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Super Tuesday: Just what the heck is a Super PAC, anyway?

by | Mar 3, 2016 | Media, Politics and Government - US

They have names like “New Day for America”, “Opportunity and Freedom”, “Keep the Promise”, “Priorities USA Action”, “America Leads” and “Believe Again”.

Still others have slightly disconcerting monikers like “Right to Rise” and “Unintimidated” (we’re not quite sure of what, exactly. But we know that whatever it is, they’re not intimidated).

You’d be forgiven if you thought I was referring to a batch of self-help books, or maybe a series of action movies with superhero protagonists.

But no, these are the names of some of the most influential political organizations in America — the Super PACs.

Super PACs are allowed to raise as much money as they can from whomever they can, which they then spend freely in support of any political candidate. They just can’t donate directly to a political campaign (PAC stands for political action committee, by the way).

As you’ve gathered by now, Super PACs–which have been around only since 2010–have an insane amount of influence in US politics. They’re also one reason why you can’t turn on a TV without being carpet bombed by negative political commercials, complete with foreboding music and terrifying sound bites.

So MediaMiser wanted to know how much press these organizations have been getting in US print media, especially now that Super Tuesday has come and gone.

What we found is that eight of the ten most mentioned Super PACs (between February 1 and March 1) are conservative leaning, and seven out of ten explicitly support a Republican candidate.

Most mentioned Super PACs

(All non-media mention data in the table provided by https://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/superpacs.php)
super pac chart most mentioned

That’s not all that surprising, really, considering that eight of the ten Super PACs that have raised the most money (as of March 2) are also conservative leaning.

There are, however, some interesting outliers.

Our Principles PAC, for example, has only raised a little more than $3M but was seventh in our top ten most mentioned PACs list, mostly because it’s a conservative organization with the stated goal of opposing Donald Trump.

As well, two of the top three most mentioned Super PACs over the last month support a candidate that has by now withdrawn from the race (Right to Rise-Bush and America Leads-Christie).

And the No. 5 most mentioned Super PAC supports a candidate who doesn’t have a chance (New Day for America-Kasich).

Regardless of your politics, the brilliance — and deviousness — of Super PACs is undeniable. They can spend as much as they like in support of any candidate, and if they screw up or get too aggressive, the candidate can more easily distance him or herself from the mess (although that didn’t seem to work for Jeb Bush).

But as many have previously said, Super PACs aren’t good for democracy. They allow those with the most money to have the most say, and in effect circumvent all the sensible legislation enacted throughout the 20th century to limit corporate influence in US politics, like this.

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Jim Donnelly
Jim Donnelly graduated with a BA in History/English from Wilfrid Laurier University and a MJ from Carleton University. Jim heads Agility PR Solutions’ Media Insights Group which oversees the production of public and client media analysis reports and infographics. Jim was previously editor of the Ottawa Business Journal and related publications such as Ottawa Technology Magazine and Meeting in the Capital.

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