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Two Cheers for Super PACs: Money in Politics is Still Overregulated

The BriefGet Up To Speed

The product of two court decisions, Citizens United and v. FEC, Super PAC spending is on course to make 2012 the most expensive presidential election in history. These supercharged political action committees may spend and receive unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, and unions to advocate for political candidates, as long as they are independent of the candidates' campaigns. How have Super PACs changed the political landscape? Are they good for democracy?

*Panelists subject to change


Every melodrama requires a villain, and the people currently hysterical about super PAC money in politics blame the 2010 Citizens United decision. The court’s unremarkable logic was that individuals do not forfeit their First Amendment speech rights when they come together in corporate entities or unions to speak collectively.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
George F. Will

This avalanche of negative coverage is frustrating to free speech advocates because it isn’t warranted by the reality of super PACs. At their most basic level, super PACs are just groups of people that pool money to spend on political speech.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Chip Mellor

They’ve made the race for the White House a lot more fair.

Monday, February 13, 2012
David Weigel

The Citizens United decision's deregulation of spending on campaign-season political speech certainly did make it simpler for billionaires to throw money at candidates, but it also makes it much easier for the rest of us to pool our resources and talents in the service of saying what we want to say, the way we want to say it, about the politicians bidding to rule us.

Monday, February 20, 2012

EIt simply isn’t the case, as is often alleged, that corporate dollars flowing into the super-PACs that have dominated this political season are undisclosed. And the inconvenient truth for critics of corporate political speech is that among the largest such committees spending money during the Republican nominating campaigns, less than 1 percent of the funds came from publicly traded corporations.

Friday, June 22, 2012
James R. Copland

Multiple contributors weigh in on whether reporting on super PAC donors has been fair and balanced.

Thursday, June 14, 2012
The Arena

The down and dirty history of secret spending, PACs gone wild, and the epic four-decade fight over the only kind of political capital that matters.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Andy Kroll

Demos and U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysis of FEC data and secondary sources on outside spending and Super PAC <a name="fundraising" id="fundraising"></a>fundraising for the first two quarters of the 2012 <a name="electioncycle" id="electioncycle"></a>election cycle.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Blair Bowie and Adam Lioz

The concentration of political money in a handful of states illustrates how the free-for-all spending of the 2012 election has changed the campaign fundraising map in ways not seen since post-Watergate laws imposed contribution limits. Individuals and organizations in the securities and investment industry have donated $31 million to super PACs, the most of any sector.

Thursday, May 3, 2012
Fredreka Schouten and Gregory Korte

By giving corporations free rein to meddle in politics without any accountability required, just like in the robber baron days, and by defining money as speech, the court dealt a body blow to American democracy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Norman J. Ornstein

Super PAC advertising is not like traditional campaign advertising. As the scenario that played out in Iowa illustrates, Super PACs allow allies of candidates with the right connections to the right CEOs and hedge-fund managers to pile up money that can then be used not to promote that candidate but to launch scorched-earth attacks on other candidates.

Monday, February 6, 2012
John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney

This report explores what super PACs are, how they developed, what they raised and spent in the 2010 election cycle, and issues that appear on the horizon for 2012.

Friday, December 2, 2011
R. Sam Garrett

This file contains “24-hour” and 48-hour”notices of independent expenditures filed in 2011 and 2012, and detailed information about independent expenditures, including who was paid, the purpose of the disbursement, date and amount of the expenditure, and the candidate for or against whom the expenditure was made.

Wednesday, December 31, 1969

This site contains every expenditure by Super PACs in the 2012 election cycle, including who spent the money, what they spent it on, and which candidate the spending targeted.

Wednesday, December 31, 1969
Jeremy Singer-Vine is tracking outside spending in the 2012 elections.

Wednesday, December 31, 1969

The New York Times is tracking spending by independent groups during the 2012 election cycle.

Wednesday, December 31, 1969
Kevin Quealy and Derek Willis

Links to court documents and media coverage of the Supreme Court Citizens United decision.

Wednesday, December 31, 1969

Will the decision corrupt government, or is free speech, no matter the speaker, what our Constitution protects?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Fred Wertheimer

If you’re trying to understand what’s really going on with politics and money, the accepted narrative around Citizens United is, at best, overly simplistic. And in some respects, it’s just plain wrong.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Matt Bai

Government by the people requires an equal vote and the freedom to speak and associate. Democracy also requires toleration of unpopular speech. When government and citizens fall short of those ideals, the courts should act. In Citizens United, the Supreme Court fulfilled that obligation.

Monday, September 27, 2010
John Samples

The First Amendment does not allow anyone to pursue his vision of a better world through censorship. Although we'd all love the liars and shouters to be silenced, the First Amendment forbids such censorship precisely because there is no way to agree on who is a liar and who is "too loud."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Trevor Burrus

How Chief Justice John Roberts orchestrated the Citizens United decision.

Monday, May 21, 2012
Jeffrey Toobin

Toobin’s Citizens United piece is engaging and informative, with exclusive behind-the-scenes reporting of how the decision came to be. Yet the article also contains plenty of subtle (and not-so-subtle) spin in service of Toobin’s broader narrative of an out-of-control conservative court. As a consequence, it paints a somewhat misleading picture of the case and the Court.

Monday, May 14, 2012
Jonathan H. Adler

Bush v. Gore is indefensible. Citizens United is not. In fact, it was correctly decided, however deplorable the consequences.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Michael Kinsley

Amend the Constitution.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Geoffrey R. Stone

Reasonable minds can and should differ on the influence of “big money” in politics. The legal and policy questions raised by the link between concentrated wealth and political speech are numerous and complicated. But if there is one thing we absolutely should not be doing, it’s tinkering with our founding document to prevent groups like the ACLU (or even billionaires like Sheldon Adelson) from speaking freely about the central issues in our democracy.

Thursday, June 28, 2012
Laura W. Murphy
SPEECHNOW.ORG appeals court decision.

Friday, March 26, 2010
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

A federal appeals court on Friday handed another victory to conservative opponents of campaign-finance restrictions, striking down limits on individual contributions to advocacy groups that want to use the money for or against candidates in federal elections.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Dan Eggen

March 26 marked the second anniversary of v. FEC, a watershed campaign finance case that IJ litigated along with the Center for Competitive Politics. IJ sheds light on what super PACs are and why they are a boon to free speech in America.

Sunday, April 1, 2012
Steve Simpson

Read the syllabus and opinions on Cornell’s Legal Information Institute website.

Friday, January 30, 1976
Legal Information Institute

Forget super PACs, their much-hyped cousins, which can take unlimited contributions but must name their donors. More money is being spent on TV advertising in the presidential race by social welfare nonprofits, known as 501(c)(4)s for their section of the tax code, than by any other type of independent group.

Sunday, August 19, 2012
Kim Barker

The political groups that injected millions of dollars into political races over the past two years may already be giving way to the rise of a new class of politically oriented nonprofits, organizations that have most of the same powers as super PACs, and one major advantage: They don’t have to meet the same strict requirements for disclosing where their money comes from.

Monday, August 20, 2012
Luke Rosiak

A large majority of the country lack even the most basic knowledge of so-called super PACs, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll.

Thursday, August 2, 2012
Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

Nearly seven in 10 registered voters would like super PACs to be illegal, including more than half who feel that way strongly, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

According to a recent article in American Politics Research, a SAGE journal, the power of ads sponsored by independent groups rests not just in their sheer volume, but also in their relative effectiveness. When an attack ad is sponsored by an independent group, the authors found that the ad is far more effective than when the same ad is sponsored by a candidate.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Science Daily