Mystery Survey Plus PACs Versus Super PACs

People are reporting receiving computerized phone surveys.   The calls ask questions about who they plan to support for Mayor.  The calls also ask quite a few questions about their position on economic growth, protection of the greenbelt, etc.  The calls specifically ask whether they would vote for someone who received PAC money.

This kind of polling is quite expensive.  It is meant to try to determine how likely it is that you will vote for their candidate.  The policy questions also give the pollsters insights into which issues will influence a voter’s choice of candidates.

Bear in mind that the pollsters can link their questions to whomever is the primary person identified with your phone bill.  If your responses to their survey indicate you will not be voting for their candidate, they will write you off.  On the other hand, if you appear to be in play they can tailor a response to you based upon your answers on policy issues.  They can email you or send you literature or actually send someone to your house to try to influence you.  If they end up believing that you will probably vote for their candidate, they can prompt you to vote on Election Day.  At your polling place they can even check to see if you have voted and then follow up with you if you have not.

All of this takes money.  Lots of money.  In all likelihood, the only player with this kind of money is Saratoga Springs’ new Super PAC, Saratoga PAC.

PACs are actually more complicated than many people understand.

Historically, PACs were limited in how much individuals could contribute to them and how much they could contribute to candidates and parties. Unions and corporations were forbidden to contribute to PACs as institutions but their members could. Unions and environmental groups have used PACs as a way to bundle together the small contributions of their members to support candidates that support their agenda.  Associations of businesses with interests in influencing legislation also used PACs to bundle the moneys they raise from the individuals in their companies to give to candidates.  In this context the problem is not PACs per se but more about what a particular PAC’s goals are.  A PAC may be good or bad depending on what you believe to be a good or bad goal.

More recently, as a result of the famous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, we now have something called a Super PAC.  Unlike the old PACs this Supreme Court decision now allows individuals and institutions to contribute unlimited funds to the Super PAC and allows unlimited spending by them.   Now, pretty much anybody or anything can contribute directly to a PAC.  The important limit, though, is that  Super PACs cannot make contributions directly to candidates.  Instead, they are allowed to spend unlimited funds to get an endorsed candidate elected as long as they do not coordinate their efforts with the candidate, the candidate’s campaign, or a political party.  In reality, Super PAC efforts are commonly simply extensions of their favorite candidates’ campaigns.

An interesting article in About.com offers two quotes from members of the Supreme Court who voted differently on the decision that made Super PACs possible:

From Justice Anthony Kennedy who voted in favor of Citizens United: “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

From the dissenting opinion of Justice John Paul Stevens: “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.”

The full article is here: Article

This is an interesting article about how important Super PACs have become in city elections.  In a recent election in Philadelphia, Super PACs spent six times more than the candidates.  Article

This can all lead to some grotesque strategies.  For instance, Democrats are usually the main recipients of traditional union PAC money and this will show up in direct contributions to them on their financial reports. I fully expect the Saratoga Super PAC to attack candidates for accepting this money.  So the wealthy donors to the Saratoga Super PAC will very likely spend money they collect to attack the candidates they oppose for taking money from traditional PACs.  The hypocrisy of setting up a PAC that will then attack other candidates for receiving money from PACs is quite stunning.  Welcome to American politics in the twenty-first century.

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