What are Independent expenditure-only committees and should Americans be concerned about their growing power? Independent expenditure-only committees are better known as IPACS or Super PACs. IPACS are any private group organized and funded with the goal of electing a political candidate or advancing a legislative agenda. To some Americans that sounds like jargon for attempting to buy the presidency, electoral candidates or shape the laws that govern our country. I choose to believe that is not the case because our democracy should never be for sale- the power of the vote should always prevail. In the 2012 election the later succeeded, but as Super PACs continues to gain momentum and dominate the political process with unprecedented amounts of contributions from millionaires and billionaires, many worry that their voices might be overshadowed or muted out in future elections.
Where did IPACs get their start? Top Supreme Court rulings, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission. These two Supreme court decisions have reshaped the political playing field ushering in an unprecedented wave of spending from wealthy donors and super PACS functioning as shadow fundraising arms of the candidates (Robert Barnes). For example, during the 2012 election non-party outside spending tripled 2008's total and topped 1 billion for the first time, super PACs accounted for more than $600 million of that spending (Andrew Mayersohn). 2012 Top donors to outside spending groups
Supreme Court Rulings
- Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overruling an earlier decision, Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce (Austin), that allowed prohibitions on independent expenditures by corporations. The Court also overruled the part of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission that held that corporations could be banned from making electioneering communications. The Court upheld the reporting and disclaimer requirements for independent expenditures and electioneering communications. The Court’s ruling did not affect the ban on corporate contributions. (Federal Election Commission)
- SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission: On March 26, 2010, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act that limit the contributions that individuals may make to SpeechNow.org, and the contributions that SpeechNow.org may accept from them, violate the First Amendment. unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. (Federal Election Commission)
Before Super PAC mania, outside groups were legally limited in the ways they could use contributions to influence elections. Now direct corporate spending and the creation of super PACs can accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals for the purpose of making independent expenditures. The real kicker is nonprofits are not required to disclose their donors publicly but are privy to the same privilege of making independent expenditures as for-profit corporations. According Andrew Mayersohn, such groups spent $256 million, or just over a quarter of all non-party outside spending, in the 2012 elections; how much of that money came from corporate treasuries is unknown.
Defendants of IPACs argue that IPACS foster competitiveness, but is that truly the case if donors can donate unlimited amounts and the political playing field is even? Are we fostering a dog eat dog mentality? If IPACS foster competitiveness then what are we fostering or competing against…who can raise the most money to buy attack adds, venomous media coverage, malicious speeches, ect.. Or are we fostering the concerns of the American people as a “whole” along with ideas that make America stronger and more competitive as a nation?
Lastly, electoral candidate who are backed by Big $s should not be made to feel they have been given a pass to distort truth and facts during campaigns, or misrepresent their agenda or ignore a group of people based on their race, age, gender or economic- status even if done behind close doors with among their peers. The American people do not deserve disingenuous electoral candidates only represents a selected few. For example, 2012, presidential candidates Mitt Romney’s infamous 47% remark should never be forgotten. Candidates should also be mindful of using the word “jobs” loosely, putting the word “job” in front of or at the end of a sentence does not mean the American people are naive to take what is said for face value when it doesn’t make since.
Should Americans be concerned over the growing influence Super PACs, and big donors have over our political process? I don’t know the definitive answer- only time will tell, but I do know we shouldn’t close our eyes to it and resign with the anything goes mindset.