCain warns. Until then, the super PACs are in the driver's seat..