In Question: The power of the Super PAC

Emily Nordin

I can’t help but find myself wishing for the campaigning days of old, where a Presidential candidate was content to put up some signs, pass out a few buttons, and maybe even have their own jingle. Those days of campaign-tranquility no longer exist-political ads now bombard the American public.

Many attribute this bombardment to the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” (2010) decision, which allowed corporate money to enter American elections. According to some, this allows political action committees, or PACs, to raise obscene amounts of money-thus becoming super-and influence election results.

So, there was some hubbub this past Monday when The New York Timescame out with the article titled “Obama Is Even in TV Ad Race Despite PACs. ” Though having spent less money, Barack Obama’s supporters, as reported by the NYT, have “run more ads [over the television] and . . . reached audiences in roughly the same numbers as Mitt Romney and the group of well-financed conservative super PACs working to elect him.”

What’s the suggestion here? That Democrats are shrewder with their money than given credit for by their Republican counterparts? Perhaps, but more importantly this article suggests that super PACs are not as all-mighty and powerful as previously believed, that they do not substantially influence elections.

This is a suggestion I find troubling. The NYT writes, “Even at their most effective, the super PACs have helped Mr. Romney fight only to a draw.” Only to a draw? To be perfectly honest, I’m shocked that Romney has made it this far, “to a draw.” Months ago, people, including other conservatives, were lamenting over and/or lampooning the relatively weak candidacy of Romney, known for his excessive flip-flopping on political issues.

Rudy Giuliani, former Republican mayor of NYC, said in regards to Romney’s candidacy in February 2012, “He changed his position on virtually everything . . . I am a moderate Republican, that’s what I am, so I’d be inclined to support someone like Mitt Romney. But all those changes in positions give me pause.” The Republican ticket is weak, but here we are in arguably one of the closest presidential races America’s ever seen.

Why? Is it because of the influence of the super PAC or a poor first debate showing by Obama or an apathetic public-what accounts for this close race? I don’t have the answer, and I don’t think anyone will, at least not for a while until after the election. At this point, all I can do is shoot holes into the notion that the super PAC carries no sway.

 It might be true to say that Obama has so far survived the onslaught of Republican money fueled into TV and thus, come to the conclusion that super PACs don’t influence elections. However, what this NYT article fails to take into account are the other major forms of campaigning-online ads, telephone calls, billboards, etc.

Before suggesting that super PACs are not swaying the election one way or another, I would like to see a more encompassing study done. To their credit, the NYT does write “there is still plenty of time” for Republican-supporting super PACs to flood the airwaves, which is exactly what we’ve seen this week. According to The Hill, the Romney-supporting super PAC, Restore our Future, just announced this past Tuesday to spend another $20 million in ads attacking Obama. Obviously, the election isn’t over yet.  Until it is, the power of the super PAC cannot be determined.