The Sin of super PACS

When the goals of a society are to spread justice and advance the common good, the Catholic church recognizes that despite its importance, government legislation, by itself, will never accomplish these monumental tasks, “Legislation is necessary but it is not sufficient for setting up true relationships of justice and equality.  If beyond legal rules there is really no deeper feeling of respect for and service to others, then even equality before the law can serve as an alibi for flagrant discrimination, continued exploitation and actual contempt.” (O’Brien, and Shannon )  Too often, laws are passed or upheld by our government, under the cloak of promoting equality and fairness, when in fact, they do just the opposite.  In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court struck at the heart of campaign finance reform, ruling that corporations, unions, wealthy individuals and any ideological groups can disburse unlimited amounts of cash on political advertisements during the election cycle. (“Economist” )   In their defense of the ruling, the five assenting justices cited the First Amendment protection of free speech as applying to both citizens and associations of citizens. (“Economist” )  With this landmark decision, came the birth of super PACS, organizations that are barred from affiliating with any parties and candidates but are free to independently raise boundless sums of money to support one candidate and tarnish another.  Now, on the surface, this ruling seems to comply with the constitutional ideal of free speech and equality.  Indeed Justice Kennedy, who voted in favor of the ruling says “Under our law and tradition it seems stranger than fiction for our government to make political speech….a crime.” (“Economist” )  What the assenting justices refused to acknowledge is that despite its constitutionality, this ruling harms our democracy and makes America’s politicians even more unresponsive to the needs of its citizens.  The founders certainly did not intend America to become an oligarchy when they drafted the Constitution, but the Supreme Court sees no problem with interpreting it that way.  Octagesima Adveniens mentions equality acting as a guise for exploitation, discrimination, and contempt.  By defining political speech as the ability to raise unlimited funds to support a candidate or party, this ruling exploits, discriminates against, and holds in contempt the general electorate of our country.  So far in the 2012 election cycle, super PACS have proven that they are more than up to the challenge of denigrating our democracy.  Through the use of relentless negative ad campaigns, superPACS attempt to focus voter’s minds away from real issues and on to buzzwords and easy to digest bits of information.  They have no moral qualms about exploiting the minds of the American people.  Winning Our Future, the Pro-Gingrich super Pac, ran an ad down in Florida attacking Mitt Romney for being a progressive Republican.  It repeats the word “progressive” numerous times implying that Mitt is not conservative enough.  Over and over again it says that a Romney presidency would be no different from that of President Obama.  While all this meaningless badmouthing is going on, eerie “end of the world” music plays in the background.  These ads do not appeal to intelligence or any knowledge about the issues at hand, but rather only seek to dredge up vicious partisan emotion in their viewership through labeling and personal attacks.  An ad put out by the Pro-Romney super Pac, Restore Our Future, denounces Newt Gingrich for standing with Democrat Nancy Pelosi on global warming.  Are we supposed to assume that since Gingrich recognized global warming as a problem, that that somehow makes him less conservative?  These ads rely on collective ignorance, are overblown and are a blatant insult from the candidates who seek our vote.  Not only does the evolution of super PACS as a result of this ruling insult our intelligence; it also insults our wallets.  Winning Our future is largely funded by the family of Sheldon Adelson, a fabulously wealthy casino magnate.  Nearly all donations to Restore Our Future were of $25,000 or more, while private individuals donating directly to the campaign are restricted to $2,500. (“Economist” )  As a result, super Pacs actually end up raising more money than the campaigns themselves. (“Economist” )  According to the Centre for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog, 55 of the 75 donors to Romney’s super Pac also gave directly to his campaign.  While they donated $6.4m to the super Pac, they were restricted to just over $130,000 for the campaign. (“Economist” 34)  Newt Gingrich felt the full force of Romney’s super PAC’s superior resources in Florida and other Southern states, and in his desperation actually called on Mitt Romney to end the negative ads.  Largely due to this negative ad campaigning, Gingrich came in third in nearly every Southern state and only managed to win South Carolina and Georgia.  These numbers prove that the candidate with more money and more resources will, in the end, wind up being the nominee, and while Newt Gingrich languishes in debt, Mitt Romney emerges the winner.  But is this truly how the election process of a vibrant democracy should work?  In the Section Ideologies and Human Liberty from Octagesima Adveniens, Pope Paul VI writes

“Is there need to stress the possible ambiguity of every social ideology?  Sometimes it leads to political or social activity to be simply the application of an abstract, purely theoretical idea; at other times it is thought which becomes a mere instrument at the service of activity as a simple means of a strategy.  In both cases is it not man that risks finding himself alienated?  The Christian faith is above and sometimes opposed to the ideologies, in that it recognizes God, who is transcendent and the Creator, and who, through all the levels of creation, calls on man as endowed with responsibility and freedom.” (O’Brien, and Shannon )

This quote sums up the affect that super PACS have on our election process.  By reducing the essence of campaigning to small sound bites and trivial phrases that focus on the “negative” aspects of the opposing candidate such as “He wants to make government bigger” or “Is he really conservative enough for us?” or “He’s a tax hiker”, candidates are able to deceive voters by taking the focus off real issues of substance and placing it on overblown and meaningless propaganda that comes out of negative ads.  The actual candidate’s ideology becomes so diluted and ambiguous, and instead these accusations, generalizations, and buzz phrases become the mantra by which politicians expect us to vote for them, or more fittingly, just not vote for the other guy.  When it comes to this type of political activity, the ends justify the means.  The strategy is more important, and the thought no longer counts.  Ultimately super PACS and the negative campaigning that results from their forays harms our democracy because it reduces the participatory role of the citizen in his or her government to that of a mere mindless fool.  The common man’s concerns for how a particular candidate will handle the issues that are important to him or her run subordinate to the politician’s thirst for power.  Paragraph 25 of Octogesima Adveniens lays out the way political activity would function in a real democracy,

Political activity should be the projection of a plan of society which is consistent in its concrete means and in its inspiration, and which spring from a complete conception of man’s vocation and of its differing social expressions.  It is not for the State or even for political parties, which would be closed unto themselves, to try to impose an ideology by means that would lead to a dictatorship over minds, the worst kind of all. (O’Brien, and Shannon )

Rather than encourage voters to think long and hard about the issues to determine which candidate they want to support, super PACS gain a disingenuous “dictatorship over minds”.  This will never be democracy.

Works Cited

“Unbound.” Economist. 28 Jan 2010: n. page. Web. 13 May. 2012. <>.

“The hands that prod, the wallets that feed.” Economist. 02 25 2012: n. page. Web. 13 May. 2012. <>.

“A PACket of money.” Economist. 22 Oct 2011: 34. Print.

O’Brien, David, and Thomas Shannon, comp. Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage. Expanded ed. MaryKnoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010. Print.


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