Saturday, May 19, 2012

SuperPACS in NYC

Two years ago the US Supreme Court handed down a decision, popularly known as Citizens United, that allows individuals and corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in American political campaigns. Many people, myself included, shuddered in horror at this ruling because it basically allows very rich people to essentially buy elections. 

Now the rules of campaign finance on the federal, state, and local level are varying and complex. What this ruling doesn't mean is that a rich person or company can totally bankroll an individual candidate. For example, the Koch Brothers cannot 100% bankroll Mitt Romney nor George Soros totally bankroll Barack Obama. The Romney and Obama campaigns still have to raise money in limited amounts if they want to, for example, move the candidates around the country or run ads with the candidates in them. But what this ruling does mean is that companies and very wealthy people can spend millions or even billions of dollars on superPACS (i.e. political action committees) that will in turn spend the money on attack ads against candidates they don't like. They can, I believe, spend huge amounts of money on get-out-the-vote operations and other "grassroots" efforts as well. And whoever wins (probably Republicans since wealthy people are much more likely to spend their money of Republican candidates) will be totally in hock to the financiers of these superPACS.

And now these superPACS are having unintended consequences. And, even worse, they're coming to NYC.

First, the unintended consequences. You may have head this week about a conservative billionaire who was planning to run a very racist campaign against President Obama via his superPAC. When word got out, this billionaire abruptly announced that the campaign wasn't going to run at all. However, yours truly found out that this man is the founder, believe it or not, of a website called DNAInfo that provide local news in NYC. Recently I had added a link to DNAInfo but, when I found about this, I promptly removed DNAInfo from the list. So the unintended consequences of these superPACs is that, when people find out who is funding them, there will be a backlash against the companies and businesses that these funders run. 

Second, it looks like these superPACs will play a role in next year's mayor's race. NYC has a very good public campaign finance system where contributions to candidates are matched by public funds in limited amounts. This means candidates don't have to raise or spend huge amounts of money. But with Citizens United and these superPACs, wealthy people are going to be able to spend huge amounts on on next year's mayor's race. That means that whoever is the Democratic candidate for mayor will have probably $100 million in vicious attack ads run against him or her. This means next year's mayor's race will become toxic and will probably mean that we'll have yet another Republican mayor after Bloomberg leaves office. 

Don't forget, you read it here first. 

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