Super PACs can receive unlimited contributions and make unlimited campaign expenditures for or against a candidate, often with actual donors hidden from view. This election year will see an exponential growth in their number and in the funds available to them. Partisans from left and right will use them. No reforms to limit them will occur. And there is a looming war of attrition as the negative, superficial cannonading of Super PACs in political ads threatens to obliterate any semblance of a policy debate.
Exhibit A (we will likely run the alphabet this year) is Restore Our Future, the Super PAC organized by the political director of Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign and supposedly “independent” of the Romney campaign itself. On November 30, 2011, Newt Gingrich led Mitt Romney in Iowa by a 14 percentage point margin (31 percent to 17 percent), per a New York Times/CBS poll. In the next 30 days, Restore Our Future spent more than $3 million on negative, anti-Gingrich ads — twice the amount spent by the Romney campaign itself. The final result: Romney in first (barely) with 25 percent of the vote, Gingrich in fourth, with 13 percent of the vote.
Super PACs are, of course, the progeny of the Supreme Court’s January, 2010 decision in Citizens United, which declared unconstitutional the legislative provisions that had prohibited corporations and unions from their organizational treasuries to pay for ads, even if those ads were made independently of a candidate’s campaign. Now, so long as the Super PACs are “independent” of a politician’s own efforts, they can raise and expend unlimited funds either for a) “independent expenditures” that support or oppose a particular candidate or b) “electioneering communications” that may mention the candidate favorably or unfavorably in a discussion of campaign issues, but which do not expressly advocate election or defeat.