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Comedians Stephen Colbert (L) and Jon Stewart close the Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear on the National Mall on October 30, 2010 in Washington, DC.
Chances are, you’ve heard about the tongue-in-cheek effort by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart to educate Americans about Super PACS – an outgrowth of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling allowing independent political groups to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money for candidates – as long as they’re “Definitely Not Coordinating” with the campaign.
Most of the cash raised by Super PACS gets spent on political ads and spending this year has already exceeded $30-million, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). But this year, the political ads are different, say the critics of Super PACS. They can use what’s called “express advocacy” – a highly aggressive form of political speech. Supporters of GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, used Restore Our Future to tank Newt Gingrich in Iowa, while Gingrich backers depended on Winning Our Future for revenge in South Carolina, according to a ProPublica report.
At recent Republican debates, candidates have denounced their own Super PACS for running ads that opposing candidates deemed false or riddled with personal attacks. Have Super PACS become larger than the campaigns themselves? Some experts say no. They argue that Super PACS have become a focus in this election because they are required to disclose their expenditures, making it easier for media to report on them. Others say yes, Super PACS have uniquely affected the political climate surrounding this election unlike ever before.
Now that the results of the South Carolina primary are in, what impact did all this spending have there? What’s the takeaway in terms whether these Super PACS are forces of good or forces of something not-so-good? Are the biggest spenders winning? We’ll crunch the numbers, and results to date, and debate the pros and cons of unlimited spending in this election cycle.
Ken Rudin, political editor for NPR; writer of the Political Junkie blog
Bill Allison, Editorial Director, Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit that advocates for campaign transparency
Bradley A. Smith, Professor of Law, Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio