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Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015

‘Dangerous New Force’

Super PACS to rule American politics

For nearly two decades, I’ve collected campaign push cards and mailers; I have a file for most every election season complete with assorted candidate sales pitches and hatchet jobs during that time.

But I don’t think I’ve got a file folder large enough or room in my filing cabinet for this year’s haul of campaign mailers trashing one candidate or another; the governor’s race being the mailbox and robo-call deluge winner. We were out for just a while yesterday evening to come home to three robo-calls damning either David Vitter or John Bel Edwards; today was a repeat event.

Interestingly, of the six calls received, only one had a Louisiana area code.

I doubt my mailbox and phone number are the only recipients of what, because of unlimited dollars in super PAC money, have become targets of breathtakingly negative, often quite deceptive and apparently endless campaign messages by entities like Judicial Crisis Network, Gumbo PAC and Louisiana Families First.

And television programming has been increasingly punctuated by particularly mean political ads trashing candidates with often inaccurate representations.

Our politics have never been a lily white affair, but we owe this tragic decline in the American elections process to a 2010 5-4 US Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

The ramifications of that ruling were quick to manifest – as noted by The Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus in a January 3, 2012, piece. “The barrage of commercials tells the story: This is a presidential election without meaningful contribution limits or timely disclosure, outsourced to political action committees whose spending often dwarfs that of the candidates they support. … The rise of these groups erodes the twin pillars of a functional campaign finance system: limits on the size of contributions and timely information about who is writing the checks.”

Marcus summed up her concerns noting that absent regulatory or legislative intervention, “the super PAC is a dangerous new force in American politics.”

We’ve sure seen the work of super PACs in our governor’s election and to a lesser extent, the attorney general’s race. And there’s no doubt the 2016 presidential election will make the governor’s race super PAC influence look cheap.

During the lull between these campaigns, voters interested in a short course on super PACs might want to peruse Robert Barnes’ “Super PAC Mania” article in the Spring 2012 Columbia Law School Magazine.

In his most informative review of the super PAC evolution, Barnes refers to “a finding in the majority opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

Barnes observed lower courts and the Federal Elections Commission “have interpreted the Court’s decision to mean that, since independent spending cannot be corrupting, there is not justification for limiting the amount that individuals and corporations can give to groups involved in independent spending.”

And while he notes the Court’s avenue for voters to assess this new “infusion of political speech was disclosure of information on the donors,” both Barnes and Marcus agree that neither legislative nor regulatory action has been forthcoming on any new disclosure rules.

Information about the inception of super PACs is readily available and it doesn’t take much review of it to understand that Marcus – and many others who are rightfully concerned for our election process – are right: “the super PAC is a dangerous new force in American politics.”

A better understanding of this new political force and its implications in our election process is critical for voters. In the absence of that regulatory and legislative action to speed up donor disclosure information, we really don’t know who is funding – and directing – our candidates.

Marty Carlson, a freelance writer, has been covering local news for the past 17 years. She can be reached via email at martycarlson1218@ gmail.com.

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