From a presentation by Mimi Marziani, Money in Politics After Citizens United: Troubling Trends & Possible Solutions
The creation, and subsequent rise, of so-called “Super PACs” is the most prominent post-Citizens United development. Regular PACs have been around for a long time, but could only accept contributions up to $5,000 from human beings.
Super PACs are mutant PACs that can raise, and then spend, unlimited amounts money from corporations, unions, and individuals on political advertisements, as long as they do not coordinate their spending with any candidate.
Despite popular belief, Citizens United did not create Super PACs—at least, not directly.
The Court, in holding that corporations have the same right to engage in independent spending as natural persons, naively stated that political spending can only corrupt if it is directly coordinated with a candidate’s campaign.
Afterward, the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) and lower federal courts quickly expanded this logic. They reasoned that as long as a group is not coordinating with any candidate, there is no anti-corruption reason to impose contribution limitations on that group. Thereafter, numerous political committees declared independence from their preferred candidate, and Super PACs were born.
Contrary to the Supreme Court’s assumption, however, there is no reason to believe that independent spending benefiting a candidate is, in fact, less likely to lead to corruption than direct contributions.