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

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  • Rules for Super PACs Are Virtually Nonexistent

    Clip: Debaters argue the motion "Two Cheers for Super PACs: Money in Politics Is Still Overregulated."

  • Spending Restrictions Do Not Affect People's Opinions

    Clip: Debaters argue the motion "Two Cheers for Super PACs: Money in Politics Is Still Overregulated."

Debate Details

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?


The Debaters

For the motion

David Keating

President, Center for Competitive Politics

David Keating is the president of the Center for Competitive Politics (CCP), the only organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment... Read More

Jacob Sullum

Senior Editor, Reason Magazine

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a nationally syndicated columnist. He is the author of Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use and... Read More

Against the motion

Trevor Potter

President and General Counsel of the Campaign Legal Center

Trevor Potter is a lawyer, former commissioner (1991–1995) and chairman (1994) of the United States Federal Election Commission.  He is the... Read More

Jonathan Soros

Senior Fellow, Roosevelt Institute and co-founder of Friends of Democracy

Jonathan Soros is founder of the Super PAC “Friends of Democracy,” which aims to combat the influence of money in politics. He is a Senior Fellow... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech.
  • In Citizens United, the Supreme Court correctly ruled that corporations and unions could fund political speech.
  • Independent spending by Super PACs means there is more information available and a better-informed public.
  • The more information disseminated to the public, the more politicians will be held accountable for their records Super PACs help challengers overcome the inherent advantages held by incumbents' campaigns.
Against The Motion
  • A small group of wealthy individuals and corporations are flooding political campaigns with unlimited amounts of money, distorting the system by drowning out the voices of average Americans.
  • Super PAC donor disclosure rules are easily bypassed. Anonymous contributions to 501(c)4 groups—nonprofit organizations that are not required to disclose donor names—can then be donated to like-minded Super PACs.
  • It is disingenuous to say that Super PACs are independent of the campaigns they support when they are often run by candidates' ex-staffers.
  • Super PACs are evolving into "full-blown shadow campaigns," able to do the dirty work for their preferred candidate's campaign, with no accountability on the part of the candidate.

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The Research

The Research

Super PACs in Federal Elections: Overview and Issues for Congress

R. Sam Garrett
December 2, 2011

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.

Follow the Dark Money

Andy Kroll
August 1, 2012

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.

Super PACs Can't Crown a King

George F. Will
February 29, 2012

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.

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