The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United allowed them. Political candidates rely on them. And Stephen Colbert parodies them. But as a former chair of the Federal Election Commission and the lawyer behind Colbert’s super PAC — Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow — I find that most people don’t understand the role that these largely unaccountable organizations play in American politics. As the GOP primary race draws to a close, let’s take a look at some common misconceptions about groups powerful enough to evade traditional limits with a single bound.
1. Super PACs are transparent because they are required to report the names of donors.
Under federal law, political action committees must report the names of their donors. And under the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, corporations are permitted to spend money on political speech. So super PACs — allegedly independent political action committees that can collect unlimited cash — regularly disclose corporate contributors. But transparency can be a bit blurry at times. In 2011, the Mitt Romney-linked Restore our Future super PAC reported a $1 million contribution from “W Spann LLC.” Never heard of it? Neither had several enterprising reporters, who learned that its address in New York was the same as that of Bain Capital — Romney’s former firm. After the press demanded to know what Romney was hiding, a former Bain executive came forward to say that the donation was his. He had given it through a shell corporation that his lawyer had created for that purpose. How often does this happen? What if W Spann had been funded by another corporation or a foreign national — one whose lawyers had been a little less obvious when picking an address? Disclosure isn’t the same as transparency.
2. Super PACs don’t corrupt politics because they operate independently of the campaigns they support.
In Citizens United, the high court said that the government may regulate only political activity that has the potential to corrupt and that independent corporate spending does not fall into that category. But the Federal Election Commission permits “common vendors” (such as pollsters and media firms) to be used by candidates and super PACs. It lets candidates solicit funds for super PACs, endorse them and appear at their events. Financial backers of these groups can travel with candidates and advise them on policy. And the people running them can be closely tied to the candidates.
Full Article: Five myths about super PACs – The Washington Post.