PI Original Ashlee Rezin Tuesday March 5th, 2013, 6:35pm

Heads Of Super PACs Discuss Their Influence On Elections

Super PACs contributed approximately $629 million to the 2012 election cycle, and last week at the University of Chicago, four executives representing both sides of the political spectrum debated the impact of their organizations’ multi-million dollar campaigns.

Super PACs contributed approximately $629 million to the 2012 election cycle, and last week at the University of Chicago, four executives representing both sides of the political spectrum debated the impact of their organizations’ multi-million dollar campaigns.

Considering a few of the men on stage spent millions of dollars attacking each other’s campaigns, the conversation was surprisingly jovial and candid.

“It’s the wild west, we’re in bumper car land,” said Saul Shorr, media consultant for Priorities USA Action, a super PAC that supported the re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012 by spending more than $65 million on campaign ads and advertising.

Political action committees (PACs) raise and spend funds with the intention to elect or defeat political candidates. They can give up to $15,000 annually to any national party committee, and in a primary, general or special election. PACs can give $5,000 to a candidate committee for each election. The groups can also give $5,000 annually to another PAC. Unlike traditional PACs, super PACs cannot make contributions to candidates, campaigns or parties. But the groups can use money by way of independent expenditures on things like ads and mailers in federal elections. There is no limit to how much they can spend. There are varying rules for Super PACs at the state level depending on the location.

“(Super PACs) are guided by people who form them, who can have any agenda ... People can write checks of enormous amounts of money, and have no impact on their lives but a huge impact on yours,” said Shorr to the audience. “We can talk about the purpose and ideology of some of these super PACs but basically they don’t have to be guided by anything other than the fact that they have money and they hire people like me.”

The co-founder of Priorities USA Action, Sean Sweeney, and two representatives from Republican-backing super PACs, joined Shorr for the debate: Steven Law, president and chief executive officer of American Crossroads and Charlie Spies, co-founder of Restore Our Future.

American Crossroads spent more than $100 million and Restore Our Future spent more than $150 million campaigning for Republicans during the 2012 general election.

“Maybe we’re trying to save the postal service because there is a lot of mail going on,” said Shorr. “But I do think we have to put this in perspective and the real question is, are we a good thing or a bad thing, and is there anything that can be done to limit us?”

Super PACs put their mark on the 2012 presidential election following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 landmark Citizens United decision, which stated that under the First Amendment, super PACs can raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions and other groups, without any legal limit on donation size.

The decision removed a previous ban on corporations and organizations using their treasury funds for political activism, but it mandated that super PACs operate independent from the campaign and candidate.

“If you’re an incumbent you have the advantage of name identification and you can go around Washington picking up PAC checks, but if you’re challenging you might have a super PAC supporting you that could have a few well-financed individuals or could have the whole union supporting you,” said Spies, who’s organization, Restore Our Future, was the first candidate-specific super PAC, pumping money into ads in support of the GOP candidate for president, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

“Super PACs have the effect of leveling the playing field,” he said.

Spies used as an example former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s bid to be the GOP primary candidate in the 2012 presidential election. Going against Romney, who was “much more well-financed”, Gingrich was able to stay in the race longer than most anticipated thanks to more than $16 million in support from a super PAC, Winning Our Future, from hotel magnet Sheldon Adelson. Adelson’s efforts did not pay off, however, as Gingrich dropped out of the race in May.

“To get into politics you have to have steel intestines,” said Law, who’s super PAC, American Crossroads, spent money on 14 election contests in 2012 and only saw three of its preferred candidates win, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Typically there has to be an edge on which you engage,” he said. “There’s one ad in particular that comes to mind when we filmed an opponent in Kentucky and we played ‘Flight of the Valkyrie’ behind it and people accused us of comparing him to Hitler, which we really didn’t intend to do. You get one article written and then it takes on a life of it’s own.”

At one point during the discussion, Spies questioned Shorr about a Priorities USA Action ad that accused Romney of killing someone.

“I had a bet going to see how long it would take for you to bring that up,” responded a chuckling Shorr.

After defending the ads and implying the accusations were unintentional, Shorr said, “If I wanted to accuse Romney of murder, I would’ve been much more explicit."

When the panelists were questioned by an audience member about the influence of super PACs and whether their advertising has the ability to force a candidate to shift or focus on certain positions, Sweeney responded by saying, "That’s a good question.”

In the recent primary race to fill disgraced former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat in Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s super PAC, Independence USA, pumped more than $2 million into the race.

The PAC ran advertisements against former State Rep. Robin Kelly’s opponents. They focused largely on gun control, which was also a major talking point in Kelly’s campaign.

Kelly won the nomination, but claimed Bloomberg’s ads had nothing to do with her, saying “(Bloomberg) doesn’t know me from the man on the moon” and telling reporters she would have won anyway. Kelly’s opponents accused Bloomberg of trying to “buy” the election.

“There are three important things in a presidential race: first there’s the candidate himself, then comes the candidate’s campaign, then there are outside groups coming in third in terms of importance,” said Sweeney. “The candidate remains at the top of the pyramid because a campaign can rarely be better than the candidate ... The Obama campaign was exceptional, but we couldn’t have gotten anywhere without a good candidate.”

According to Law, super PACs don’t take the vote out of the voters’ hands.

“In the end, we can make a race competitive, but the one thing we cannot do is close the sale,” said Law. “Only the candidate can do that, and voters decide which of these wonderful human beings they’re going to vote for.”


Former 2nd congressional district candidate, Charles Rayburn, who is:

A family man that has been in a traditional marriage to the same woman for more than 32 years;

Sent all three of his children to college;

Is currently a fully licensed insurance producer for the State of Illinois;

A "Blue Perk Card" carring security officer;

And as an educator has sent thousands of 2nd congressional district children to college: and yet, the democratic party can find no place in office for him.

If your PAC is finding it hard to back a good candidate, then let's talk and find out just how valuable the name RAYBURN really is! (more to come) [email protected]


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