Long before Ben Carson jumped into the presidential race, some of his biggest fans were scouring the country for supporters. They set up a super PAC and began sending out brochures, eventually attracting thousands who signed up and gave money. When Carson actually got around to running, his campaign used those names to jump-start his early fundraising, according to John Philip Sousa IV, great-grandson of the composer and chairman of the 2016 Committee, a super PAC backing Carson. “It was that list that launched his campaign,” Sousa said, saying those names helped Carson build his $20 million in contributions.
The power of super PACs was unleashed by a series of Supreme Court decisions dating to 1976, including Citizens United in 2010, that opened the door to unlimited contributions to political groups — so long as they didn’t coordinate with campaigns.
This presidential cycle, that rule is being stretched like never before, as super PACs shadow candidates and take on roles once reserved for the campaign organizations themselves — even staging campaign rallies.
Many of the super PACs and the campaigns are run by a revolving door of close friends and staffers, ensuring that the two sides share a common playbook even when they avoid tripping over the vague Federal Election Commission rules banning coordination.