What, you haven’t hear about this?
What if I told you that this year, football’s premier event, the Super Bowl, will be played under amended rules? That’s right, in a move that will stun New York fans and likely launch thousands of protests, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is set to announce that Giants’ running backs and receivers will be required to carry an additional 40 pounds each when they take the field against the New England Patriots.
Of course it is, but the amount of money wealthy individuals, corporations and unions are allowed, by law, to give to so-called “Super PACs” is more than ridiculous, it’s shameless.
According to a heavily footnoted citation in the online sourceWikipedia, a Political Action Committee (PAC) “…is the name commonly given to a private group, regardless of size, organized to elect political candidates or to advance the outcome of a political issue or legislation. Legally, what constitutes a ‘PAC’ for purposes of regulation is a matter of state and federal law. Under the Federal Election Campaign Act, an organization becomes a ‘political committee’ by receiving contributions or making expenditures in excess of $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a federal election. Contributions by individuals to federal PACs are limited to $5,000 per year.”
However, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C. based non-profit, non-partisan research group that tracks money in politics, “Super PACs may raise unlimitedsums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.”
In other words, “Joe Voter,” (you and I), are like the handicapped NY Giants. While the vast majority of voters are required, by law, to only contribute a relatively small amount in support of a political candidate or legislation, the opposing team – wealthy individuals, unions, corporations – can contribute larger sums and thus press their influence on an election.
How did this amazingly unreasonable rule come to pass?Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
The U.S. Supreme Court held “that government may not prohibit unions and corporations from making independent expenditures about politics. Soon after, in Speechnow.org v. Federal Election Commission, the Federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that contributions to groups that only make independent expenditures could not be limited.”
All of this translates into this: the First Amendment guarantees free speech. So, all of us are entitled to avail themselves of as much free speech as money can buy. However, because some of us – corporations, unions and wealthy individuals – have more than others, they are, by law, permitted to buy more speech.
The only requirement is that Super PACs are not permitted to coordinate their activities directly with any candidate or party they are advocating for. However, a candidate may “talk to his associated Super PAC via the media,” says journalist Peter Grier, “and the Super PAC can listen, like everybody else.”
According to the Center’s web site, OpenSecrets, “As of February 02, 2012, 307 groups organized as Super PACs have reported total receipts of $98,650,681 and total independent expenditures of $45,260,719 in the 2012 cycle.
The two largest Super PACs supporting Republicans are “Restore Our Future” – a pro-Romney group, and “Winning Our Future,” which supports Newt Gingrich. Nevada casino manager Sheldon Adelson has personally given $10 million to WOF.
On the Democrat side, “Priorities USA Action” working for President Obama’s re-election raises substantial amounts, as well. Movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg has contributed $2 million to the Obama Super PAC.
Go to the OpenSecrets website and you can view the entire list of Super PACs and see who they support, how much they’ve raised, and their independent expenditures. Click on the most active and you will be able to see exactly who they support and how much they’ve spent to date.
Attorney James Bopp – who argued and won the Citizens United case before the Supreme Court – believes the more money in politics, the better. “We spend more on ice cream in a given year,” Bopp said in a recent CBS news interview, “than we do on the election of a president and, unfortunately, there’s not enough information out there. People do not know the name of their congressman, they don’t know the name of the vice-president, much less what their policies are. So, we need much more spending in order to have more informed voting.”
And I would argue that I’ve never seen ice cream influence an election.
So, what can we do?
While the Center for Responsive Politics does not sponsor any specific legislation, they believe “real accountability requires transparency. We strongly support and will urge passage of legislation and rules that will make it easier for Americans to stay informed about what their elected officials are doing, and why.” The Center’s web site lists a series of issues for citizens to investigate.
According to CBS News, “Political advertising on television is expected to reach an all-time high – $3 billion – by the time we pick our next president.”