Super PACs play role in 2020 election


Patrick Schmidt/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State students wait in line at the polling location in Buchanan Hall to cast their ballots in the 2018 midterm elections Nov. 6, 2018.

Anna Olson

According to 1,564 groups organized as super PACs reported $173,532,642 in total receipts and $11,810,587 in independent expenditures since Oct. 27 to be used for the 2020 cycle.

Super PACs are independent expenditure committees in elections. Corporations can raise an unlimited amount of money in order to advocate, or oppose, a certain political candidate or ideology.

Even with super PACs not being allowed to directly finance a candidate themselves, Mack Shelley, Iowa State professor and chair of the political science department, said these forms of PACs make it possible to directly support a candidate.

“What the law says and what reality looks like are often not the same thing,” Shelley said.

Kelly Shaw, senior lecturer of political science, also said individuals with good attorneys can get around the law.

“It’s easy the way the laws are written to hide behind a super PAC,” Shaw said.

Shelley said most Democratic presidential candidates see it as a badge of honor to resist this so called “dark money”, so have zero outside money. However, there are still ways that these PACs are impacting the current candidates, such as Joe Biden.

A super PAC supporting Biden filed paperwork Monday to reactivate itself. The treasurer of the super PAC “Unite the County” is a former aide to Biden.

Shelley said Biden is in part supported by “Wall Street Democrats,” who lean towards Democrats on social issues, but not necessarily economic issues.

“They want big dollars from people with big pockets who will support a moderate Democrat who won’t rock the boat,” Shelley said. “For them someone like Warren or Sanders in particular are really scary, cause they are threatening their sources of wealth basically.”

On the other side of the spectrum, Shelley said that based on his research, President Donald Trump has one third of his entire campaign money from outside sources, from PACs or super PACs.

“When you put all the super PACS, plus everything else together, Trump’s campaign has raised just shy of $81 million from outside money, but like 165 and a half million and change directly going to the campaign committee,” Shelley said.

Shaw said with the correlation of having lots of money and performing well in elections is what is enticing to candidates to tacitly accept the assistance of super PAC money.

“The super PACs are dangling the carrot of money they are offering in elections,” Shaw said.

Shelley said it is important for students to become informed on super PACs, along with being able to put the pieces together on where this money may be going and how it is used. 

“It’s really essential to be in the know about the process,” Shelley said.

Shaw also said if students are aware about what super PACs are doing they can understand that politicians are getting used to satisfying individuals who control super PACs, rather than what democracy previously required.

“The ramification is that people are being left behind,” Shaw said.