Money & Elections
In Jan 2010, the Supreme Court deregulated the campaign finance laws in the United States, with a decision known as Citizens United vs. FEC.
This decision doesn’t change all the limits of campaign financing. For example, an individual can still donate $2500 to a candidate for each election, $5000 per election to a PAC (Political Action committee) or $30.800 per year to a party.
However, the real beneficiaries of the Citizens United decision are the Super PACs.
The main characteristic of the Super PACs is that they can raise unlimited funds to support any candidate of their choice. This support is mainly showed through political advertisements, which are for the most part “negative ads” attacking an opponent (see the American Crossroads ad against Barack Obama, or this ad by Priority USA attacking Mitt Romney). The only requirement is that the Supers PACs must remain completely independent and are forbidden to coordinate their communication efforts with the candidate they support and their party.
This does not prevent all contenders for the White House to have one or more affiliated Super PACs. For example, Restore our Future supports Mitt Romney, Winning our Future is a pro-Newt Gingrich Super PAC. Even Barack Obama is supported by Priority USA, even though he was against the Citizens United decision.
Federal authorities know the identity of the donors for these Super PACs. The Super PACs have indeed the obligation to file with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) the donor names and the amount of donations.
For donors who wish to remain anonymous, there is another way. The 501c4s.
These groups are NGO’s that doesn’t have to disclose the names of their donors but - like the Super PACs – they can raise as much money as they wish.
The money spent in TV ads by these groups is called “independent expenditures” and between 2006 and 2012, these “independent expenditures” increased by 338%. At the same time, untraceable donations increased by 47%.
Since the beginning of the Republican primaries in 2011, independent groups have spent nearly $ 76.6 million, all candidates combined.
For the 2012 Presidential elections, American Crossroads, a Super PAC formed by Karl Rove, former G.W Bush Senior advisor, has planned to spend nearly $ 240 million.The Kock brothers have planned to spend nearly $ 100 million.
Consequences for the average Tv spectator are this: In Iowa, nearly 12 ads were broadcasted per hour. During the primaries in South Carolina nearly 182 ads were aired in a week. And more recently, for the primaries in Florida, Romney bombarded the local TV viewers with 12.000 ads a week before the vote (src: Wesleyan Media Project). Some of these ads can cost up to $750.000, sometimes even more.
All this for one purpose: influence American votes.
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