The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

February 12, 2014

Rise of Super PACs in N.C., nation marks anniversary of ‘Citizen United’

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 — RALEIGH — January marked the fourth anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. That 5-4 ruling dismantled key campaign finance reforms and further opened the floodgates for political spending.

Four years and two election cycles later, it appears that the largest impact of the Citizens United decision may be the rise of so-called “super PACs.”

Super PACs are political action committees that can accept unlimited donations from individual donors and, as a result of Citizens United, corporations and unions as well. Unlike candidates for federal office who must abide by donation limits currently set at $2,600 per individual, these super PACs can, and do, accept checks from wealthy donors in any amount.

While super PACs are prohibited by law from coordinating directly with candidates, they can operate a sort of shadow campaign, running ads supporting one candidate or attacking another, with the intent of shaping the outcome of an election.

In 2012, we saw countless examples of what super PACs can do and the influence they have on elections. At the federal level, super PACs played a big role in the presidential election for both sides, but had an especially strong impact during the Republican primary.

Although eventual nominee Mitt Romney was the favorite for much of that contest, a super PAC formed to support the candidacy of Newt Gingrich, dubbed “Winning Our Future,” allowed him to remain competitive much longer than most experts anticipated.

Gingrich had to abide by contribution limits and struggled to compete financially with Romney, but the super PAC formed to support him received a $5 million check from one wealthy donor and his wife. That mega-donation kept Gingrich competitive in the primaries for perhaps longer than he normally would have been able to stay viable in an age before super PACs.

Here in North Carolina we saw super PACs play a significant role in 2012 as well, but in a race not a lot of voters were talking about. A super PAC was formed to support N.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby in his re-election race against N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Sam Ervin. That super PAC, the N.C. Judicial Coalition, spent around $3 million supporting Newby’s candidacy in a contest that typically doesn’t receive much attention.

It can be argued that the infusion of super PAC spending on the side of Newby tipped the election in his direction. Ervin led in the polls for much of the race, but once the super PAC hit the airwaves in the closing weeks of the campaign the balance swung and Newby ended up winning. Even if outside spending wasn’t the determining factor in who won the race, it certainly played a significant part.

What can North Carolina voters expect in 2014? Well, super PACs have become the new normal and with a highly competitive U.S. Senate race in our state this year, voters are bound to see a vast increase in super PAC spending.

In fact, in future elections we can anticipate almost every statewide and federal candidate in a competitive election to be bolstered by a super PAC.

Unfortunately, this outside spending tends to be negative and distract voters from the real issues and concerns facing our state and country. And the support of such wealthy super PACs can severely handicap average people with an interest in public service but no deep pockets or well-financed friends.

Our democracy functions best when everyone has an equal say and equal influence, but the Citizens United decision and the rise of super PACs is certainly putting that notion to the test.

Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to TheVoterUpdate.com. He can be contacted at laurenz@ncvotered.com.

 

1
Text Only
Opinion & Letters to the Editor
  • Patrick Gannon Fake news or sign of some more trouble?

    RALEIGH – Of the three situations I can recall where agencies receiving large sums of taxpayer dollars wouldn’t divulge employees’ salaries, two of them ended badly. The third – involving a group of charter schools in Southeastern North Carolina – is playing out right now.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Almost half of America's obese youth don't know they're obese

    WASHINGTON - The good news is that after decades of furious growth, obesity rates finally seem to be leveling off in the U.S.. The bad news is that America's youth still appear to be dangerously unaware of the problem.

    July 23, 2014

  • Darth Vader is polling higher than all potential 2016 presidential candidates

    On the other hand, with a net favorability of -8, Jar Jar is considerably more popular than the U.S. Congress, which currently enjoys a net favorability rating of -65.

    July 23, 2014

  • D.G. Martin Where did all these new voters in North Carolina come from?

    “Voters born elsewhere make up nearly half of N.C. electorate.”
    So begins the latest DataNet report from the UNC Program on Public Life, directed by former journalist Ferrel Guillory.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Patrick Gannon Some light for Dems in their time of darkness

    RALEIGH – Earlier this year, state Sen. Ben Clark, a Hoke County Democrat, became a hero for a day among his party and environmentalists when his amendment to require more well water testing near future fracking sites passed the Senate. It even gained the support of a number of GOP senators, against the wishes of the Republican bill sponsor.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • mama.jpg What we get wrong about millennials living at home

    If the media is to be believed, America is facing a major crisis. "Kids," some age 25, 26, or even 30 years old, are living out of their childhood bedrooms and basements at alarmingly high numbers. The hand-wringing overlooks one problem: It's all overblown.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Doug Creamer Maintaining hope

    Gardeners are facing challenges with the weather this year. It seemed like we were getting great conditions in April and May. The weather was warm and we were getting some good rains. Then sometime in June the rain stopped. It got so dry that I didn’t have to cut the grass. While I enjoyed the break, the garden was not happy at all. I was having to water quite a bit to keep the vegetable garden alive and growing.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jason O. Boyd I may be a bit behind the times, but at least I can find ‘America’

    I seem to be reading about and dealing with technology a lot lately.
    I  love technology and have always been fascinated by gadgets of all kinds and the wonderful things they can do. You never seem to go through an entire day without some form of invention enhancing your life.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Brent Laurenz Meeting out in open helps negotiations move ahead

    RALEIGH – State lawmakers reconvened in Raleigh on May 14 promising a brief legislative session this summer, but as July moves along they are still in town and tackling big issues.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Larry's Sketch 7.16.14.tif They don’t give a darn for Duke University

    John “Duke” Wayne’s heirs are suing Duke University over trademark rights.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

House Ads
Seasonal Content