Jeffrey Toobin: Super PACs: Worse to Come

January 25th, 2012

The New Yorker: Daily Comment
By Jeffrey Toobin
Jan. 25, 2012

You’re nothing in Presidential politics this year without a Super PAC. As most people know by now, Super PACs are fund-raising vehicles that support a candidate but are nominally independent of that candidate’s official campaign. Individuals can only give twenty-five hundred dollars to a candidate in a primary—and corporations cannot give anything at all—but both individuals and corporations can give as much as they please to Super PACs. Thanks to absence of those limits, in the South Carolina Republican primary, Super PACs spent about twice as much as the candidates themselves.

So far, it seems, the influence of Super PACs has been immense. Super PACs seem to deserve much of the credit for the fall and rise of Newt Gingrich’s Presidential campaign. When Gingrich took the lead in the Iowa polls, Mitt Romney’s Super PAC, Restore Our Future, funded a torrent of negative ads and brought down Gingrich’s standing. Then Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas billionaire, gave five million dollars to Gingrich’s own Super PAC, Winning the Future, before the South Carolina primary; that cash funded the Gingrich revival. (Just in time for the Florida primary, the Adelson family put five million dollars more behind Gingrich.)

This strange legal superstructure for our campaigns has come about largely because of Supreme Court decisions, especially the Citizens United case, from 2010. And though many people profess horror at the way money is dominating the campaign, it seems clear that, based on the way the Court is heading, we’ll soon look back on the campaign of 2012 and say those were the good old days.