Need a Primer on the Strange Phenomenon of Super PACs?

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January 25, 2012; Source: Covington and Burling LLP | There’s a tax-exempt super PAC out there for every current major presidential candidate, all of the Republicans and the one incumbent Democrat. Everyone is fretting about what they are, what special interests are behind them, how much of their purported independence from the politicians’ own campaigns is smoke and mirrors, and what regulations and rules apply to them. 

The very big and powerful law firm Covington and Burling LLP has published a short, readable, but “high level review of the legal basis for Super PACs, how they operate and some of the legal issues Super PACs are confronting.”

The topics it covers should interest all NPQ Newswire readers:

  • What is a super PAC?
  • How much can a super PAC raise and from whom?
  • Can candidates and officeholders help raise money for super PACs?
  • What can a super PAC do with its money?
  • What must a super PAC disclose about its operations?
  • What is an independent expenditure and how is it different from coordinated spending?
  • Can super PACs work with other groups?
  • What about social media?

The last item is discussed only briefly, but it should start to get more coverage soon. Just recently, we noted press commentary on the Endorse Liberty Super PAC, which is devoted to the election of libertarian Republican Ron Paul. Although identified as the fourth-largest Super PAC in the Republican presidential scrum by the Washington Post, Endorse Liberty doesn’t even have a full-time staff person. The group does almost all of its pro-Paul advertising on the Internet, as opposed to television spots or direct mail. The group’s treasurer, 28-year-old Abe Niederhauser, explains, “We’re big believers in online marketing.” 

While it seems logical that the Super PACs would discover the Internet, most haven’t gone there yet, and political campaigns have, according to the Post, been slower than other kinds of advertisers in using online tactics. Endorse Liberty suggests that relying on the Internet will keep its operations “lean.”

Capitalized by high-tech investors, Endorse Liberty’s initial forays were targeted to college towns in Iowa, a younger demographic that might be more likely to respond to online messages rather than traditional media approaches. It should be no surprise, then, to learn that Ron Paul did much better in the Iowa caucuses in 2012 than he did in 2008. 

We still have much to learn about Super PACs, but it’s clear that they are changing quickly to adapt to the dynamics of the political and digital times. —Rick Cohen

  • Grace Lazzara

    All you have to do to learn about Super PACs is watch what Stephen Colbert is doing with his Super PAC.