A Dummies Guide to Super PACs

Are you paying attention to Super PACs?

If you watch Jon Stewart and/or The Colbert Report, you sure know what I’m talking about.

If you remember Kerry losing the 2004 Presidential election because of the drama stirred up from the Swiftboat attack ads, questioning Kerry’s integrity, then you are familiar with the nasty power of traditional PACs. Just wait until you hear about Super PACs.

In this election cycle, the Super PACs are in full force. There are Super PACs (political organizations that can raise as much money as they want with unrestricted single donation amounts, in support of a candidate, as long as they don’t actually interact with the candidate) that will raise up to $300 million in this Presidential election. Their goal is to get their candidate elected by taking out the other candidates. Mostly with negative attack ads, robo calls, etc. You’re familiar with their tactics.

Did you know it’s harder to create a TV commercial selling white bread because of FCC regulations you have to go through to prove your claims. With political ads you apparently aren’t under the same scrutiny, so you don’t have to prove the claims you’re making. So it’s pretty easy to get a negative campaign ad about a candidate on TV.

Sometimes the Super PACs get fined when the Federal Election Commission finds out that they are cohorting with a candidate (you’re not allowed to communicate remember). Fined how much you ask? Anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000. Hmm, sounds significant. I guess unless you consider that some of these Super PACs are raising tens of millions of dollars. So maybe a $200,000 fine here and there is the cost of doing business?

Back to Stephen Colbert. Maybe you’ve heard, he’s founded his own Super PAC. Why? Not to attack any particular candidate. But to draw more attention to how Super PACs are destroying the political system in the United States.

Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC is running the following outrageous TV ad right now in South Carolina, if you can believe it:

How much as Stephen Colbert raised? The funny thing is that he doesn’t have to tell us! Well, Super PACs are supposed to release the names of their donors, with donation amounts, every 3 months. But you know what? Stephen Colbert formed his Super PAC in July and he hasn’t reported any of his donations. And no one seems to care. He says the FEC could fine him but they’d have to rule he did something wrong. And they’re split 3-3 (republican-democrat) so they can never actually ever agree on anything to rule on. So he’s fine to just keep wreaking havoc… showing how out of control Super PACs are.

I don’t know what the solution is to Super PAC fiascos. They are supported by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2010 (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission), with the majority coming from liberal judges. And it sounds like the Supreme Court will never reverse its own decision, so the only thing that could change the system now is an amendment to the United States Constitution (no easy task).

Oh and don’t think this is a nasty Republican thing. Democrats are currently raising oodles in their own Super PACs, in support of President Obama. They will be fired up and ready to rip to shreds whoever the Republican candidate ends up being.

It’s going to be interesting. Can’t wait to watch the 2012 election unfold.

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