How a Pair of Supreme Court Rulings Could Shape 2012 Election

MANCHESTER, NH - JANUARY 07:  Republican presi...

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Mitt Romney may have made history by becoming the first non-incumbent candidate to win both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, but his competitors for the GOP presidential nomination have vowed to continue the fight. They’ll be aided by a pair of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have opened new sources of funding that could keep candidates in the race even as their own campaigns stretch to raise money.

In 2010, the Supreme Court handed down decisions in Citizens United and SpeechNow.org that overturned bans on corporate and union funds beings used for political ads and generally found it unconstitutional to cap donations to political committees. The practical result has been the rise of a new vehicle to promote candidates known as Super PACs. As a Christian Science Monitor primer helpfully points out, while traditional PACs were limited to $5,000 campaign contributions, Super PACS can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on “advocacy” campaigns aimed at bolstering or hindering any candidate they choose.

Super PACs are not permitted to coordinate directly with candidates. But for all practical purposes, that line is unlikely to be visible to voters. In Iowa, second-place finisher Rick Santorum was aided by $537,000 in advertising spending by a Super PAC known as the Red, White and Blue Fund; Santorum’s campaign itself spent only $22,000 on Iowa ads. Winning Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich, used a $5 million contribution from a Gingrich supporter to buy more than $3.4 million in advertising time in South Carolina to air portions of a movie critical of Romney’s work with Bain Capital. Our Destiny PAC, which is supporting Jon Huntsman, spent more than $2 million on ads in New Hampshire, helping propel Huntsman to a third place finish and keeping him in the race. 

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