I opened my morning newspaper this summer to find an article dedicated to the unveiling of a piece of Senate legislation that would force the United States Olympic Committee to adopt stricter standards in the manufacturing of uniforms worn by U.S. athletes during future opening and closing Olympic Games ceremonies.
With everything our nation is grappling with, the best our legislators can do is worry about whether the clothes our athletes wear—in a global event—are made in the USA. Why? Because it’s an election year, and everyone knows that in an election year nothing gets done. Why? Because the people we send to Washington have their marching orders: oppose this, pass that, and prevent anything in between. If they don’t, they’ll be run out of town by the very people who raised the money to get them there.
Money these days seems to be more important than issues, and for that we have Super PACs to thank.
Super PACs, technically known as “independent expenditure-only committees,” can raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions, individuals and other groups—there are no legal limits. They’re a simple way around a tightly regulated campaign funding process. Super PACs can overtly advocate for or against political candidates, and while they’re prohibited from donating money directly to those candidates, they may engage in unlimited political spending independent of the campaigns. Candidates and Super PAC managers are even allowed to discuss campaign strategy and tactics through the media.
Super PACs are skewing the system. They’re becoming a hindrance and don’t do the campaign process justice. According to an online source, nearly 700 organized Super PACs in this 2012 cycle have reported receipts upwards of $320 billion. It’s come down to one TV jab after another. The real issues still aren’t being discussed, and the hard work continues to be cast aside, presumably until after the election.
After labeling them a “threat to democracy,” President Obama reversed his long-standing position on Super PACs earlier this year when it became apparent that he was at a significant financial disadvantage. According to a recent Bloomberg article, Republican Super PACs have outraised Obama by more than $100 million, although “Priorities USA” (pro-Obama) has outspent “Restore Our Future” (pro-Romney) $14 million to $9 million on advertising since April.
To prove a point, comedian Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC, “Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” produced limited-edition Super PAC Super Fun Packs including a t-shirt, decoder ring, Allen wrench, American flag and a map to find a hidden treasure somewhere in the continental U.S. The entire stock sold out in less than a week following the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court case, which was the ruling that gave rise to the advent of Super PACs.
The kicker was that the fun packs also included Federal Election Commission paperwork and filing instructions—everything the donor needed to form his own Super PAC. That’s right— anyone can start a Super PAC. And we’ve grown accustomed to seeing that anyone has. But what has that gotten us?
Some may argue that more money equals more speech equals a more informed electorate, but spending unlimited amounts on negative ads and messaging is hardly a responsible way to educate voters.
Traditional sources of funding, on the other hand, help get good candidates elected. Contributions to CouncilPAC, for example, are used to support candidates who share our common goals and to educate candidates and lawmakers who may be unfamiliar with the intricacies of our business. The end game is responsible legislation and thoughtful laws that help our industry grow, be competitive and serve our clients—the very constituents lawmakers are supposed to go to bat for every day.
Colbert’s Super Fun Packs put a light-hearted spin on contribution limits and expenditures, but at the end of the day, Colbert also shed light on the fact that more time and energy are being spent on outlandish campaign contributions than on the issues. The money machine has created a political standstill.
And there ain’t no decoder ring or Allen wrench that’s gonna fix it.