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Super PAC members evaluate economic influence on elections

Republicans, Democrats agree large donations can make difference

<p>Experts discuss the impact Super PACs can have in campaign financing last night in the Busch Campus Center.</p>

Experts discuss the impact Super PACs can have in campaign financing last night in the Busch Campus Center.

Commentators from both sides of the political spectrum debated in the Busch Campus Center Tuesday over the impact of Political Action Committees and the millions they donate to political candidates.

The panel, hosted by the Eagleton Institute of Politics, included two Republican and two Democratic speakers who spoke about the clash between unions, corporations and a new system known as Super PACs.

“I wish I could say it’s a pleasure to talk about the presence of Super PACs in the elections. It’s not,” said Jefrey Pollock, founding partner and president of priorities USA action, a pro-Barack Obama Super PAC.

Pollock said Super PACs, or corporations, unions or groups that donate unlimited sums to influence elections — provided they do not coordinate with a candidate — are a damaging new development in the political world.

Although Pollock said small donations fueled Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, he claims Super PACS now allow candidates to attract millions of dollars at a time, often from the same source.

Mike DuHaime, a political advisor for the Republican National Committee, said political funding groups are not new in politics.

“There have always been groups … outside the campaign structure who can advocate as long they’re completely unattached to the candidates,” said DuHaime, a University professor.

Jonathan Collegio, founder and president of Collegio Public Affairs and director of communications at Super PAC American Crossroads, said the criticisms are unfair since three of the top five outside-spending groups in 2010 were labor unions, not Super PACS.

“We view ourselves as a counterbalance to what the left has done very efficiently and forcefully for decades,” said Collegio, one of the Republican panelists.

Quoting the Wall Street Journal, Collegio said big labor unions spent $4.4 billion between 2005 and 2011.

Maggie Moran, election advisor for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign in 2010, said corporate donors like the Koch Brothers, two billionaires who donated $100 million to Republican candidates, dwarf the spending by labor unions.

Moran said union members voluntarily choose to make donations by sacrificing a few cents from their hourly salary to help achieve the organization’s goals.

She said the same is not true about corporate donations.

“When I go to the store to buy a soda, I didn’t sign on to whatever company’s selling me that soda’s political agenda,” she said.

Moran said huge corporate donations could potentially corrupt the political process in a way unions are not capable of.

Yet Pollock said both sides of the panel agreed that large donations have been a major factor in recent elections.

“There’s been money in politics as long as we know,” Pollock said. “I don’t think either side think that’s evil, it’s about disclosure. Tell us who you are, tell us what you’re saying. There have to be better ways than this.”

DuHaime said the focus is often on the donors, but he thinks people should also criticize the politicians who receive the donations.

“The entities that are most accountable to voters are the candidates themselves,” DuHaime said.

According to a poll by the Brennan Institute of Justice at New York University, 70 percent of Americans believe Super PACs spending will lead to corruption. Three in four Americans also believe limiting these donations would curb corruption.

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