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Do Now #17: Pay To Play Politics — The Rise of the Super PAC

| January 27, 2012 | 0 Comments
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Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images


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Do Now

Should people be able to contribute as much money as they want to political campaigns? What are some reasons why or why not?

Introduction

This is all about elections and money. Super PACs (political action committees) are independent organizations that are formed to help elect political candidates.  They can receive unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and individuals, and then spend unlimited amounts on ads – mostly ones that attack other candidates.

All of the Republican presidential candidates have super PACs working on their behalf, as does President Obama. With nearly nine months to go until election day, super PACs have already spent about $33 million this campaign season.

This is the first presidential race in which super PACs have had a role. They were created as a result of  a 2-year old landmark US Supreme Court decision called Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which ruled that political contributions are a form of free speech (protected under the First Amendment). The court also said that corporations have the same rights as individuals to donate to a political cause, and can do so as long as the organizations that they are contributing to have no direct coordination or involvement with the actual candidates themselves.

Opponents say these powerful organizations are buying support and have far too much control over the political system. An increasingly large number of groups have spoken out against the rule, and a number of efforts are currently underway to overturn it. In a strange twist, comedian Steven Colbert (of the Colbert Report), has started his own real Super PAC that is run by fellow comedian John Stewart. Intended as a practical joke, it’s called Citizens for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow and has collected a large amount of donations to produce ads that make fun of the way the whole system works.

Resource

NPR’s A Fine Line When It Comes To SuperPACs – January 21, 2012
Under current law, candidates’ campaigns are not allowed to coordinate with superPACs, although they clearly benefit from their messages. As result, candidates have performed feats of verbal gymnastics in order to talk about them. Host Scott Simon speaks with NPR’s Peter Overby about the role of superPACs in the presidential race.


To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #KQEDDoNow

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.


More Resources for Follow-up Lessons

PBS NewsHour’s How Big Money Super PACs are Reshaping the GOP Race
In the wake of a Supreme Court decision lifting restrictions on some campaign contributions, super PACs have spent $26 million this election cycle. Gwen Ifill discusses big money’s impact on the political landscape with John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity and Robert Kelner of the Covington & Burling law firm.

 

 

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Category: Do Now, Do Now: Government and Civics

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About the Author ()

Matthew Green runs KQED’s News Education Project, a new online resource for educators and the general public to help explain the news. The project lives at kqed.org/lowdown.