This was my response as I watched the South Carolina primary results roll in on Saturday:
@ZacharyWhitten Ever wonder how much it costs to buy a state primary? Newt’s SuperPAC bought South Carolina for $5 million.
Which is pretty much exactly what happened.
Well, that and the religious conservative voters of South Carolina apparently bought into Newt’s crocodile tears over his sexual escapades being brought up again. I will give his team credit, though. They did manage to turn what I was sure was a bullet to the head of his campaign into something used to rally the base.
But, back to the Super PACs!
First off, what is a Super PAC? Well, a PAC stands for Political Action Committee, and are legal entities created as means to raise funds from groups that are normally forbidden to donate money directly to candidates. Unions and corporations, for example. This money is then used to bolster the messaging of a candidate or cause, since direct donations are limited to a paltry few grand. Every politician out there has a PAC, as does every big special interest group like the NRA. They’re legal loopholes that are the main reason it is so damned expensive to run for office. The only real check on them is that they have to disclose the people who are giving them money, and what they are spending that money on.
PACs get much more complicated than that, but that’s the framework you need to understand the next part.
So what’s a Super PAC?
Simply put, they are maybe the most damaging thing the Supreme Court has ever done to American democracy. Super PACs spin out of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Citizens United case back in 2010, in which the Court said that according to the letter of the law, corporations and unions were essentially people and their spending of money during elections constituted free speech, which was ensured and protected by the First Amendment. Oh, and that they didn’t have to tell anyone about where the money came from or what they spent it on. Only catch was, they were still forbidden from donating to candidates or working directly with them on how to spend that money.
And what do they do with this new-found freedom of monetary expression?
They create the Super PAC.
A giant, money hoovering political black hole that can accept limitless donations and spend that money however it damn well pleases, so long as it doesn’t directly give to the candidate or collude with them on what the Super PAC is going to spend it on.
Well, the Super PACs aren’t giving the candidates money, but they are sure as hell colluding with their campaigns. Romney Super PAC’s plastered the whole world with anti-Newt ads before the New Hampshire primary, then he claimed ignorance of them during the debates…at least until the after commercial break when he referenced the content of one of them.
In South Carolina, Newt’s money came from a billionaire casino magnate that is apparently hoping to buy himself a president. He gave the Super PAC a check for five million, and the Super PAC blew it all in South Carolina. I think I heard somewhere that the average South Carolinian would see or hear the Super PAC’s anti-Romney spots sixty times in the week leading up to the election. Over ten times a day. It was the political equivalent of carpet bombing the whole state with their messaging.
But, lo and behold, it worked.
Newt’s Super PAC bought a victory in South Carolina, and prolonged the Republican primary a few weeks more.