Editorial: Super PACs are yet to prove their worth in winning elections
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08
In 2010, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that independent groups could spend infinite amounts of money on political campaigns. This decision, and the ensuing creation of countless Super PACs, led many to worry that incredibly rich individuals would now be able to buy elections by radically outspending their opponents.
Thankfully, this does not appear to be the case. While there were a great deal of contributions made to Super PACs by wealthy individuals and many wealthy candidates self-funding their campaigns, it appears that having more money does not always win an election. No amount of spending can convince the public to elect a candidate they just don’t like.
Although Super PACs are legally forbidden from coordinating with candidates’ official campaigns, there are many that have been created solely to support one candidate. In the presidential race, Restore Our Future backed Governor Mitt Romney, and Priorities USA Action backed President Obama. Over the course of the election, Restore our Future spent $142,645,946, and Priorities USA Action spent $66,482,084. In addition, the American Crossroads Super PAC run by Republican Karl Rove outspent Obama’s own PAC, spending $91,115,402. Yet despite his Super PAC spending over two and a half times more than his opponent’s and having the help of other groups like American Crossroads, Romney still lost the election by a significant margin. While it certainly had an impact, spending by Super PACs did not decide the presidential election.
Similarly, wealthy individuals were unable to buy the election, in spite of their new ability to contribute unlimited amounts of money to Super PACs. The biggest individual spender of the 2012 election was casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who contributed a total of $53.7 million to various campaigns and Super PACs. All eight of the candidates backed by Adelson lost. Harold Simmons, the second-highest spender at $26.9 million, donated to 7 campaigns. Six of them lost.
Of course, there are some other explanations to consider when looking at these trends. It is possible that candidates who were trailing in the polls attracted more donations than those who were leading by healthy margins. A candidate in a safe seat does not need to spend a lot to win, while an underdog needs more money in order to have a chance at victory. This is especially true when running against an incumbent, a difficult and costly endeavor.
Money is certainly a factor in political campaigns. There is no denying that. In fact, having a sizeable war chest is essentially a requirement of winning an election. Yet whether a campaign is fueled by a nearly anonymous Super PAC or a wealthy self-funding candidate, money alone isn’t enough to win. A core principle of American democracy is that one person gets one vote and no amount of money can convince voters to elect someone they don’t like.