With the creation of Super PACs in 2010, voters are now able to give an unlimited amount of money to support or oppose any candidate that’s up for election, this includes states offices as well as federal. These groups take the donations and are able to do whatever they would like with it, though most focus on dragging opponents through the mud rather than campaigning for their candidate. The kick? As long as the candidate is not directly involved it is all perfectly legal, and even recommended.
Super PACs have been very busy in the last few years, some doing legitimate campaigning, and others, not so much. Some people have turned the lax restrictions to their advantage, pressuring voters to support a certain candidate or even intimidating voters into staying away from the polls on Election Day.
The “Victory Ohio Super PAC” made national news in March when it did just that. Residents of the southern part of Ohio’s 2nd district received a robo-call in March 2012, just days before the primary election. As residents answered the phone a female voice urges voters to “not make a mistake and embarrass the party. Vote for William Smith, the real Democrat, for Congress.” It appears that many voters took the advice to heart. Smith, an anonymous 61-year-old truck driver from Pike County who had done little, if any, campaigning, won the primary by 59 points over the more well-known David Krikorian, someone who has been a major public figure for several years now.
On March 12th, 2012, Krikorian filed a petition seeking an investigation of the “Victory Ohio Super PAC.” In his letter to the U.S. Attorney’s office he claimed that the Super PAC violated a federal statute and that he had, “firsthand knowledge and evidence,” the specifics of which are still not available.
Krikorian seems to think that the primary election was biased on account of the robo-call. His opponent, Smith, says otherwise. Smith said that he believes the primary was fair, that he won the northern counties also, and there was no robo-call promoting him up there. Smith says that he is offended that anyone could even suggest that he knew of the robo-calls, let alone that he had anything to do with them.
This mysterious super PAC is not included in the lists of official registered super PACs provided by OpenSecrets. A very detailed list that includes every super PAC that has ever registered even if they haven’t raised any funds; the list is comprised of over 1,122 super PACs.
It is the simplicity of Super PACs that is causing the problems. They’re new, the regulations are a bit fuzzy, and people are taking advantage of that fact. “Experts also predict that, since the laws are vulnerable, they will be difficult for state election officials to enforce,” says Kristin Sullivan, Principal Analyst, in a report titled “Summary of Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission.”
Creating a super PAC is simple; anyone can do it. All you have to fill out a Statement of Organization form ( found here: http://www.fec.gov/pdf/forms/fecfrm1.pdf) and declare that you are starting a Super PAC. Once all of the technicalities are out of the way, you just have to raise money and then decide how to spend it, and the choices are endless: ads, billboards, pamphlets, etc. There are no regulations saying who you can campaign about. Nothing limiting the amount of donations that you can accept. In fact, there is only one rule that most super PACs seem to follow.
The cardinal rule for super PACs is simple: do not directly coordinate with the candidate or their campaign team. Ever.
Many problems have stemmed from this lax system. Names of treasures, an essential part of the Statement of Organization form, have gone unverified, and it often turns out that these people don’t even exist. People are also hiding behind the super PAC title by making up some bogus name and telling voters to vote for such and such candidate, and voters think that these super PACs are official and know what they’re talking about, so they do vote for that candidate.
The Government Integrity Fund Action Network, an Ohio based super PAC, is one of those that seem to be toeing the rules to suit their means. A little known super PAC, with almost no activity, they spent $1.1 million on advertising in a U.S. House race in Connecticut. At the time, there largest, and only, donation disclosed was $10, 000.
With few rules and an unlimited amount of money, super PACs are a force to be reckoned with. As the bullies of the election they are dragging opponents through the mud, instead of supporting their candidate. Unless these groups are further regulated, and those regulations are enforced, future elections are just going to revolve around annoying advertisements that take candidates words out of context and make them sound like heartless individuals who want nothing more than to mess up America’s legal system.