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Are Super PACs Good for Democracy?

Are super PACs good for American democracy?

In an op-ed at Slate.com, David Weigel makes the case that contrary to liberal critiques, super PACs are positively influencing the 2012 elections: "In this first presidential election since the dawn of the supers, they have actually … given us a more competitive, transparent Republican primary. They are, in a sense, a good thing for our democracy."

The basis of Weigel's argument is that super PACs have made the Republican race more competitive by allowing Rick Santorum and Newt Gingirch to compete with leading fund-raiser Mitt Romney. He writes:

"Subtract the super PACs, and Mitt Romney would have outraised his Republican competitors by a factor of at least 2-1, in most cases 5-1. In 2011, Romney’s campaign raised $56.5 million and spent $36.6 million. His closest competitor, Ron Paul, raised $25.9 million and spent $24.0 million. The two of them, who’d built national fundraising networks in 2008, raised more than the rest of the Republican field combined—$80.5 million to roughly $73.6 million.

Add in the super PAC money and the advantage fades. Romney’s campaign had outspent Newt Gingrich’s campaign by a 7-2 margin and outspent Rick Santorum’s by a 19-1 margin. According to the Sunlight Foundation, which has tracked the super PACs all year, the Romney-centric Restore Our Future PAC outspent the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future PAC only 2-1. It outspent the Santorum-philic Red, White and Blue fund by slightly better than 8-1, which was just what the PAC needed to spend to get its candidate into an Iowa tie."

Weigel quotes editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation to say that without super PACs, "Santorum would have probably had to drop out after Iowa. Gingrich might have had to drop out after South Carolina."

On the question of whether super PACs are too secretive, Weigel says, "There's more information out there about super PAC donors than there is about virtually any other kind of campaign fundraising. Maybe it’s the novelty, maybe it’s the size of the checks, but the rise of the super PAC has come with constant, clickable scrutiny from the Fourth Estate."

To support his claim, Weigel argues that the people donating to super PACs are wealthy, prominent, and well-known.

"The big fear about campaign money is that it corrupts the candidates who have to beg for it. “It's simply wrong for our democracy,” says Fred Wertheimer, president of the campaign watchdog group Democracy21, “that an individual or his spouse can give $10 million to a particular candidate and thereby potentially buy corrupting influence at the expense of the electorate.”

But that worry applies better to the shadowy bundler than it does to the megabucks super PAC donor. Corruption can’t grow in the sunlight. The people giving big to super PACs are famous.  … Our super PAC education, so far, has consisted of fat checks matched with information about the check-cutters. We know more about those guys than we know about the bundlers, who’ve been passing money under the table for years. So which of those systems is worse for our democracy?"

Respond to Weigel's claims: Are super PACs helping to make the GOP election more competetive? Are they a positive influence in the 2012 election?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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