ATLANTA - American politics is increasingly a wealthy man's sport, at least for the key players. Spectators can be an altogether different breed...
Nowhere is this more clear than when one considers the rise of the political action committee, or more specifically the super political action committee; the super PAC.
Not a new creation by any means, political action committee's have been around since the 1930s, introduced by United Mine Workers union president John L. Lewis. Despite their working class roots, PACs are now largely the political domain of corporations and trade associations.
Of the 5,556 PACs active through March 31, 2012, 2,499 are listed as "corporate" or "trade" type PACs, according to a Federal Election Commission report.
This means 44% of active PACs are linked to corporations or trade unions.
In the same FEC report, 2,442 PACs listed under the "non-connected" category include 819 Independent Expenditure-Only committees, popularly known as super PACs.
Super PACs, unlike their predecessors, are very new to the political landscape. They've been around less than half a decade and already they have totally changed the way the political game is played in America
Unlike PACs, Super PACs can collect unlimited amounts of funding from corporations, individuals or trade unions and then use these funds in support of a particular candidate. Or they can use the funds to advocate against a particular candidate. Their choice.
The only legal stipulation is that the super PAC cannot work directly with a particular candidate or political party. Despite this, super PACs could hypothetically communicate with campaign managers or candidates through the media. This point has been raised by Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.
Corporate-sponsored PACs totaled $216.8 million in reciepts and $191.8 million in disbursement through March 2012; as of Sept. 1, 2012 super PACs totaled $349.3 million in receipts and $217.3 million in disbursements.
It is worth noting that a large portion of super PAC spending, approximately $161.3 million, is geared toward support of conservative policies and candidates.
Despite the increasing influence of super PACs, most Americans have no idea what they are, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.
According to the report, only about 40% of Americans can correctly identify what a super PAC is and only about 1/4 have "heard a lot about outside campaign spending."
Nearly half (47%) of the public that is knowledgeable about super PACs believe outside campaign spending will have a negative impact on the election as a whole, says the report.
In spite of this, 34% of this group believe outside spending will benefit Mitt Romney more, while 16% believe outside spending will benefit President Obama more.
Written By Benjamin Burton Jr.
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