Super PACs could change historic winnowing pattern

January 16, 2012

By Rudolph Bell, The Greenville (S.C.) News

GREENVILLE, S.C. – In the past, conventional wisdom said a presidential candidate was going to have trouble raising money if he hadn’t shown sufficient popularity by the timeSouth Carolinians voted in their first-in-the-South primary.

That may still be true, but there’s a new wrinkle this cycle that could change the historic winnowing pattern — the so-called Super PAC.

Super PACs were made possible by a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that expanded First Amendment protection for political communication. They allow individuals, corporations or unions to raise an unlimited amount of money to spend on television ads or other communications that call directly for the election or rejection of particular candidates.

In past presidential-election cycles, special interests could use 527 Committees to raise unlimited amounts, but that so-called “soft money” could only be used for political activity that didn’t directly address particular candidates such as voter mobilization or issue advocacy.

Experts say the emergence of Super PACs changes the game — and could make it possible for the Republican presidential candidates to soldier on past the South Carolina primary, even if they’re lagging in the polls.

“It’s another big source of cash to sustain candidates,” said Viveca Novak, spokeswoman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that tracks campaign and lobbying expenditures.

Super PACs are barred from coordinating with candidates or political parties, and they’re required to disclose their donors.

Even so, voters can’t be sure who’s behind the new groups because the last reporting deadline for donors was in July, Novak said. Super PACs have reported expenditures since then, she said.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said there’s nothing to stop the wealthy individuals funding Super PACs this cycle to keep pouring money into the election as long as they want.

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