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Two cheers for super PACs

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About these ads

There are a couple of problems with such claims. Business corporations account for less than a quarter of contributions to these groups: most of the money comes from individuals. And whether the source consists of corporate treasuries or personal checking accounts, political scientists have not found strong and consistent evidence that contributions drive policy decisions. Rather, contributors tend to support officials for taking stands that they would have taken anyway.

In any case, one need not play the campaign finance game to wield influence. Arguably the most powerful lobby in Washington, AARP, has never given a cent to a campaign or a super PAC. It wields influence because it represents millions of people, which is the way a democracy is supposed to work.

Critics also warn that super PAC money buys elections.

Some attribute the 2010 GOP takeover of the House to the ads that these groups ran in key districts. The flaw in this assertion is that most national polls showed Republicans pulling ahead in congressional voting preference before any super PACs had spent one cent.

In the current campaign, Newt Gingrich has blamed his own woes on a pro-Romney super PAC. As political scientist John Geer has pointed out, Mr. Gingrich crashed in Iowa not because of attack ads against him, but because his numbers were going down all over the country, including places that never saw the ads. Even in Florida, exit polls showed that voters wanted a candidate who could win in November. Attacks by super PACs did not render Gingrich unelectable in a national race – Gingrich has been doing to himself that for nearly 20 years.

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