Super PACs Distort American Democracy

Maya Sherne, Staff Writer

It started with a hearing.  Initially, this hearing may seem like any other Supreme Court case—a fight for the rights of an individual.  This case, however, was different.  No individual was on trial, and no sole person was being held responsible over a dispute.  Instead, a powerful organization was fighting to be granted the same rights as an individual citizen.

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that corporate financing of campaign ads couldn’t be limited and that doing so took away a corporation’s right to free speech.  Essentially, this ruling meant that corporations are people and their astronomical political donations equate to free speech.  In doing so, the Supreme Court granted corporations the power to spend unlimited amounts of money to support a political candidate, giving birth to Super PACs in the 2010 election.   A Super PAC is a committee formed by a special interest group in order to raise money for the campaigns that they support.  However, these groups flood candidates with money and pollute the election process.

Before 2010, PACs were the primary method that corporations used to participate in politics.  A PAC, or political action committee, exists solely to promote a specific cause or candidate.  These private groups raise funds for a political campaign or ballot measure, but they can only collect a limited amount from one donor to support a political candidate.

While PACs are highly transparent and regulated, Super PACs are able to sidestep many of the rules.  In a Super PAC, it is easy to hide donors so that no one knows where money is coming from.  Corporations are able to use a non-profit to funnel money into a Super PAC, and they do not have to disclose where they got their funding.  This opaque sense of anonymity is dangerous because the motivations behind the donations are consequently withheld.

Ultimately, Super PACs distort our democracy.  An individual donor is limited to donating $2,500 to a candidate’s campaign, but Super PACs can collect unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions, and extremely wealthy individuals.  This complete disregard for campaign contribution limits gives corporations unlimited power and drowns out the voice of the people.  Unlike individuals, corporations have vast resources.  Thus, corporations are able to cancel out the people. They can use their power to help their narrow cause, disregarding the best interest of the citizens.

One huge donation from a wealthy person or group cancels out the many little donations from the people.  Additionally, Super PACs are able to air ads in support of a candidate or to attack another.  And since there are no regulations, a Super PAC can do anything in order to buy a candidate that will adhere to their interests while in office.  Super PACs are able to manipulate the political system through bribery and slanderous ads to influence individuals. The way money is used to buy a candidate’s support for a cause contradicts the best interest of the people, consequently distorting the effectiveness of the United States democracy.

While Citizens United v. FEC, intended to grant corporations the same right as a citizen, it actually gave them preferential treatment.   If corporations are people, then either their donations should be limited, or individuals should be able to donate unlimited amounts of money as well.  Of course, if people were allowed to donate unlimited amounts, then the richest citizens would donate ridiculous amounts of money to the candidate of their choice.  Since the gap between rich and poor and powerful and weak is already at an all time high, these contributions could make the distribution of power in the United States even more unequal then it already is. This double standard contradicts the always very limited political election process.

These Super PACs aren’t just controlled by corporate America, but by political insiders as well. While Super PACs claim that they are completely independent and not tied to a specific candidate or party, there is evidence that many Super PACs are controlled by close political associates of a candidate and spend their money solely on that election campaign.

The Super PAC advocating for Rick Perry, “Make Us Great Again,” was founded by Mike Toomey, Perry’s former chief of staff.   Mitt Romney’s PAC, “Restore Our Future,” was founded by Charles Spies, a general counsel for Romney’s 2008 campaign, and “Priorities USA,” President Barack Obama’s Super PAC, was founded by his former deputy press secretary Bill Burton.   It is understandable that a former staffer would promote their former employer, but it is inexcusable to do so privately while publicly withholding an endorsement.  Super PACs cannot simply deny that they are in support of a certain candidate if they have a longstanding relationship with said candidate.

Super PACs cancel out the individual and corrupt the entire system of democracy.  Candidates will no longer be elected by the people, and instead of working for the people, they will be working for corporate America.  I fear that in twelve years, the 46th president will make a public address, stating, “the government of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation, will never perish from this earth.”  What a sad day that will be.