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  Edition # 98  
San Francisco, 11-03-2012

Figure [1]: "Priorities USA Action" is Obama's Super PAC website

Angelika If you've read Michael's treatise on PACs (Political Action Committees, Rundbrief 06/2011), you're probably wondering what these "Super PACs" are about that are all over the news these days. What's going on there?

Usually, a PAC is a group of people pooling their donations as well as solicitating new donations to support a candidate in order to help change course in a political election. By law, political contributions by an individual are limited to $2500 per candidate. A traditonal PAC, on the other hand, may donate up to $5000 to a committee supporting a candidate (Political contribution limits).

For this reason, until the year 2010, no interest group run by companies, associations or unions could donate unlimited amounts to politicians or political parties. A recent decision by the United States Supreme Court, however, put an end to this. In the case "Citizen United vs. Federal Election Commission", the judges ruled that according to the constitutional right of freedom of expression, groups and associations may donate unlimited amounts to political causes.

It all started with a "documentary" featuring Hillary Clinton during the last election campaign in 2008. The conservative organization "United Citizen" produced and financed the movie "Hillary -- The Movie", in which they presented the New York senator as a liberal political threat. The movie was about to air shortly before the 2008 primaries, but then got pulled by officials, allegedly because it conflicted with the "McCain Feingold Act" of 2002 regulating contributions to political campaigns. Alas, United Citizen proceeded to the Supreme Court and won there, with the majority of judges arguing that financing and distributing a movie is a form of exercising one's freedom of speech rights.

In another court case, "SpeechNow.org vs. Federal Election Commission", a federal appeals court ruled that PACs are allowed to accept unlimited contributions by individuals, groups, or associations, if they don't directly forward the proceeds to candidates or political parties. As an additional requirement, PACs aren't allowed to align their campaigns with the candidates'. That's how the Super PACs came into existence.

Funds donated to Super PACs usually go into producing election campaign spots for their favorite candidates and publicizing them across various media. In the ongoing election campaign, Super PACs mainly purchased air time on TV stations in the so-called "swing states".

Figure [2]: There's not many election campaign posters anywhere in California, because it's not a swing state.

Swing states are states without an established record of voting for republican or democratic candidates. They are crucial in elections, and their outcome can tip the scale, as in most states all electoral delegates votes go to the winner ("winner takes all"). In a tight race, like the one we have this year, swing states can make or break the election for a candidate. Florida and Ohio are good examples. On the other hand, California, despite its huge number of electoral delegates, won't have much impact, as it's been democratic for ages, and it's safe to assume that Obama has already won it.

But back to the Super PACs: Romney gets support from Restore our Future and American Crossroads; while Obama benefits from Priorities USA Action and American Bridge 21st Century. Whoever will win this election, one thing has already been established by now: it's been one of the most expensive election campaigns in history. Each candidate's campaign will receive about a billion dollars. Casino owner and billionaire Sheldon Adelson alone donated 10 million dollars to Super PAC "Restore our Future", to help Romney win. Money talks.

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