Super PACs spent $567,498,628 on the 2012 elections. About half of that was used on the presidential election. You may have seen that half-billion-dollar number thrown around or heard the mention of Super PACs – but what does a Super PAC really do?
In short, it's an organization that can raise an infinite mound of cash for federal elections. While they can't directly donate to a candidate or campaign, Super PACs use the money they raise to "advocate" for those candidates and campaigns. Advocacy typically takes the form of TV and video ads: streaming half a billion dollars worth of unchecked facts, ideological fanaticism and mud slinging through our living rooms, hearts and minds.
"So what," you say? Mudslinging has always been a part of the electoral process.
Yes, but it's a different kind of mud bath now. First of all, there's no regulation on the content that Super PACs put out. These organizations have been blasted more than a few times for creating ad campaigns beyond just your average, “Don't vote for this guy” schtick. Simply google "Super PACs accused of lying" and 16 million results will fall in your lap.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the crisis of a U.S. electoral system dictated by Super PACs is a big deal because there's no such thing as a free lunch – especially when the 1% is your meal ticket.
A USA Today analysis showed that as of February of 2012, 25% of Super PAC money being funneled into the presidential election came from five donors.
Five individuals. Just five. Now couple that with the fact that in 2010, 94% of winning candidates outspent their opponents. Like any legitimate business, those 94% have to pay those five people back somehow, right? And Americans are wondering why the average citizen gets about as much consideration from elected officials in DC as a meat lovers pizza would at a vegan potluck.
The Time Has Come Time To End Elections As Auctions
The correlation between wealthy corporate donors and this country's devolution into the abyss of income inequality, privatized healthcare and schools, endless war, the destruction of our environment and more, is no accident. Under the current system, whoever has the most money gets the most airplay gets the most votes gets the most political return on their investments. As most voters are aware, politicians don't run for public service but for private interest, knowing that on the other side of election lies a well-oiled revolving door of corporate lobbying jobs.
Yet in the midst of this corrupt circus, one Super PAC has sprouted from the grassroots, intent on pushing the will of the people back to where it belongs – into politics, in our Republic.
On May 1, Harvard Law School professor and renowned activist Lawrence Lessig launched a campaign entitled the MayDay PAC. Deriving its name from the well known distress signal and “moral obligation” of any captain who hears the call to help, MayDay PAC is both the call and the response:
It is the call from a democracy in distress – a call to its people to save it from the clutches of monied interests. And through donations on its site, it is the response of the people, for the people and by the people, to help.
“Our democracy is held hostage by the funders of campaigns,” Lessig explains. “We're going to pay the ransom and get it back. We want to build a Super PAC big enough to end all Super PACs and over the course of the next two elections use that Super PAC to win enough seats to pass fundamental reform.”
The group's plan is to secure $12 million for the 2014 election cycle, funneling 100% of donations into “professional campaigners, who will craft interventions in targeted districts to make fundamental reform the issue in that campaign — and to make the reform candidate the winner,” says Lessig.
And from there, MayDay PAC will “put Congress on notice that in 2016, we'll be back.”
Somehow $12 million doesn't sound like a lot when put against the backdrop of $250 million flowing through our Congress like an insatiable green snake with an appetite for corruption. And yet, when you think of a crowd-funded project, it suddenly sounds like an almost impossibly large sum of money.
Lessig is conscious of these obstacles, and they don't irk him. His answer: do it in stages. The MayDay PAC has already gotten through its first phase of funding – the initial target was $1 million, and if reached, Lessig pledged to match that same amount. In two weeks roughly 13,000 people pledged to support the PAC and MayDay reached its goal. $2 million – done.
The overflow, in fact, spilled into the next round which is aiming for the $5 million mark. As of this reporting, $792,000 has been raised, with under three weeks to go. Not by accident, the final round of funding ends July 4.
What happens if MayDay PAC doesn't reach its goal? As the site confirms, you can either pledge to donate regardless of whether the goal is reached, or pledge dependent on the goal being reached. Furthermore, Lessig and MayDay make it clear that this is an experiment: “to see if we, the people can kickstart a super PAC big enough to mobilize the people to demand reform.”
But MayDay PAC isn't just sitting back and watching the money roll in. From Lessig's video introduction of the group, to the in-depth discussion of its specific goals, MayDay PAC presents a clear, active and explicit campaign designed to inspire and engage.
The first step is to take on Congress. MayDay PAC will go after any Congressional candidate who isn't on board with campaign finance reform, regardless of where s/he stands on other issues. Think of it this way: any other issue you care about can be traced back to the corrupting influence of money in politics. That's why some are calling this a First Issue Movement: because before we can address our many and varied concerns, from climate change and health care to education, agriculture or prisons, we must first uncover the layer of corruption that is suffocating the political process.
MayDay seeks to strip that cover using five specific proposals. On the site Reform.to the group Rootstrikers (also founded by Lessig) has outlined five statutory proposals blending left and right campaign finance reform plans – including the names of people who have “sponsored” or committed to each proposal.
While Lessig has lent his name to several campaigns dealing with Constitutional reform, MayDay PAC sets statutory reform as the necessary first step – securing a majority to push for more sweeping, far reaching reform. “But that change is next on the list,” the site reports, adding, “the work of the Mayday PAC will not be finished until we have secured constitutional reform.”
Our money in to #GetMoneyOut. Ironic? Yeah, maybe. “But embrace the irony,” Lessig says. “Because with enough of us, we can easily build a Super PAC bigger and more effective than the Super PACs of the billionaires.
"If we can pull together a large enough pool of money through this campaign, we can convince Americans that they can change the way money matters in politics. We can create a system in which it isn’t the influence of a few that matters. Instead, as any democracy should, it would be the influence of a majority that matters.”
Just like we saw in California last week, citizens can use the system to beat the system. Put another way: the power of the people is greater than the people in power, and if we come together to fight corruption, we will win.
If you can donate, the current push goes until July 4 – with amounts ranging from $5 to $10,000. If you can't donate, spread the word. Send people to the site, post about it, tweet it and email it – particularly to those who say there's nothing that can be done about the status quo.
If all it took was a majority of Americans giving $5 to a campaign like this, to change our future trajectory from abyss to horizon, to shift the bad news to good, that's incredible. And wildly inspiring.