Super PAC

american crossroads

winning our future

The 2010 midterm election marked the rise of a new political committee, dubbed ‘super PACs,’ and officially known as ‘independent-expenditure only committees,’ which can raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions and other groups, as well as individuals.

The super PACs were made possible by two judicial decisions. The first was the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which held that government may not prohibit unions and corporations from making independent expenditures about politics. Soon after, in v. FEC, the Federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that contributions to groups that only make independent expenditures could not be limited.

Super PACs are not allowed to coordinate directly with candidates or political parties since they are ‘independent.’ However, a candidate may ‘talk to his associated super PAC via the media. And the super PAC can listen, like everybody else,’ according to journalist Peter Grier, election law expert Rick Hasen, and former chairman of the United States Federal Election Commission Trevor Potter (the lawyer of TV satirists Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert).

Super PACs are required to disclose their donors, just like traditional PACs. However, many exploit a technicality in the filing requirements in order to postpone disclosure until well after the elections they participate in. Even absent a formal connection to a campaign, Super PACs openly support particular candidacies. In the primary season before the 2012 presidential campaign, for example, the Restore Our Future Super PAC benefited Republican Mitt Romney while attacking rival Newt Gingrich. In the same election, the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future Super PAC attacked Romney. Each Super PAC was run by former employees of the candidate it supported, and each attracted money from that candidate’s associates.

During the 2012 presidential campaign season, comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart created the Colbert Super PAC, which they used on their satirical TV shows to illustrate the workings of election campaigns. Super Pacs use soft money, or they do not have a limit to how much money they donate, unlike the traditional PAC’s which use hard money meaning that they are required under 503(c)(3) to pay a basic tax what they donate to. Without new legislation, traditional PACs may become obsolete.

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