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A Majority of Super PACs Are Devoted to Just One Candidate, Public Citizen Study Finds
Many Single-Candidate Committees Are Founded, Financed or Managed By Friends, Family and Political Allies of the Candidate They Aid, Discrediting Claims of ‘Independence’
WASHINGTON - October 24 - A majority of the super PACs active in this election cycle are devoted to helping just a single candidate, a new Public Citizen analysis shows. Of these, many were founded by friends, family members, former employees or political allies of the candidate they support, meaning they cannot plausibly be deemed independent.
This is important because the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to permit unfettered outside spending in elections was premised on the assumption that expenditures by corporations and other third-party groups were “independent” and therefore did not pose a risk of corrupting the candidate they benefit.
But an analysis of spending by super PACs – the committees enabled by Citizens United that may accept unlimited contributions – discredits that core assumption. The report, “Super Connected; Super PACs’ Devotion to Individual Candidates Undercuts Assumption in Citizen United That Outside Spending Would Be ‘Independent,’ ” also found that:
• Of 108 super PACs that had spent at least $100,000 through the middle of October, 65 were active in just one contest;
• The 65 single-candidate super PACs have spent approximately $203 million, accounting for 55 percent of the $370 million spent by all super PACs that have spent at least $100,000; and
• Although single-candidate super PACs have received significant attention for their work in the presidential election, such super PACs also are playing a major role in the congressional elections. Of 69 super PACs devoted solely to the congressional elections, 39 have worked on behalf of only one candidate.
“Single-candidate super PACs are making a mockery of the campaign finance system,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the report. “Donors seeking to dodge contribution limits can simply give unlimited amounts to the candidate’s super PAC.”
Consider Lou Ann Zelenik, a congressional challenger in Tennessee, who was the beneficiary of two super PACs that were devoted solely to attacking her opponent. Both super PACs received the majority of their funding from the same person, a former Zelenik finance chair. Numerous other super PACs discussed in the report were managed by political allies and employees of the candidate they benefited.
The report also contains numerous examples of the convoluted machinations that super PACs can use to hide their donors even though their contributions theoretically must be disclosed.
Take, for example, Freedom Fund for America’s Future. It reported spending $175,145 to oppose Tom Smith in the primary for the Republican nomination to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate. It then reported that 92 percent of its money came from another super PAC, Fight for the Dream. Fight for the Dream reported that it got its money from yet another group that shared the same mailbox. That other group is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that keeps its donors secret. The one clue Fight for the Dream revealed was that its mailbox was registered to the former finance co-chairman for one of Smith’s main opponents. This is just one example of the tangled web that Citizens United has wrought.
“In Citizens United, the court claimed that outside expenditures are not corrupting even while it maintained its view that large contributions to candidates are,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “This report shows that those views are irreconcilable.”
The report can be viewed here.