I had my first dabble in politics during my senior year in high school, when I agreed to help a close friend run for student body president. What started out as a harmless venture into high school politics so he could meet girls, turned into an ugly, downright shameful campaign that would have made Mitt Romney proud. Our campaign strategy was simple, we would raise money for the campaign by collecting donations from a few friends in return for political favors. Which really meant nothing at the time, this was high school after all. Our political influence was limited to perhaps a free lunch.
We collected a small fortune of about $200 dollars. The money went to finance a smear campaign against our rival in the race, that amounted to us passing out flyers around campus, suggesting that our political rival had a love child with a handicapped student. My friend showed no remorse and pulled out all stops on his dirty election run. Leaving me thinking that he would have even taken out a hit against the other guy, if he would have gotten away with it. In the end, our political ambitions got us suspended from school, costed us a few friends and the election.
Now fast-forward to 2012 and what has changed in American politics? Not much really.
As the 2012 presidential race is hot under way, the Republican front-runners are busy tearing at each other’s throats via proxy attack ads, such as a recent attack ad against Newt Gingrich financed by Mitt Romney’s super PAC, “Restore Our Future.” It’s a catchy name, isn’t it.
So what in the hell is a super PAC? The term is an abbreviation for political action committee and its birth came from the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v.The Federal Election Commission. Prior to the decision, political contributions were limited by the federal government to tune of $2,500. After the decision by the high court, previous limits on political campaign financing were prohibited, opening the floodgates for unlimited political contributions. Super PACs can now raise unlimited amounts of money in support for or against a candiate. The only catch is that the super PACs cannot “coordinate” with candidates they support. Is it just me, or does that not make any sense at all?
Given the complexity and absurdity of it all, Stephen Colbert invited the former chairmen of the Federal Election Commission, Trevor Potter, on his show early last year to explain what a super PAC is and how it works. Click on the link above to see the video.
So why even have a super PAC? For starters, its expense to run a political campaign. According to a recent article in Forbes, the cost of a presidential run has skyrocketed over the years. In 1996, Bill Clinton spent $153 million, compared to the $774 million Barack Obama spent in 2008.
Second, not everyone who wants to have some say in how the government is ran will run for office. So how can organizations, businesses or individuals have a say in goverment? By buying some political influence and that is now becoming easier to get then most people think. All it takes is deep pockets, leaving out about 99 percent of Americans from the political process.
According to Forbes, As of 2011, super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich raised over $32 million combined. Behind some of the largest contributions are mega millionaires, like Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who gave Romney $11 million as of January of this year. According to political strategist Douglas Schoen, when ever a political donor gives that much money, that donor is now someone with some sway, “you will be taken seriously in Washington by every player.” Where as “in traditional philanthropic giving, that’s a valuable contribution, but the president of the university doesn’t have time for you. The President of the United States does have time for you,” according to Schoen.