On Saturday, Jan. 22, the Republican primary elections were held in South Carolina. Newt Gingrich won the primary with 40.4 percent, far ahead of Mitt Romney (27.8 percent), Rick Santorum (17 percent) and Ron Paul (13 percent).
Senior Karl Bair said, “I wasn’t surprised so much by that [Gingrich] won, but by the margin that he won.”
Bair predicts it will be harder for Gingrich “once he’s out of the South,” where voters will look more closely at his personal life.
Bair, a self-declared “Ron Paul guy,” said he supports the candidate who supports “the important issues I agree with, and important issues I don’t agree with.”
Junior Anna Novikova said, “As a Democrat, I am delighted … they can duke it out as long as they want.”
Novikova clarified by saying that by “digging up the dirt” on each other now, it will make it easier for the Democratic Party when the time comes.
“I want [Gingrich] to have a long, long brutal slog of a campaign,” Novikova said.
“Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow”
An element that has brought more brutality to the 2012 campaign are super Political Action Committees (PACs).
In May 2011, Comedy Central’s political satirist, Stephen Colbert, announced his plans to create his own super PAC, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” Colbert created his super PAC to bring awareness to the mechanisms of campaign finances.
“I think it’s delightful,” Novikova said. “It’s really funny; it works as humor. It’s just political enough to have a point.”
Novikova said she believes that “on some level, [Colbert] raises awareness of the issue,” but she is unsure of the impact it actually has, still praising it as a “perfect satire.”
Super PACs raise money from individuals, corporations, unions and other groups for candidates running for political office.
Assistant Professor of Political Science Andrew Civettini said unlike typical PACs, which use “hard money,” or taxed donations, super PACs do not have a limit to how much they can donate because super PACs cannot directly coordinate with candidates or political parties.
Candidates are permitted, however, to communicate with their super PAC through the media. The funds gathered from these super PACs are often used to run ads against fellow candidates.
Novikova said, “It’s tragic. … In a perfect world, we would have no need for campaign financing,” but consents that “money in the form of ads has been shown to have an effect on opinions.”
“I don’t think you should have to be millionaire to run for office,” Novikova said.
On Jan. 12, Colbert furthered his super PAC experiment by declaring his candidacy for “President of the United States of South Carolina.” In doing so, he was no longer permitted to coordinate his own super PAC, and handed the super PAC to fellow Comedy Central satirical news analyst, Jon Stewart, dubbing the finance committee the “Definitely Not Coordinated with Stephen Colbert Super PAC.” However, Colbert missed the deadline to get his name on the ballot, and so instead backed Herman Cain’s suspended campaign.
Civettini said he believes Colbert’s efforts are “not doing that much” to raise awareness, and that it could “simply turn people off.”
“[Voters] might miss the opportunity to actually influence [the election],” Civettini said.
He also speculated that if someone was “not going to vote anyway, then it probably doesn’t matter.”
Bair also said he “supported it for what it was: a parody to draw attention to something else.”
Bair said he believes that the campaign may cause some to “think critically” while it “doesn’t even register” with others.
Bair said Colbert’s mock campaign shows how super PACs make it so “corporations are people and money is a form of speech … only people are people.”
“I’m also a pragmatist, and if not super PACs … it would still exist in another form,” Bair said.
Colbert spoke at Cain’s South Carolina campaign rally at the College of Charleston this Saturday. He addressed his mock run for “President of the United States of South Carolina” and his super PAC.
“The pundits have asked, ‘Is this all some joke?’” Colbert said. “I say if they are … allowed to form a super PAC and collect unlimited and untraceable amounts of money from individuals, unions and corporations and spend that money on political ads and for personal enrichment and then surrender that super PAC to one of my closest friends while I explore a run for office, if that is a joke, then they are saying our entire campaign finance system is a joke.”
Bair said, “The amount of money candidates spend on a campaign should be capped … to be free, fair and open to anybody.”
He said treating corporations as people “really takes away from the idea of our democracy.”
Because Cain did not win the South Carolina primary, Colbert was forced to back out of his mock run and was therefore able to legally reclaim the funds from his super PAC. In jest, he attempted to reclaim the super PAC from Jon Stewart, who promptly dismissed the notion and flew away in an animated zeppelin.
For more information on super PACs, CNN launched a week-long in-depth series beginning Jan. 23 on super PACs, focusing on what they are, their function, their power and who’s involved in them.