Plenty of Money to go around in 2012? With Super PACs, it Looks Like It

How will Super PACS influence who you vote for? | Photo by ray_from_LA via Flickr, user under a Creative Commons License.

Last week much of the political debate in California centered around Governor Jerry Brown's early-released budget. In a very general sense, Brown's proposal shows there is simply not enough money to pay for state services and programs, and it is unclear whether the voters will agree to tax themselves to fund those services.

There is, however, another discussion concerning politics in which there is an eye-popping amount of money to go around. This week also brought news that a candidate for the House of Representatives, former Obama Administration official Ro Khanna may have set a record by raising $1.2 million in campaign contributions in one quarter.

Story continues below

An individual raising a large sum a year before an election is interesting, but it is just the tip of the iceberg.

The most significant development this electoral season is the rise of Super PACS. Super PACs are independent-expenditure only political action committees. This means they cannot give directly to candidates. But as a result of recent Supreme Court and lower court decisions, Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited sums of money from corporations, labor unions and individuals to influence an election (It should be noted, though, that Khanna raised his money through individual donors).

If that seems problematic, it is also worth noting that thanks to complicated interactions between regulations promulgated by the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service, many of these donations are anonymous.

This situation is, to say the least, quite troublesome. If, as the Supreme Court has said, money is speech, then I certainly want to know the identity of the speaker. There is a reason I will accept medical advice from a doctor, but perhaps not a painter. There is a reason I will trust an assessment from consumer reporters over one by a sales person working on commission. The source of speech allows the listener to determine how credible the message is. Currently Super PACs can essentially flood the debate with speech, which is anonymous. The moral of the story, there is more than enough money to go around, it is just spent in campaigns.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Find more of her posts here.

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading