American Politics Paper
Teaching Fellow: Ji Soo
Super PACs: A Rising Phenomena Effecting the 2012 Elections
The presidential elections are an important historical practice that has shaped America. The election process does not simply determine the presidency based on the majority of citizen’s votes. The Electoral College creates a more complicated system than one would expect. This system makes it so that to win, candidates need 270 from 528 electoral votes. Therefore, good campaign strategy is needed to sway the votes in the direction of either candidate. To add to the complications of the election process, the recent rise of Super PACs has created another dimension. These PACs have complicated the scene by using unlimited political spending, independently from presidential campaigns, to advocate for certain candidates and sway the electoral votes. The Super PACs affect different scopes, as they tend to create a pluralist ruled government and support freedom over the equality of the voices of its citizens. Nevertheless, Super PACs have a great impact on campaign strategy and the Electoral College, and this affects the overall outcome of the elections.
Many consider the American political system to consist of a heterogeneous blend of both majoritarianism and pluralism. However, with the added component of Super PACs, the United States may be seeing even greater shift towards pluralism. Groups that share certain interests can now have a greater influence on politics through raising money to get their views better known to the public. These competing interest groups are on the rise, especially because of a recent court case—Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission—which now allows an unlimited amount of money to be donated to these PACs and for corporations to be recognized as people. These Super PACs direct their money towards swing states in order to indirectly influence the voters. Therefore, these groups can have a lasting impact on the outcome of elections such as the election in 2012 between Obama and Romney. Since more Super PACs are conservative, Romney had many more Super PACs—such as Restore Our Future—financially supporting his candidacy than Obama. This then led to an increasingly closer race than expected. Super PACs influence on the election to some degree by making money more important than political ideas in an election. Since they make money more important in elections, this leads to a big threat of democracy because the interest of those who aren’t rich isn’t looked after. Nevertheless, An increasingly pluralist system can help stop the tyranny of the majority so that the minority view isn’t oppressed. Although some may disagree with allowing interest groups like Super PACs to use large amounts of money to greatly influence politics, these interest groups reflect the diversity of American society.
Super PACs can influence the electoral vote by impacting the way in which people vote mostly through media and campaigning. They are groups which can raise and spend limitless amounts of money on behalf of a certain cause or candidate. One way in which they can be influential in the Electoral College is through lobbying “a state legislature to take the selection of the state's electors away from the voters” (Williams). More obvious methods are through the use of either negative or positive campaign ads. Super PACs may have a large amounts of money, however, in order to achieve their goals they must spend the money strategically and sway voters and citizens to believe in their cause. In the 2012 elections, this is precisely what was established. One pro-Obama Super PAC, Priorities USA Action, created an ad called “ Heads or Tails” that claimed that Mitt Romney made millions by driving companies into bankruptcy, thus leaving nothing for the middle class. At the end of the ad it states that, “ If mitt Romney wins, the middle class loses.” The ad’s tactics to provoke viewers included a middle class worker describing Mitt Romney’s false promise to the man and an emphasis on Mitt Romney’s greed in simply wanting to make money. Super PAC ads can be deemed powerful in persuading voters and tend to take over most television and online advertisements in swing states during election periods. There has been an increased amount of advertisements recently because the use of unlimited money became legal. This has recently led to the creation of an application called the Super PAC App that points out any false statements and statistics in each ad (Sutter). The rise in quantities of ads influences voters, but not always positively. The quality of the ads do not rise simply because the quantity does. The fact that political observers have had to create applications in order to create a more educated electorate shows how Super PACs have a strong contributing influence on voters and thus the Electoral College.
Some may still conclude that Super PACs aren’t as influential as they are deemed to be for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it tends to be that in an election, the incumbent is usually favored and supported because voters know what policies s/he has enacted and can base their vote from that. Also, in the 2012 race, Obama had raised more money than Romney. However, this money was not mostly from Super PACs as much as it was from public financing. Another reason why some may say that Super PACs aren’t effective is because of the time lag between the decision of a court case and its impact on the ground. Although Super PACs become stronger after the Citizens United Supreme Court case in 2010, there are certain limitations to courts because they can’t change the facts happening on the ground even though the decisions and results can be inspiring and hopeful. The grand amounts of money raised by Super PACs, rather than creating partisan imbalance, “merely evened the playing field in many races” (Confessore). Consequently, Super PACs do not have a major impact on the elections. However, the fact that Super PACs can create such tight races may be something to ponder on.
Even if Super PACs don’t directly determine whether a candidate wins or not, they still play a major role in the overall politics in America. The election process has long depended on interest groups to influence the outcome of the electoral votes. Whether it be through lobbying or campaign strategies like advertisements, money is important in the capitalist society we live in. The Citizens United case reinforces the freedom of people, including corporations, to spend as they which to promote certain interests. Super PACs hold power to alter the future of politics. However, let us all hope that the money will be used wisely to further American politics and educate the voters rather than turn politics into a game of false claims and constant political attacks.
Confessore, Nicholas, and Jess Bidgood. "Little to Show For Cash Flood By Big Donors." The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/08/us/politics/little-to-show-for-cash-flood-by-big-donors.html>.
Sutter, John D. "'Super PAC App' Knows When Political Ads Stretch the Truth - CNN.com." CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. <http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/22/tech/mobile/super-pac-app-campaign/index.html>.
Williams, Victor. "Electoral College Insurance: Will Super Pacs Target "Faithless" Electors and Ohio's Legislature?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 05 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-williams/electoral-college-insuran_b_2073505.html>.