Are Super PACs Good for Democracy?



these days when you talk politics it seems like all you hear about our super PACs and if you're like most people most of what you hear is pretty negative contrary to what you might be hearing super PACs in fact are creating more competition in our democracy they're creating a more open system and they're making more voices heard so why are people getting so worked up well there's a lot of bad information going around is about super PACs so we're gonna try to set the record straight on at least a few points myth number one super PACs enable corporations to control and dominate elections what we've seen in the two election cycles so far that is 2010 the first election with super PACs and 2012 to date is the corporate spending is a very small part of the super PAC picture only about 18 percent comes from corporations fifty five percent comes from individuals and the others 26 percent comes from unions and nonprofit organizations myth number two super PACs raise secret untraceable money well that's not really true in fact super PACs are required to report all of their donors to the Federal Election Commission where it's made available on the Federal Election Commission website to any American who wants to look it up and this data has to be reported quarterly monthly or close to elections often within 48 hours the complaint of some who favor more regulation is the super PACs get some of their donations from 501 C for nonprofit organizations and those nonprofits don't have to disclose their donors but these nonprofit organizations make up only 5.6 percent of the money that's going to super PACs and furthermore if somebody gives the money to the nonprofit's specifically to run political ads then that donor will be reported to the Federal Election Jewish the third myth we often hear is that super PACs are ruining political discourse with negative attack ads if you don't like negative ads super PACs are not to blame negative ads have been part of American politics as long as we've had elections but empirical data from the Wesleyan media project shows that negative ads are actually more calm from candidates and political parties than they are from super PACs myth number four super PACs benefit incumbents in the politically powerful super PACs in fact provide a check on incumbents in 2010 50 for incumbents lost their races for Congress in those races super PACs and other independent spenders spent on average just a tiny bit over $900,000 button racist that incumbents won super PACs only spent about $75,000 on average in fact what you see is that incumbents have a lot more money than challengers do and super PACs help to level that playing field and make challengers competitive now they have a lot of regulatory requirements a lot of things that have to report to the federal government a lot of forms they have to file but conceptually it's easy a super PAC you mean whoever else we want to get involved spending our money jointly to try to influence a political race the only difference between super PAC and a regular old-fashioned political action committee is that a super PAC can take unlimited funds from any source including corporations and unions because it doesn't give money directly to candidates it only spends money on its own regular old PACs are limited in how much money they can take from any one individual and they can't take corporate money or Union money at all but they can give money directly to candidate campaigns super PACs are the result of a pair of 2010 US Court decisions in Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission the Supreme Court held that corporations and unions had a right to spend their money to advocate the election or defeat of candidates not to give money to those candidates or their campaigns but to spend money on their own to say that those people should be elected and feed it in their runs for office the other case is one called speechnow.org vs. federal election case from the United States Court of Appeals which held that individuals or corporations or unions had a right to pool their resources to do that same type of independent spending now why are super PACs such a big deal you know the funny thing is that even prior to these two decisions super PACs were allowed in a majority of the United States twenty-six states allowed super PACs allow unlimited corporate spending and how did those states do well according to the Pew Charitable Trust and governing magazine a magazine which studies government's in the States the six best governed states in America were all states that allow unlimited corporate and union expenditures even before citizens united there's really not much reason to think that super PACs were detrimental to democracy in any of the states where they existed prior to citizens united in speechnow.org far from being the death knell for democracy super PACs have been a positive development they've created more competition and they've made it harder for incumbents to stay in office just because they're incumbents super PACs have been and will continue to be a thorn in the side of entrenched political interest you

41 thoughts on “Are Super PACs Good for Democracy?

  • Corporationists' propaganda meant to brainwash people in order to stay in power. Don't believe this piece of shit sell-out.

  • If it hadn't been for "big money" in politics, America might've been in Vietnam for a decade longer than we were. Going into the 1968 election, incumbent LBJ was pro-war and Republican front-runner Richard Nixon was pro-war. However, a group of wealthy liberals financed a primary challenge to LBJ by funding a Democratic Senator named Eugene McCarthy. McCarthy ran a single-issue campaign: he wanted to end the war in Vietnam. That was basically all he ever spoke about.

    McCarthy did unexpectedly well in the New Hampshire Primaries and was polling well in Wisconsin. Realizing that he was unpopular within his own party and genuinely afraid he would suffer the disgrace of being an incumbent President who lost his party's nomination, LBJ announced he wasn't going to seek re-election.

    The Democrats ultimately used every trick in the book to prevent an anti-establishment guy like McCarthy from winning. This is where the all powerful "super-delegates" came about in the primary/convention system and why they play such a prominent role in the Democratic Party in particular. The DNC basically pulled every string to ensure Herbert Humphrey got the nomination instead of McCarthy (sparking a riot at the Chicago-area convention). McCarthy lost the battle but won the war. Thanks to McCarthy and his wealthy donors, by the end of the 1968 campaign both parties were essentially admitting the war policy wasn't working. McCarthy and his network of political outsider donors injected the anti-war sentiment into the American public discourse in the way no established politicians ever could have.

  • Regarding Myth #1: It isn't about the corporations specifically. It is about a small handful of people (whether they be the head of a corporation, or a rich private citizen) that have a disproportionate amount of influence and power based on the money they donate.

    Regarding Myth #2: Super PAC money has to be reported (eventually). But Super PAC money can be funneled out and disappear forever. Ultimately, it ends up in political candidates' private bank accounts.

    Regarding Myth #3: Don't really care about negative attack ads. It could go either way.

    Regarding Myth #4: It benefits whomever is willing to be BOUGHT. It leads to a system in which not the BEST candidate is selected, but instead, the one who is weakest, and most susceptible to special interests. This leads to a lack of integrity and lack of impartiality in our government, and creates a system in which the wealthy/corporate America can get politicians to bend the rules in their favor to the detriment of others.

    Super PACs are unquestionably bad for the average citizen.

  • Because of super PACs, the more money you have, the more you can contribute to our election.  Is that something we really want for America? Is that really democracy? 

  • Prof, your analysis is bias and statistics cherry-picked. Your ignoring the disproportionate influence of the wealthy on policy through legalized bribery and the super PAC is just another vehicle to do that (one without contribution limits). This in itself is an infringement on free speech. Wouldn't it make more sense to disburse equal campaign funds to each TBD qualified candidate (particularly in the house)? The existing system you describe allows non-local influence to buy local elected officials. So how are they representing their constituents at that point? Equal funds disbursement seems like it would provide a more equal playing field from which the citizens can choose their elected officials as well as disincentive bribery. Term limits would also ensure we get a "fresh crop" every few years. Isn't it time for Article V?

  • What does Professor Smith mean by 'best governed'? What would constitute as a well-governed state, and what makes it different from another state?
    In other words, what statistical evidence is there for the definition of 'best governed'?

  • We are rising. Libertarian membership is growing. I personally think it's growing like clockwork. I am a former Republican, but my concerns about GOP and free markets led me away.

  • When do you need to report your major contributor to your super PAC? 3 months after you first start reporting. When do you have to first start reporting? 48 hrs after you intend to disclose your contributor. When is the latest you can "intend" to start disclosing? As far as the end of the election.

    How many people have been charged with breaking these rules? 0

  • our winner take all system kinda prohibits smaller parties from ever getting a chance to spring up and get Congressional seats. Furthermore, the two parties we have now are part of tradition and so rooted into our culture that the emergence of a strong third party that has a competitive chance is unlikely (the democrats and republicans end up stealing a lot of third party ideas and making them their own anyway :P)

  • Gary Johnson received 1% of the vote in 2012. This was more successful than any other candidate in the party's history.

  • As for competition; it's competition among two parties; not among the fringes of society. Most people are rational and see their money put to better use funding parties that have viable chances of winning.

  • The Marijuana Party is a single-issue party, and most voters concerns are better addressed by a larger tent that INCLUDES that message. It's ridiculous to form your party on a single issue and ACTUALLY expect votes as it only appeals to a minority who ONLY care about that. And people KNOW about Third Party Candidates; myself included. You're right about one thing: you need a percentage of the vote to even be on tv; but it's only 5% of the national electorate. Otherwise EVERY party would get in.

  • No, what you said is a separate conversation. I guess you didn't watch the video here at all. He says that super pacs create competition. There can't be much competition can there be if there are only two players? Where are the messages of the Green and Marijuana party represented in the republicans or the democrats? People don't vote for third candidates because they are never reported about in the media. I wanna know why there aren't super pacs forming around third party candidates.

  • That's a seperate conversation; there's a two-party system because it's the most effective system. Smaller parties do exist, but they typically get their message joined into the much larger party. Remember; elections are comprised of people voting. Do you want to know why there are only two parties? Ask the American public. There's no foul play here.

  • Why are under the illusion that we have a functional democracy. In fact, such a system is the very definition of an oxymoron.

  • a few questions. who is to say that even if the money in super pacs is not directly under the control of the canidate that he can't just tell them what to do with it? even under the table? also, you said that the contributors to super pacs are identified to the public close to the election. is that before or after? if one company gave a huge amount to one canidate that could affect my vote.

  • When you say 55% comes from individuals do the individuals have a cap. Or can one individual who owns a large cooperation, say a casino, put millions of personal money towards a candidate to further said persons personal interests? That pie chart was misleading as people will quickly assume that that 55% is made up of many small donors when that might not be the case, and in fact likely isn't. Our politicians are bought and paid for.

  • Says the guy who fought tooth and nail against campaign finance reform when he was the head of the FEC under W. The guy founded a SUPER PAC. What a joke. He's a GOP flak.

  • You cannot expect third parties to go anywhere until more people understand the purpose of a political party.

  • I remember looking through the FEC data, and it only gave names of the PAC that spent it and what it was for but not names of the people donating.

    Based on my study, I found that opposition spending was the only thing that had the intended outcomes on polls. Negative spending made a larger difference than positive spending did. Are we sure that this is actually holding politicians accountable, or is this a method to provide politicians with unelectable people who will lie for them?

  • Where were the third parties before Super Pacs? The first time I even saw a third party political ad was in the most recent election cycle. I'd say something else is stifling third party participation i.e. the FEC

  • This channel looks at how it is supposed to be, not how it actually is. Everything they said about what they can and can't do is not always followed.

  • This guy is from Capital University. That says pretty much all you need to hear about what this guy thinks. And I doubt he even thinks that. He's probably being paid to be a hand puppet from these deregulationist jackasses who want corporations to run the government.

  • 0:50—55% contributions come from individuals, true. But what's at stake is the agenda of the corporations (18%) & the unions (26%.) It doesn't matter where the money is coming from, what matters is who's in control of the money and the outcome of the legislation. It's not the 55%.

  • What the idiots here do not understand is that under libertarianism, super pacs cannot do shit because politicians cannot impose rules increasing taxation/regulation/and legislation which hinder liberty.
    So corporations cannot get bailouts, nor can welfare freeloaders get welfare.

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