Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What the heck is a Super PAC?

With elections just around the corner, it's time for campaign acronyms to be thrown around like mad.  One of the favorites is PAC, or Political Action Committee.  PACs are special established campaign committees that are designed to influence the outcome of elections by raising and spending money on a candidates behalf.  Previous to 2010, PACs could raise money only from individuals and could raise no more than $5,000, per person.

That changed is 2010 with the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  In a deeply controversial decision, a 5-4 court decision ruled that corporations and unions could contribute directly to PACs from their general treasuries (though they could still not contribute to campaigns directly).  This gave way to the rise of so-called Super PACs.

A Super PAC operates like a regular PAC, with a few key exceptions.  First, the amount of money they can raise and spend is absolutely unlimited.  These groups still have to disclose their donors, and they still may not coordinate directly with a campaign.  However, the donors to groups that donate to Super PACs themselves may not have to be disclosed (depending on the type of group), allowing for some semblance of anonymity when it comes to political donations.  Additionally, Super PACs can launch attack ads directly against candidates, something regular PACs were usually not able to do.

The 2010 elections were the first time that Super PACs were seen.  In 2012, they are bound to be a massive driver of electoral politics, with groups and candidates on both sides utilizing them to make their respective cases.

Source:  New Super PACs Bringing Millions into campaigns

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