Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Super PACs super corrupt

January 2010 will be remembered as having one of the most instrumental moments in recent political history and now, in the middle of the presidential election, we are seeing its full effect. In that month, the Supreme Court overruled over 70 years of its own precedent in what has now become the famous Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission case. On top of removing a sizable chunk of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also known as the McCain-Feingold Act, this case fundamentally altered our elections proceedings in two major ways. The first is that it allowed corporations, unions and other non-human entities born on a piece of paper to be considered a person under the first amendment of the United States Constitution.

Now, in a very limited scope, this makes sense, right? For example, no one would be comfortable with the president having the ability to shut down a company just for disagreeing with him. But being a person comes with many rights and responsibilities – things you can do and things you can’t. This basically does not apply to corporations. Corporations get all the benefits of being a person with none of the responsibilities that come with freedom of speech. However, the Supreme Court took what was already a disgraceful matter a step further by saying additionally that the expenditure of money is inherently a form of free speech. And lo, the Super PAC was born.

A Super PAC is a political action committee – a group set up to support or stop a certain candidate, policy or other governmental effort – on steroids and is the second major way Citizens United decision altered our elections. Officially known as “independent-expenditure only committees,” Super PACs allow the raising unlimited amount of money from any one or thing with a large enough wallet. While the Super PACs cannot directly coordinate with the candidate, it isn’t exactly rocket science for the Super PACs to figure out where they need to spend their money in helping out a particular candidate the most. Hint – it is the competitive primary and swing states. Additionally, many Super PACs have filed for 501 (c)(4) status, meaning that they are both tax-exempt and never have to disclose any of their donors every three months like a regular PAC does.

Made famous to the general college aged public by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Super PACs don’t have to disclose how much money they have or what they want to spend it on. However, this is not some political science principle or theory that doesn’t affect your day-to-day life. Who your leaders are in Washington can and does affect you every single day – especially by attending a publically funded University – and these Super PACs are now key players in deciding who those leaders are.

Of this nation, .000063 percent, or 196 people, have funded 80 percent of all Super PAC donations so far in the 2012 election cycle. Out of 300 million, 196  people influence our elections in ways the rest of us could not possibly hope to attain. Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson is currently single-handedly keeping Newt Gingrich in the presidential race by funding his Super PAC, Winning Our Future, with at least two separate donations of over $5 million. Mitt Romney’s Super PAC, Restore Our Future, has raised so much money that he very commonly outspends his rivals by at least five times in each state. Additionally, due to Super PACs, there has been a 1600 percent increase in interest group advertising since 2008.

But the real danger in all of this is the secretive nature of the donations and these 501 (c)(4) “shadow” Super PACs. In the time before Citizens United, a candidate could receive donations of a max of $2,500 from an individual, $5,000 from a political action committee and $30,800 from a political party committee. Now with unlimited and effectively anonymous campaign expenditures, there is nothing to stop a corporation or foreign government from spending astronomical amounts of money in our elections. Many of our corporations, such as General Electric, Exxon Mobil, Time Warner and Chevron, have more money in profits every year than most countries have in GDP. Major trading partners such as China or Japan or major strategic partners such as Israel or Egypt, all have interests in affecting the outcome of our elections. There is literally nothing stopping them from giving $100 million to a Super PAC for either party’s candidate and making certain that that person is extremely favorable to them once in office.

In January 2010 the Citizen’s United case radically changed the way elections work in this country. The question going forward is, are we as people going to accept that this as a necessary function of our elections, or are we going to say that this change is unacceptable? Congressman James McGovern, from Massachusetts 3rd District, introduced H.J.Res.88, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would overturn this decision and return us to the days where our elections were only slightly taken over by the super rich instead of being completely owned by them.

Jarred Rose is a Collegian contributor. He can be reached at [email protected].

View Comments (3)
More to Discover

Comments (3)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • P

    patentMar 28, 2012 at 4:24 am

    Inslee is going to lose. Washington voters like to split their votes and most see McKenna as a middle of the road Republican despite his lawsuit against the HCA which I deplore as the worst sort of political whoring (he’s a smarter attorney than that). But he’s always in the news with big Consumer Protection lawsuits and settlements and Inslee is nowhere to be found doing good works of any kind. He’s off the radar in WA and I don’t think he’ll be able to make up his deficit by November.

  • K

    KrisMar 27, 2012 at 10:33 am

    You mentioned Newt and Mitt, but not President Obama.

  • J

    John JayMar 27, 2012 at 8:36 am

    Jarred, you make a strong argument, but let’s not forget who actually votes in the elections. Not China, Egypt, Chevron, Exxon-Mobile, or any other party you mentioned. It is the US citizens who decide our leader. Parties can spend as much money as they’d like, but ultimately we decide which direction to take our country.