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Independent Fundraising Groups Influencing US Voters

There is an old saying that money is the lifeblood of politics. But in this year's U.S. presidential election the body politic appears to be drowning in money thanks to the influence of independent fundraising groups known as Super PACs (political action committees that are aligned with specific presidential candidates). In addition to the various campaigns, the Super PACs have independently raised tens of millions of dollars and are having an impact on the 2012 race for the Republican Party's presidential nomination.

All that money flooding into the presidential campaign pays for negative ads.

But all that campaign fundraising and negative advertising has sparked a backlash that recently led to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

These demonstrators are unhappy with a Supreme Court decision two years ago that opened the way for wealthy individuals, corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money running ads in political campaigns, most of them negative.

Annabel Park is with the Coffee Party USA, a counterpart to the conservative-leaning Tea Party movement.

"It's like a fire sale or a casino where very wealthy people are putting down money and making bets and making those choices," said Park. "They might as well be in a back room with cigars."

Experts say the ads can be effective in changing voters' minds, but many of voters don't like them, including some who voted in Florida's recent presidential primary.

MAN 1: "It think it is ridiculous. There has been way too much negative (ads) and it is going to hurt them when Obama grabs that stuff and uses it against them."

WOMAN: "The negativity has been like, to me, fingers on a chalkboard. I think that it is deplorable."

MAN 2: "It is sad but true. You know you get down in the dirt and I don't think anybody is really benefiting from it, but some of the things they are pointing out are true also, so."

The Supreme Court decision has resulted in more wealthy groups trying to influence the election, says John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Committee.

"Well, we certainly have seen the rise of more independent money, money that is not directly controlled directly by the campaigns or by the political parties, and that money is a lot less accountable," said Fortier.

But given the history of money and U.S. political campaigns, the result was predictable, says David Drucker of the newspaper Roll Call.

"Money is like water in politics. If you remove rules it will flood in. If you create rules it will still flood in. It just does it in circuitous ways," Drucker explained.

That is little consolation to those who gathered at the Supreme Court. They are demanding that the high court reverse its decision and re-impose campaign spending restrictions on corporations, unions and the wealthy.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.