The Influence of the Super PAC

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg

Could it be that a Super PAC, led by NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, helped determine the election result in Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District Democratic Primary? Bloomberg’s Super PAC, Independence USA, spent $2.2 million in a race that was won by Robin Kelly.  Kelly was supported by the Super PAC.

What is a Super PAC?

Super PACs are organizations that may not make contributions to candidate campaigns or parties.  They can, however, engage in unlimited political spending independently of the campaigns.  Super PACs can also raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions and other groups, without any legal limit on donation size.  Super PACs cannot coordinate directly with candidates or political parties.  Super PACs may support particular candidacies.  As stated before, Independence USA supported Robin Kelly.  The organization also targeted former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson and Illinois State Senator Toi Hutchinson in their ads.  Super PACs are protected by the First Amendment according to the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Here are two examples of ads run by the Independence USA Super PAC.

Unofficial results of the 2nd Congressional District Primary (D)
Robin Kelly                 30,799 votes          51.9%
Debbie Halvorson     14,525 votes          24.5%
Anthony Beale              6,255 votes           10.5%
Joyce Washington       2,542 votes           4.3%
Toi Hutchinson             1,598 votes           2.7%
Ernest Fenton                1,537 votes           2.6%


Debbie Halvorson

Turnout in the race was 15%.  This is typical of a special election, but low considering that Congressional races have a turnout rate of 20-25%.  Weather may have played a factor in the low turnout as it did snow throughout the District that day.
Was the outside influence of the Super PAC that powerful to be a factor in the election? Maybe.  That’s the conventional wisdom, as many believed that former Congresswoman Halvorson had a strong chance to win this race.  However, one must look at Halvorson’s recent electoral and campaign track record to realize that she was a weaker candidate than originally perceived.

Halvorson’s Congressional win in 2008 was in a Presidential year where Democrats ran successfully on the national, state, and local levels.  Halvorson’s opponent that year, Martin Ozinga, was a Republican who came into the race late, as he was a replacement candidate when the original Republican nominee dropped from the race after winning his primary.  Halvorson lost in 2010 to Republican Adam Kinzinger in her re-election bid which was punctuated by Republican victories nationally.  Soon after, her former Congressional district was divided up through redistricting efforts by Illinois Democrats.  She was no longer a resident of her previous district, the more rural/suburban white 11th.  Halvorson was now a resident of the urban and black 2nd Congressional District.  In 2012, she ran an ill-fated primary campaign against then Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.  Halvorson’s campaign relied heavily on door-to-door retail politics in areas of suburban and rural Will and Kankakee counties.  Kelly, Washington, Beale, and Fenton all sent direct mailers to residents of all areas in the 2nd Congressional, but mostly in south Chicago and the south suburbs of Cook County.  Halvorson did not.  Halvorson’s campaign was doomed from the start.  Coupled with the influx of Super PAC television ads, Halvorson faced an uphill battle.

What are your thoughts on this race?  What are your thoughts on Super PACs and their influence in political campaigns?

23 responses to “The Influence of the Super PAC

  1. Without any doubt the Super Pac won Robin Kelly the 2nd congressional district. Almost everyday on ABC 7 and NBC 5 there was a commerical supporting Kelly and going against Debbie Halvorson. Halvorson had a better and longer resume than Kelly, but uneducated voters went with Kelly because of the “hot button” issue on gun control. If Kelly didn’t have a Super PAC from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg (which I think is ridiculous due to the fact that I believe we let New York pick the representative not the Chicago people) the race would have been a lot closer and most likely have gone to Halvorson.

  2. I think that the influence of the Super PACS definitely influenced the race in the 2nd Congressional District Democratic Primary. On my way to work, I heard on the radio that Robin Kelly had a commercial approximately every seven minutes. I feel that Super PACS and their influence in political campaigns have both positive and negative effects.

