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Report: 'Super PACs Are Kryptonite for US Democracy'

- Common Dreams staff

A joint analysis by Demos and US PIRG released today takes a detailed look at the increasing (and deleterious) impact that so-called Super PACs are having on elections in the United States.  Super PACs are independent political action committees that can accept unlimited and often undisclosed financial contributions from donors to campaign for or against candidates or issues during an election.

The analysis, Auctioning Democracy: The Rise of Super PACs and the 2012 Election, concludes "that Super PACs are truly kryptonite for" democracy in the United States, and "undermine basic principles of citizen sovereignty and political equality, and can rob voters of the chance to evaluate political messages in light of the messenger."

In a statement released with the report co-authors Blair Bowie and Adam Lioz claim their findings, "confirm that Super PACs represent much of what is wrong with American democracy rolled neatly into one package: they provide a convenient avenue for for-profit businesses and wealthy donors to dominate the political process with a flood of sometimes secret cash."

The report's core findings:

  • For-profit businesses use Super PACs as an avenue to influence federal elections. 17% of the itemized funds raised by Super PACs came from for-profit businesses—more than $30 million.
  • Because Super PACs—unlike traditional PACs—may accept funds from nonprofits that are not required to disclose their donors, they provide a vehicle for secret funding of electoral campaigns. 6.4% of the itemized funds raised by Super PACs cannot be feasibly traced back to an original source.
  • Super PACs are a tool used by wealthy individuals and institutions to dominate the political process. 93% of the itemized funds raised by Super PACs from individuals in 2011 came in contributions of at least $10,000, from just twenty-three out of every 10 million people in the U.S. population.

And Politico, looking at the analysis, reports on the individual giving of wealthy individuals to Super PACs:

A relatively few wealthy backers are keeping super PACs afloat — and they’re saying so. Last year alone, individuals gave super PACs $63 million.

That includes 15 people who gave $1 million or more, such as DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave $2 million to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC supporting President Barack Obama, and John Paulson, a hedge fund billionaire who gave $1 million to a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney’s GOP presidential campaign, according to FEC reports.

The figures don’t even include the $10 million that Adelson and his wife gave from their personal accounts to the super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich’s GOP presidential campaign after the year-end FEC reports.

Giving from a personal account, rather than a corporate or non-profit account, is seen as a way for wealthy corporate types to shield their business interests from the controversy that such mega-donations can bring.

* * *

Obama Urges His Donors to Support Priorities USA, the largest pro-Obama Super PAC

The Los Angeles Times reports:

President Obama's decision to endorse a "super PAC" working on his behalf will test the devotion of his top contributors, who have yet to match the massive sums pouring into such groups allied with Republican presidential challengers.

In asking his top fundraisers to steer money to the main super PAC backing his reelection, Obama embraced a campaign vehicle he spent the last two years castigating — potentially undermining his efforts to cast himself as a reformer.

Liberals and political reform advocates on Tuesday denounced his decision to allow campaign officials and Cabinet members to headline fundraisers for Priorities USA Action.

It remains to be seen whether Democratic contributors will make the mammoth donations that have fueled the GOP-allied super PACs, such as the $8.6 million Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons and his company gave last year to groups such as American Crossroads.

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