Anthony Sanders is an attorney at the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter, which litigates campaign finance cases nationwide. The institute describes itself as the nation's only libertarian public interest law firm.
Do you think voters will be too informed about politics when they vote in today's "Super Tuesday" contests? That they will know too much? That they wouldn't act as responsible voters if they knew anything more?
If your answer is "no," that puts you at odds with the hordes of pundits criticizing so-called super PACs.
These critics fail to recognize a simple fact: Super PACs are simply vehicles for educating voters about politics. What's more, they educate voters free of charge.
"Super PAC" is just a fancy term for people and groups pooling their money together and then spending that money on speech about candidates for office. Generally this speech takes the form of television ads, but it can include radio or internet ads, or even other forms of communication. The more money super PACs are able to raise, the more they are able to speak and the more voters are able to learn.
Critics often complain that super PAC advertising is too negative. But research has demonstrated that negative ads are, in fact, more informative than positive ads. They give voters important information about candidates for office that voters can then consider for themselves in deciding whom to vote for. And for voters who don't like negative ads, there's a perfect solution: change the channel. Everyone has the right to not watch television.
Critics also argue that super PACs will lead to political corruption. But this claim ignores the fact that, in many states, what are now called "super PACs" have always been legal and have even been allowed to accept corporate contributions. Proponents of campaign finance reform have never been able to marshal the evidence that those states are more corrupt than others because of this speech. Nor should we expect them to be — robust political debate is, indeed, a crucial means of ferreting out political corruption.
What these critics' arguments really boil down to is the belief that there needs to be less information in the political marketplace because the critics don't like the electoral choices that voters make when exposed to free and open debate. They are essentially arguing that voters can't be trusted to make the best decisions in the voting booth. But that's an argument against democracy itself, not super PACs.
Further, the critics forget that super PAC speech is by no means monolithic. Politicians of all types, left, right and center — including President Obama — currently have supporters pooling their resources in order to speak. Simply, people are spending money to provide more information to voters that voters can then consider in casting their votes. This information is funded from every angle — businessmen of the left and the right, for-profit and non-profit corporations, unions and more. This diverse array of voices is a benefit to voters.
Instead of decrying the rise of super PACs, critics should remember Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes' advice that "the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market." Let everyone speak and let voters decide. It really isn't all that complicated.