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Super PACs aren’t so Super

Political fundraising is one of the most important aspects of the elections process.  This year’s presidential election is shaping up to be the most expensive ever.  The presidential candidates have already accumulated over $330 million, and they are expecting much more to come.  All this money can be attributed to the huge influence Super PACs have had on elections.  Super PACs have the power to potentially define the outcome of elections.    Image

A PAC, or political action committee,  is an organization that campaigns for or against political candidates by donating at least $1000.  Until recently, outside groups were limited to contribute $100,000 on behalf of one candidate.  However, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that the federal government may not ban political spending by outside organizations or corporations.  This resulted in the rise of Super PACs, or “independent-expenditure only committees”.  Although the Super PACs cannot directly contribute to candidate campaigns, they are allowed to engage in independent political spending without any legal limits.

What exactly do these Super PACs do with all this money?  Most of them utilize the ability to solely go on the attack against the opposing candidates.  The most common and effective form of attacking is putting out negative ads against the opponent.

For example, conservative billionaire Joe RickettsImage is planning to fund a $10 million campaign to bring down Barack Obama titled, “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama, the Rickets Plan to End His Spending for Good.” Ricketts primary concern is to end the budget deficit.  The campaign is a 54-page proposal that essentially claims that Obama has misled the American people by portraying himself as a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.”  In addition, the plan is to bring up past ties between controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Obama in order to show how Obama’s ideologies have been negatively influenced from the beginning.  This anti-Obama campaign has the potential to destroy his public image, which proves that Super PACs have the potential to define the outcome of elections.

This year’s election has been greatly influenced by a plethora of Super PACs that have already contributed $100 million.  These Super PACs have led to one of the nastiest elections to date because of the flood of negative ads that they have leaked to the public.  The negative ads are actually detrimental to democracy because they deter people from participating in the elections process.  Super PACs undermine the basic principles of political equality because they take the power out of the hands of the people and place it in the deep pockets of an elite group donors.

Why Not Vote?

Over the course of the trimester we spent a lot of time discussing elections.  We covered many topics pertaining to the elections process including the Electoral College system, Electoral Strategy, Money and Elections, Voter Participation, and Campaign Commercials.  Of all the topics, the one most striking to me was voter participation.  It’s surprising to me that the voter turnout on Election Day is historically very low. Some people consider voting to be the foundation of all electoral participation, yet they choose not to use their opportunity have a say in democracy.

Election turnout in the early days of our republic never rose above the teens until 1800, when it jumped up to 31%.  This low number rose over time and hovered around 80% in the 1860s, but it fell back down to around 60% a century later.  Currently, voter participation lingers around the 55-65% area.  The societal lack of interest in the Elections Process is baffling to me because I don’t understand why anybody would pass up the opportunity to make a difference in our government. However, I discovered that there are actually many factors that dissuade people from voting.

One possible theory for low turnout is attitudinal change in the United States.  Survey data supports the claim that negative attitudes toward government have increased over the years.  Americans are becoming more reluctant to trust the government.  For example, in the early 1990s just over 20% of Americans are described as trusting their government to “do what is right all or at least most of the time” (www.electionstudies.org).  This new attitude towards government is caused by increased cynicism, distrust and alienation.  Social media can also take part of the blame for this change. The new role of news media has shifted to using methods called, “attack journalism” and media “feeding frenzies”, which focus on exploiting a politician’s personal lives.  This combination has effectively repelled voters from the polls.

Another similar perspective is called the lifestyle-change theory.  This theory suggests that life today is simply busier than in the past and offers more distractions.  People tend not to place voting very high on their priority list, therefore it is very easy to let distractions such as television, technology, and social networking sites consume our time (150).  According to the U.S. Census Bureau the top eleven reasons for not voting are:

  1. Too busy
  2. Illness or emergency
  3. Not interested
  4. Didn’t like candidates
  5. Out of town
  6. Don’t know
  7. Registration problems
  8. Forgot
  9. Inconvenient polling place
  10. Transportation problem
  11. Bad weather

Lastly, age has always been a major factor in voter participation.  Young Americans have always voted at lower rates because they have a less completed education, less likelihood of owning property, and are less likely to be as affluent.  However, youth voting has made a dramatic turnaround in recent years.  For example, people of age 18-24 represented an 11 percent increase in 2004, which was double the rate of increase in any other group.  Also, 49 percent of people under 25 years old voted in 2008.  One might ask why the recent change?  Many organizations such as MTV have started programs to try to engage the youth in participating.  Also, new elections pathway organizations including Americans Coming Together and MoveOn.org have tried to bring youth the polls.  Hopefully all Americans will follow this example set by the youth to take initiative and vote.

Passing up voting is passing up your chance to represent yourself in democracy.   The outcome of elections directly affects all Americans in some way, shape, or form.  Therefore voting gives citizens the ability to voice the issues that are important to them by choosing their ideal representative.  A vote is a powerful expression of one’s political beliefs, yet unfortunately most people do not see it this way.  Americans need to wake up and realize that their vote really does count, and their missed votes are missed opportunities.  In my opinion, you can never be “too busy” to express your beliefs and make a difference in democracy.

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