ROGERS: Before the Supreme Court decision an individual could contribute a maximum of twenty-four hundred dollars to a presidential candidate. Corporations were not allowed to donate at all. Now individuals and corporations can give as much they want. So, for example, billionaire Sheldon Adelson has donated more than 10 million dollars to support former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Daniel Smith is a professor of political science at the University of Florida. He says these donations are legal as long as they are going to independent organizations called super-PACs.
SMITH: Well the super-PACs are essentially a type of political committee that is on steroids, in that these entities can raise unlimited amounts of money from virtually any source.
ROGERS: Opponents worried that the Supreme Court decision would give too much influence to wealthy individuals and corporations. President Obama criticized the decision and the lack of transparency behind super-PAC funding in his 2010 State of the Union Address.
OBAMA: I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people.
ROGERS: But political scientist Daniel Smith says that corporations have not donated as much as critics feared.
SMITH: One of the facts of the matter is that you have very little corporate money going into these super-PACs right now even though it could be. It’s largely coming from very wealthy individuals.
ROGERS: Those individuals have given almost three million dollars to support former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. They’ve given almost thirty-seven million to super-PACs supporting former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Over thirteen million to those supporting Newt Gingrich. More than three million to super-PACS for Texas congressman Ron Paul. And these numbers are likely to increase because the super-PACs only need to submit quarterly financial reports.
Legally the super-PACs cannot coordinate with campaign organizations. But the majority of their spending goes to traditional campaign activities. Stuart Roy is a political advisor for the Red White and Blue Fund, which supports Santorum. He says most of their spending in one of next Tuesday’s battleground states is going towards advertising.
ROY: In Ohio we have an aggressive voter program going on in phones and mail. We’ve also been up for almost a week on television with a spot comparing the candidates’ records and economic plans.
ROGERS: Mitt Romney’s super-PACs have received more than ten times the money Santorum’s have. But he still has not been able to lock in the nomination. University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith says this could mean that well funded super-PACs can’t make up for a lack of enthusiasm for a candidate.
SMITH: The republican electorate, at least those who are super-voters and turn out in these republican primaries are dubious of Mitt Romney. They are looking for an alternative and the flavor of the week seems to keep changing.
ROGERS: Meanwhile President Obama has embraced the super-PACs he once criticized and now has two supporting him. At a press conference in February, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the democratic campaign was trying to level playing field.
CARNEY: The campaign has made clear that they cannot compete effectively if there are two sets of rules.
ROGERS: The super-PACs may actually be working in Obama’s favor. Mitt Romney’s opponents’ super-PACs have unleashed a barrage of negative ads. The republican frontrunner’s net favorability rating has fallen 17 points in the past four months.
Rachel Rogers, Columbia Radio News.