Maher raises PAC questions by donating $1 million

March 31st, 2012

Comedian and HBO host Bill Maher, made a surprise $1 million donation before his political comedy show last week to a super PAC called Priorities USA Action.

Maher not only pledged his million-dollar support but encouraged wealthy Democrats to follow suit. This astounding declaration was made not just before his audience in San Jose, but broadcast live on Yahoo.

A PAC, or political action committee, is an organization designed to raise and spend funds to support or defeat a candidate.

While PACs are able to raise and spend limitless amounts of money at their own discretion and in favor of whomever they would like to back, they must refrain from coordinating their efforts with the candidates they support.

However, on this seemingly independent action of the super PACs Dean Birch, chair of the political science department at John Carroll University, said, “Super PACs are being run by individuals who are in some way connected to the campaign whether it’s in the past or in some other way. There is an implicit understanding between the candidates and the super PACs. It’s absurd to think they are not coordinating in some way. They use a third party to coordinate marketing, and that third party knows what both are thinking.”

This ability of super PACs to play such a significant financial role in political campaigns is a new and highly controversial decision of the Supreme Court. The 5-4 ruling in the 2010 case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, favors those who wish to contribute large sums of money to politicians running for office. The Priorities USA Action super PAC was formed in support of President Barack Obama’s re-election. Therefore, Maher’s million dollar donation will help to finance the president’s campaign. Although it is certain that money will influence the elections, the impact of these super PACs may not fully be recognized until after November.

Birch went on to say these limitless contributors create uncertainty in any political race. “It’s hard to say right now but most of the pundits, the objective and civil pundits, are saying that one of the reasons you have a ‘Romney’ in the campaign is because no one else can afford to run or work up the necessary organization to run a campaign because Romney has been running for eight years. It [super PACs] will have an impact but it is too early to see.  Money in the campaign has definitely had an impact already. Some of the early candidates have already left, and for some of them it was because of money.  Anyone who wants to challenge the status quo will not be able to do this without a super PAC, but super PACs will not support candidates like this.”

Although President Obama was initially skeptical about the role of such groups in the political arena, he has changed his stance.   This is perhaps a reflection of the super PACs astounding ability to raise funds. For instance, in the Republican race, Restore Our Future and Winning Our Future, the super PACs promoting Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have already procured a combined $17 million for their respective candidates.

On this change of heart by Obama, Birch said, “25 percent of money given to the super PACs has been given by just five people. The idea that you can expect a candidate with integrity to take a position that he is not going to engage in super PAC activity is like asking someone to go to a baseball game without a mitt.”

Birch went on to say how super PACs have had such a major impact in winning a campaign. He said, “You can have an individual position of what the norms should be but unless you have a law that restricts super PACs, you cannot expect individuals to take a position to refrain from it. With one candidate refraining from a super PAC, you have gone beyond fairness and equality. The problem with passing a law to restrict super PACs is enterprising lawyers are going to find ways around the law, and they are going to find loopholes and we are going to use all this money around campaign financing. It’s just absurd.”

Regardless of what may change as a result of this election cycle and the role of super PACs, what is resoundingly clear is that they will play a part of this presidential election cycle. Furthermore, whoever will serve as the next Commander in Chief will be elected with a super PAC on his side.