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Election 101: Five basics about 'super PACs' and 2012 campaign money

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2. Why have super PACs suddenly burst onto the campaign scene?

These new fundraising tools are the result of two 2010 Supreme Court decisions that have transformed the campaign-finance landscape. The first, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, overturned a century-old ban on corporate and union treasury funds being used in politics, freeing these monies to be used for political advertisements. The second, SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission, ruled that capping donations to political committees was unconstitutional.

This is the first presidential election in which super PACs will play a role, says Beckel, who adds that they are "expected to raise incredible amounts of money this election cycle."

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