The Rise of 'Super PACs' Continues, Leaving Voters in Dark as Attack Ads Fill Airwaves
The proliferation of “super PACs” -- political organizations armed with the ability to raise unlimited amounts of money from wealthy individuals and corporations and to spend huge sums explicitly advocating for or against candidates -- continues at a staggering pace.
Thirty-three such committees have now registered their intention to raise unlimited sums for independent expenditures with the Federal Election Commission, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of FEC data.
Two months ago, the FEC gave the official green light to special interest groups hoping to cash in on federal court rulings that loosened campaign finance rules.
On July 22, the FEC gave its blessing to the conservative Club for Growth and the liberal Commonsense Ten, allowing them, and other groups like them, to form “super PACs,” officially known as “independent expenditure-only committees.” These committees can raise unlimited sums from individuals, corporations, unions and other groups. And with those massive war chests, they can run advertisements expressly advocating for or against federal candidates.
Some of these groups have yet to report raising a dime. Others have already raised millions of dollars -- and are spending hundreds of thousands in competitive races across the country. One thing is clear: New groups of this sort continue to register with the FEC, and their influence will be felt during the final weeks of the campaign. (See a full list of these organizations later in the story.)
In previous election cycles, groups that wanted to run ads that expressly advocated for or against candidates faced more severe fund-raising restrictions. It was illegal for a person to contribute more than $5,000 per year to a political committee. This cycle, however, several legal opinions have transformed the campaign finance landscape and erased previous rules.
Furthermore, in March, a federal court in SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission ruled that the government’s cap on donations to political committees was unconstitutional -- so long as those groups don’t make direct contributions to candidates and don’t coordinate with candidates when running independent advertisements.
The following table lists all committees that intend to raise unlimited contributions through Sept. 20, including the date each group officially informed the FEC of their desire to raise unrestricted sums of money in accordance with the SpeechNow.org and Citizens United rulings.
|FEC ID #||Committee Name||IE-Only Letter Filed|
|C00484287||AFL-CIO WORKERS VOICES PAC||9/20/2010|
|C00488940||NEW HOUSE INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURE COMMITTEE||9/14/2010|
|C00430876||WORKING FOR US POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE INC||9/10/2010|
|C00488759||AMERICAN WORKER INC, THE||9/10/2010|
|C00488742||NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS CONGRESSIONAL FUND||9/10/2010|
|C00469890||PATRIOT MAJORITY PAC||9/9/2010|
|C00488569||COALITION TO PROTECT AMERICAN VALUES||9/7/2010|
|C00488494||NEW PROSPERITY FOUNDATION; THE||9/2/2010|
|C00488502||PROTECTING CHOICE IN CALIFORNIA 2010, A PROJECT OF PLANNED PARENTHOOD AFF OF CALIFORNIA||9/2/2010|
|C00488429||CITIZENS FOR STRENTH AND SECURITY PAC||9/1/2010|
|C00488437||CONCERNED TAXPAYERS OF AMERICA||9/1/2010|
|C00488403||TEXAS TEA PARTY PATRIOTS PAC||9/1/2010|
|C00487470||CLUB FOR GROWTH ACTION||8/31/2010|
|C00488338||AMERICAN DENTAL ASSOCIATION PAC INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURES COMMITTEE||8/31/2010|
|C00423467||VOTE OUT INCUMBENTS FOR DEMOCRACY||8/30/2010|
|C00488486||COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA WORKING VOICES||8/30/2010|
|C00483693||SIERRA CLUB INDEPENDENT ACTION||8/19/2010|
|C00487785||HEADQUARTERS CMTE W HOLLYWOOD/BEV HILLS/STONEWALL DEM CLUB/STONEWALL YOUNG DEMS LTD||8/18/2010|
|C00487744||AMERICA'S FAMILIES FIRST ACTION FUND||8/17/2010|
|C00485854||LOUISIANA TRUTH PAC||8/11/2010|
|C00486688||FLORIDA IS NOT FOR SALE||8/5/2010|
|C00487280||CONSERVATIVES FOR TRUTH||8/2/2010|
|C00486845||LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS VICTORY FUND||7/30/2010|
|C00482620||ARIZONANS WORKING TOGETHER||7/28/2010|
|C00487199||CITIZENS FOR ECONOMIC AND NATIONAL SECURITY||7/28/2010|
|C00484295||CALIFORNIANS FOR FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP||7/23/2010|
|C00485821||AMERICANS FOR NEW LEADERSHIP||7/9/2010|
|C00485011||CLUB FOR GROWTH ADVOCACY INC||6/17/2010|
Some of these organizations file monthly reports with the FEC, while others file quarterly. Only when such reports are filed do voters have a full accounting of the individuals, corporations and other groups funding the barrage of advertisements the groups are running. In many cases, disclosure of donors will not come until after Election Day.
Even with these seismic changes in the campaign finance landscape, some groups are still seeking to avoid any donor disclosure.
Several organizations -- such as Crossroads Grassroots Political Solutions, or Crossroads GPS, a sister organization of the top conservative independent expenditure-only committee American Crossroads -- have formed under section 501(c)4 of the U.S. tax code. This designation means the group’s donors will never be reported to the FEC or to the Internal Revenue Service and that its primary purpose is supposed to be the “promotion of social welfare.” Yet, so far, this designation hasn’t kept it from spending big bucks on political messages in hotly contested races.
Democrats have pushed for legislation, known as the DISCLOSE Act, which would require advertisements to include information about the top donors financing the ads. The measure also calls for the heads of organizations that run independent expenditures to appear in the ad to approve the message, like political candidates currently do.
That legislation passed the House earlier this summer. In July, Republicans successfully filibustered the bill in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to bring the bill up for another vote in the Senate on Thursday, although it’s unclear if any Republicans have undergone a change of heart.