  3. I definetely think the Super Pacs have influence on political parties and determine who wins the race. Robin Kelly’s campaign was influenced by that super pac and she won handedly. Whats the point of even running against people if they have so much money behind them you cannot even count it. I dont like the fact that someone can buy their way into office, they then have to repay those people back somehow, they arent giving them all that money for nothing. I think these Super Pacs go as high up as the presidential race and everything below it. Obama had the most money every in a campaign in history, well when you can do whatever you want money wise its easy to get your name out their and perhaps manipulate some voters…

  4. Well though if im in the race and this happens against me i wouldnt be mad because its fair game; its legal. More money does usually mean you have an advantage but not always mean that you will win. It was no sure thing that Kelly would win, for example the last 2 presidential elections one of the most finacially successful canidates was Mitt Romney and he lost being one of the wealthier officials. But knowing thats a tool before hand, and a sit were to open in lower level gov’t; maybe i would go and pitch myself to a more seniored and weathier politician get under his/her unmbrella and try to start a career from there, basing the beginging of my career on some of issues he fights for or belive in.

  5. Super PACS definitely influence political parties and who wins the election. Super PACS had a major influence on the fact that Robin Kelly won the election. It is unfair that candidates can spend unlimited money on a campaign. Just because you have more money doesn’t me you should use it to give the other candidates an unfair advantage.

  6. The Independence USA Super PAC may have helped Robin Kelly win the seat. However, that is not the only reason why she won. As stated in the article, Debbie Halvorson did not run a strong enough campaign from the very beginning. The reason why Super PACs should not have as much freedom to act as they do is because they can then act as lobbyists by secretly supporting some candidates over others. Lobbyists are one of the largest reasons why our government is as clogged up and inefficient as it is. The American people do not need more of the same.

  7. Super PACs and actually any money in campaigning is vital. If Kelly had 2.2 million backing her, that definitely made a difference. But also that she campaigned in more populated areas. Kelly had a more fierce method and probably reached a lot more people therefore she won.

  8. I do believe that Bloomberg’s superPAC influenced the outcome in Robin Kelly’s favor. I think superPACs are a bad idea because special interest groups with a lot of money can have too much influence on elections. Obama was not happy with the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. However, once this decision was put into effect he needed to play by the new rule in order to successfully compete with his republican challenger.

  9. superPAC’s are very influential. I remember seeing the first commercial on Debbie Halvorson several times and thinking how I wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t support background checks for the purchases of guns to run congress. However, although they are influential they can become bias. THose with a lot of money can have a lot of influence on how any ad turns out therefore reflecting on the voting itself. It has its pros and cons.

  10. Super PACs indeed influenced the votes in this race to some degree. Once an ad is shown on television or is on the web, damage is done. People who felt strongly in the are of gun control may have been influenced to vote in this special election. Also, those who felt more strongly on the issues may have been the ones who actually went out and voted. Those who did not feel that strongly for any of the candidates are most likely the ones who stayed home and did not vote. The Super PACs, with their unlimited funds, can be a great influence when it comes to elections.

  11. Jennifer Hendel

    Super PAC in nature is meant to guarentee a positive turn out for the selected candidate. Super PAC has a significant impact on political campaigns because it provides for more media exposure. With the donated funds candidates are given more of an opportunity to get their intended messages out to the public in a more appealing way. Advertisement is the heart of campagning. The race detailed here is influenced by Super PAC but I think that even without the extra media used Debbie Halvorson had quite a few things going against her in this race and ultimately cost her.

  12. It’s quite obvious super PACS influence voters to vote for those candidates supported by them. You look at these tarnishing commericals and they stick to one big idea thats very relevant and would be important to the independent voters they are trying to sway. You also see how they twist the words around really trying to make their opponent look bad. Anyone that stays up with these issues, even just someone can notice it.

  13. The lesson here is not that CU was ineffective; its that CU is effective provided the race is within about 3 to 5 points. This is huge and will definitely be enough to win elections more times than not. The right will now pull out all stops and start going after state and local legislatures and governorship so that their federal candidates will be elected on the basis of exposure and marketing alone. They are going after their goals from the state up rather than from the fed down.

