In 1907, Congress banned corporate contributions to federal candidates in the wake of the robber baron-era scandals. In 1947, the ban was formally applied to corporate expenditures and extended to cover labor unions.
In 1974, Congress enacted limits on individual contributions to federal candidates and political committees in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United case declared the corporate expenditure ban unconstitutional, holding that independent expenditures could not be constitutionally limited in federal elections, and implicitly that corporations could give unlimited amounts to other groups to spend, as long as the expenditures were made independently from the supported candidate. Subsequently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the SpeechNow case held that the limits on individual contributions to groups that made independent expenditures were unconstitutional.
Thus was born the super PAC.
And thus was born the national campaign finance scandals that are unfolding daily in the 2012 elections.
Super PACs are federally registered political action committees that raise unlimited contributions from the super rich, corporations, labor unions and other entities and spend these funds to make "independent" expenditures in federal elections.
They are an unmitigated disaster for the American people.
A recent study by Demos and the U.S. Public Interest Group found that, as Politico reported, "Super PACs raised about $181 million in the last two years -- with roughly half of it coming from fewer than 200 super-rich people."
The study also found that 93% of the itemized contributions raised by super PACs came in contributions of $10,000 or more, with more than half of this money coming from just 37 people who each gave $500,000 or more.
Super PACs are a game for millionaires and billionaires. They are a game for corporations and other wealthy interests. Meanwhile, citizens are pushed to the sidelines to watch the corruption of our democracy.
In the 2012 presidential election, an even more insidious version of the super PAC was born -- the candidate-specific super PAC. Every significant presidential campaign has had a super PAC -- created and run by close associates of the candidate -- that raises unlimited contributions to spend only to support that presidential candidate.