current affairs

The State of Politics in the United States: Super PACs

This election will be the most expensive in history.

This election will be the most expensive in history. Of course this is nothing unusual, presidential elections have been increasing in expenditure every cycle, but this one will far outspend anything in history for one major reason. Super PACs.

In 2010, the landmark Supreme Court decision of Citizens United v Federal Election Commission ruled that previous restrictions on the amount individuals could contribute to Political Action Committees ($2,500) and the ban on donations from corporations and unions was unconstitutional. Thus the Super PAC was born and along with it an estimate that election spending will exceed $6 billion this election cycle.

Already these Super PACs have left their mark upon the election, targeting both candidates with harshly negative campaigns through traditional media and social media. The Washington Post tracks ad spending and currently rates negative ads as 74% of overall advertising. The most recent attack came from Priorities USA; an Obama allied Super PAC run by former White House aides. The TV advertisement features a former Steel plant worker Joe Soptic who lost his job after Bain Capital, Romney’s former company, shut down his factory. Soptic’s wife died of cancer “a short time after” and in the advert Soptic implies the loss of his health insurance after being laid-off contributed to her death. This to say the least was a stretch. Soptic was laid-off six years before his wife died, Romney stepped back from running Bain two years before Soptic was laid-off and Soptic’s wife was covered by her own employer for health insurance until she too was laid off.  But this is only the latest in a run of outrageous ads broadcast by both Obama Super PACs such as Priorities USA and Romney Super PACs like American Crossroads.

The Super Pac beast by nature resides in the shadows, generally because many have taken advantage of quirks and loopholes in legislation that allows them to avoid the disclosure of donors and funders. Yet there is a leader in the creepy stakes: Americans for Prosperity (AFP), backed by the kings of the capitalist-right: The Koch Brothers. David and Charles Koch own the second largest privately-owned company in the United States, they have funded conservative and libertarian policy and advocacy groups the tune of hundreds of millions and they have also given huge sums to help similarly minded politicians run for state and national legislatures. Their most famous progeny is the recently announced republican vice-presidential pick Paul Ryan who has attended and spoken at Koch Industries conferences where in the past wealthy donors have sat in on seminars on runaway government spending and the myth of global warming.  AFP is a grass-roots group focused on economic and budget issues that has been accused of hijacking the original Tea Party movement and turned it into an electoral force for the Koch’s own personal agenda. The chief interests of AFP include: the ‘myth’ of global warming, the ‘encroachment’ of the national government into the lives of US citizens and the ‘takeover’ attempt by the government to create a free healthcare system.

But to avoid a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and conjecture let’s get back to the topic at hand. What are the Super PAC spending figures to date and how is it affecting the candidates’ chances?

It is estimated that so far Super PACs have spent over $160 million in ads in favor of both candidates just within swing states (states both candidates have a chance of winning). However at least $144 million of that came from Republican Super PACs. This huge disparity in expenditure is one of the main reasons Romney has been able to stay afloat despite heavy early spending by Obama; the President has spent $77 million on ads whilst Romney has spent a puny $46 million. In fact Republican Super PACs have been saving Romney in the majority of swing states with 80% of Republican ad buy outs in these states coming from Super PACs whilst only 19% has come from their Democratic counterparts.

All in all Republican outside groups have spent seven times as much as their Democrat alter-egos and this difference in spending is sure to be worrying for the Obama campaign and Democratic Party. It is a truth universally acknowledged in American politics that money paves the way to a win and with the most recent Gallup poll showing Romney ahead by two, rich liberals need to get their own wallets out in force or they could be witness to a Republican Renaissance.