How Super PACS Influence USA Presidential Elections

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Edited by: Martha Zarate

Research Regulation Specialist at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston,TX.

            Money has always played an important role in American politics – spending on USA federal elections increased from just over $3 billion in the year 2000 to more than $7 billion in the year of 2012, and the outrageous amount only increased in the 2016 election with the effect on how super PACS can run campaigns.

The definition of political action committee (PAC):

            What exactly is a PAC? The acronym (PAC) refers to, Political Action Committee. This is a popular term for a political committee organized for the purpose of raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates in the USA political system. Super PACs are federally registered political action committees that raise unlimited contributions from super rich business, corporations, labor unions or ideological interests as they do their best to influence the outcome of elections across the USA. They include big-time super PACs supporting Republican candidates and big-time super PACs supporting Democrats.

The rise of political action committee:

            Super PACs are a relatively new type of committee that arose following the July 2010 federal court decision in a case known as v. Federal Election Commission. The U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case declared the corporate expenditure ban unconstitutional, holding that independent expenditures could not constitutionally limited in federal elections, and implicitly that corporations could give unlimited amounts to other groups to spend, as long as the expenditures were made independently from supported candidate. Subsequently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the case held that the limits on individual contributions to groups that made independent expenditures were unconstitutional.  Thus, was born the super PAC. And thus was born the national campaign finance scandals that are unfolding daily in the 2012 and 2016 elections. To simplify, super PACS may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. Unlike traditional PACs, super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates they benefit. Furthermore, Super PACs are required to report their donors to the Federal Election Commission on a monthly or semiannual basis – the super PAC’s choice in off-years, and monthly in the year of an election.

The influence of the riches and the super PACs:

            Super PACs are a game changer for millionaires and billionaires. They are a game for corporations and other wealthy special interests. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens are pushed to the sidelines to watch the corruption and special interest of the U.S. democracy.

            How is this possible? In two ways. First, super PACs allow a relatively few super-rich individuals and other wealthy interests to have greatly magnified and undue influence over the results of the U.S. elections. Second, super PACs allow the super-rich a wealthy interests to buy influence over U.S. government decisions, in the event the candidate wins.

            Take for example Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s super PAC donor’s list. One of the most powerful super PACs. That group, known as Priorities USA Action, had aired about 36, 000 TV ads alone fully 100 percent of them have attacked Clinton’s Republican rival, celebrity, businessman Donald J. Trump.

            It’s true, of course, that money does not always translate into votes, and there are plenty of candidates who’ve come up short after impressive fundraising hauls (and vice versa). It’s also true that some of these candidates may enjoy vast resources, which they and their teams will invest poorly and still manage to lose the election such was the case with Hillary Clinton.


            Super PACs have become increasingly controversial, questioning about getting big money and corporate influence out of politics has evolved into a bipartisan issue. Creating a campaign watchdog group who would keep track of how much money each candidate is receiving and spending is also an instrumental step in decreasing the influence of money on the election. This will allow the people to see how well the politician and Super PACs budget the money they receive for their campaigns, (i.e., how much they spend on ads, speeches and workers). While money is a pivotal part of any election, it needs to be watched and properly monitored, by a nonpartisan party. Strengthening regulations is something that needs to happen. Presently as it is, there are hundreds of loopholes that politicians from both sides can hide behind.    

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