  14. The only surprise in the last round of election campaign reform is that after all the prior failures, politicians really thought this round would be effective. Super PACs are the natural evolution in the election reform process. They circumvent all the restrictions placed on individual campaigns without having to answer for the bias in their actions. The latest and most blatant example is the independence USA super PAC, which is another way of saying Mayor Bloomberg. Like The Great and Powerful Oz; he blatantly and without even the pretext of showing noninvolvement manipulated (successfully) the IL 2nd Congressional District election. At least the wizard asked us to ignore the man behind the curtain, but then he isn’t as great and powerful as Mayor Bloomberg. The only thing curious to me is when Super PACs become illegal in the next round of election reforms, what will morph into being to replace them, and you can believe something will.

  15. Ania Tomaszewski

    Super PAC is very important for campaigning. When you’re running for a position, it’s all about how you present yourself to the people. It’s important to come off as positive and ready to help, if you have a bad ad campaign and not a lot of money then chances are you won’t get elected. The commercials target the opponent and make them look less able to do the job. It’s very obvious that Super PAC can be helpful.

  16. While Super PACs are an important way to help people get involved in the political process, I do not believe that PACs should be involved in the election of other candidates elsewhere. Many people could care less about politics and generally create a carbon-copy impression of the candidates through television advertisements. These advertisements should be limited to PACs formed within the state or city and not include outside influence. Essentially, this is like a British citizen (no dual citizenship) giving a donation to a U.S. presidential campaign, which is illegal. If you can’t do that, then why is it legal to impact state and city elections from outside that state or city?

  17. Regardless of the money spent by Bloombergs super PAC, the democrats were going to win this election. The 2nd district is one of the most liberal leaning districts in the entire country thanks to gerrymandering Illinois Democrats. The only thing that was exposed by this particular election was Bloombergs desire to promote anti-gun policies across the nation. His desire is for control and the entire electorate kowtowed to him and his money. Surprise, surprise.

  18. No wonder I have heard her ad so much during dinner. Super PAC has pretty much unlimited funds and as we all know, unlimited funds tend to have people elected or not, if the ads are ran against the opposition just like Halverson. That ad was strong, saying how un-American Halverson was. PAC has the ability to raise money without any legal guidelines and from many groups such as unions. People than wonder why Illinois is such a corrupt state. I bet that if there was a major federal investigation, almost all Union reps would have their hands dirty and of course the politicians too.

  19. It’s beyonx obvious that super PACS influence voters to vote for those candidates supported by them. The super PACS have so much money from unlimited funds that their is no point of there being an election if the candidate with the most money invested is going to end up wining. You also see on their advertising they use different wording to make their opposing candidate look bad to the public.

  20. Super PACs make sure that they put enough money towards the candidate that they support, so they have bigger chance to win. They gain so much when they ad pays of and their candidate wins. Many times you have to spend money to gain something else in return. Since super PACs have no limits on donation size, they can spend more money to create the ad material. At the end is who was able to gathered more dirt on the other person, and that takes time and money.

  21. Cristina Calderon

    My thought on this race is that I don’t know anything about Robin Kelly except that she is against the NRA and for gun control. I know this because of the commercials paid for by the Independence USA Super PAC.
    I like the commercials. I want to know how the politicians stand on certain issues and it helps to clarify—this persons is for guns; this person is against guns. I will most likely vote for the person who shares my values and opinions about gun control. If that issue is important enough, then a person might base their entire vote on that one issue. The Super PACs and their ads influence us only because we let them. If we wanted to be more informed voters we would look into how the candidates feel about all issues not just hot topic commercial worthy issues.
    I am fine with Super PACs using their money to support candidates. Their influence is equal opportunity. Their advertisements inform everyone who is watching; not just those who agree with the villainous or glorifying depiction of the candidate.

  22. I haven’t heard about Robin Kelly except for this blog and the annoying political commercials shown when watching a television show. I find them wrong and we shouldn’t be putting someone down in an ad and showing the negative things someone has done just to get people to not vote for them. I think if they showed the positive and real life issues both candidates faced then people would see how much they would influence our political system. Our audiences would understand they are people just like us and we look up to them to help the government. Showing false advertisements or only negative ones proves to society that they don’t care to listen to them and most won’t even pay attention to them because they won’t interest us.

  23. Super pacs should not be able to put out commercials as I have often seen incorrect information or misleading statements made. The responsibility of publications should be left to the candidates and their parties. If the candidate had something to say they could make their own commercial.

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