Flattery: U.S. Super PACs: good or bad?

BY NEIL FLATTERY | JULY 09, 2015 5:00 AM

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The 2016 presidential election is slowly approaching, and candidates on both sides of the political spectrum are in full force, organizing their campaigns and attempting to lure wealthy donors to financially back their presidential runs.

According to the New York Times, eight GOP candidates have already had supporters establish nonprofit groups called Super PACs to support them. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s supporters are considering raising funds through the nonprofit Priorities USA Action, also a Super PAC.

Super PACs are allowed to raise an unlimited amount of funds as long as these organizations are run independently of a particular candidate and no financial contributions are made to a candidate’s campaign. Undoubtedly, largely wealthy individuals and interest groups fund these Super PACs with the aim at influencing elections in their favor.

However, these groups can also help promote the spread of ideas, prop up second-tier, financially outgunned candidates, and, according to the Citizens United v. FEC ruling, are allowed under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Super PACs have been given a negative stigma in the media. The marriage of big money and politics campaigns can never be a good thing, right? However, the main objective of political-action committees, which is the spread of information and arguments, is at the root of democracy.

Informing the public on the necessary information regarding each political candidate costs money, especially in today’s technological climate with our infinite number of different means of communication. Public policy that limits these organizations’ ability to raise money and spread new ideas prohibits free speech.

Super PACs have the ability to prop up second-tier candidates who may be overpowered financially. During the 2012 Republican primaries, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were able to garner considerable support although not having nearly as much personal wealth as Mitt Romney. Ron Paul also was able to have a strong showing in the primaries. If outside donors were limited in their ability to contribute to presidential campaigns, the candidates with the most personal wealth would have a distinct advantage over those who lacked the same amount of personal wealth.

Money cannot innately buy an individual’s vote. It simply allows candidates to get their message out to the public, and the candidates hope people agree with their message and vote for them. It is on us to determine for ourselves what information thrown our way is true and false to decide who is the best possible candidate.

In the past, the GOP has had a hard time organizing grass-root campaign efforts that can match those of the Democrats. Democrats tend to be strongly backed by the labor groups, which have no trouble finding volunteers to engage in old-fashioned, yet effective, campaigning tactics and require little mobilization in preparation for elections.  

However, according to the Times, the GOP has responded in this election by tailoring its Super PACs in Iowa, especially those of Rand Paul and Bobby Jindal, around a more grass-roots effort run entirely by citizens, independent of the official campaigns of the candidates they are endorsing.

With voter turnout levels hovering around just 60 percent in recent past presidential elections, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, citizen engagement in the election process should be encouraged.

The question surrounding Super PACs should not be “How can we get rid of them?” Instead, we need to try to find ways to make them more transparent and strip them of any corruption, because their main goal is informing the public about each candidate — an essential for democracy.

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