PACs and Super PACs. If you read the news or turned on the TV during the 2012 election you couldn’t help but hear these buzzwords. But what are PACs? What makes a PAC super? More importantly, why should we care that our PACs have become super sized?
A Political Action Committee, better know as a PAC, is a political committee formed to raise money to elect or defeat political candidates. Most PACs represent a certain kind of interest—business, ideological or labor groups. Regular PACs have always been limited in the amount of money they can contribute to a party or candidate–$5,000 to a candidate committee per election, $5,000 to another PAC annually, and up to $15,000 per year to any national party committee. Plus PACs are only allowed to accept up to $5,000 from any individual, PAC or party committee a year.
But new legislation in 2010 threw all those rules out the window. SpeechNow.org vs. Federal Election Commission made restrictions on individual contributions unconstitutional. And in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that limiting corporate and union spending to influence elections was also unconstitutional, basically giving corporations the same rights as individuals.
These rulings opened the door to create unrestricted PACs, nicknamed Super PACs. Super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions, individuals and associations, and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against political candidates.
Unlike PACs, a Super PAC can’t donate directly to a political candidate or work in conjunction with them. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 1,310 registered Super PACs have raised over 809 million dollars and spent over 609 million dollars in the 2012 election cycle.
The big issue with Super PACs is the concern they’ll further corrupt the political process. Now corporations and special interest groups can spend unlimited amounts of money getting political candidates of their choice elected. Money drives political campaigns and once in office there’s concern these groups will have undue influence over the elected official. And there’s nothing super about that.