Republican Rigging Part 29: Superpacs

Written by Robert Warden

The term “Superpac” sounds to me like something out of a video game, but it’s not. It’s something out of a political influence game instead — a way of raising larger sums of campaign money than would otherwise be possible. To my surprise, the existence of Superpacs according to Open Secrets, is traced to a Supreme Court decision in July, 2010 called Speechnow.Org versus Federal Election Commission, not to Citizens United. The thread of Supreme Court decisions giving more power to corporations and big money interests in influencing elections is much longer than I had realized. Moreover, Superpac money, as it turns out, can also be “Dark Money,” even though Superpacs are required to disclose their sources. As it turns out, some of their sources (which they disclose), may themselves be Dark Money sources, as the following article by the Sunlight Foundation explains (https://sunlightfoundation.com/2015/10/30/the-difference-between-super-pacs-and-dark-money-groups/).

I looked at a couple types of data on the topic of conservative versus liberal Superpac money, with varying results. The most current source of data is from Open Secrets. Doing a rough calculation, the 2018 numbers so far have turned out to be almost even to my surprise, with around 128 million in Superpac money for conservative causes, and 129 million for liberal causes when all the money is summed together. Some Superpac money, by the way, has been characterized as neither being for liberal nor conservative causes, so that the total amount is somewhat more than the sum of the liberal and conservative money, at $278, 678.147 currently. Remember, these numbers are much lower than they would be for a presidential campaign (https://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/superpacs.php). Nonetheless, the relative success of Democrats in raising Superpac money (at least in keeping up with Republicans this time around), seems to herald an encouraging trend for Democrats, with increased enthusiasm for their candidates in general.

Another source of information is the Superpac monies regarding the 2016 presidential cycle. During this cycle, as expected, the only Democratic Party candidate who had significant Superpac money was Hillary Cliinton, although she did have the most of any candidate at 97.7 million as of June 22, 2016 according to the New York Times. However, Republicans collectively had close to $400 million dollars in Superpac money by that time, around 4 times the collective amount of the Democratic candidates. (Bernie Sanders famously refused to take Superpac money and relied on individual donations instead, and other Democratic candidates raised very little money.) That is highly significant because all of that money, with all the ads and news coverage which that generated, helped raise the general profile of the Republican primaries and ultimately Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency, as well as generating more excitement among Republicans and Republican leaning voters. Similar findings prevailed for total campaign funds raised, although Bernie Sanders helped Democrats partially catch up to Republicans in that regard (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/us/elections/election-2016-campaign-money-race.html).

Thus, despite varying results for both Democrats and Republicans, overall, analysis of Superpac data seems to indicate that Republicans, as usual, are winning this fundraising game. And why wouldn’t they be? After all, it was their idea.

The more fundamental issue regarding the use of Superpacs, however, is not who is “winning the campaign financing war,” but rather, how the allowance of unlimited funding, from corporate sources, or super-wealthy people — often without disclosure, especially in the case of funding for conservative causes — has been corrupting the political process and, aside from a few principled candidates such as Bernie Sanders, drawing even supposedly liberal Democrats into its snare. This is a big part, if not the biggest, of the process of shifting the “center” of politics in the United States to the right, even as the electorate slowly but surely moves to the left. Something eventually has to give, or else the entire political system will topple down to the right. It seems clear that this shift has been orchestrated very deliberately by right wing organizations such as their think tanks, lobbyists, and rich benefactors as well as Republican politicians, aided by a corporate friendly, conservative dominated Supreme Court.

The problem of unlimited campaign contributions also extends to the individual level — that of wealthy individual donors — a topic which I will explore next time.