They allow politicians to avoid responsibility for 'their' advertisements, raise ridiculous amounts of money, and have a history of poor use of the funds. (Some of them have been accused of diverting money raised for political speech into the hands of the people that run the PAC).
While all this is true, I have recently come to see certain benefits to PACs. I'm not entirely sure (yet) that PAC's are not evil, but here are the ideas I have been mulling over.
1) PACS, while they may increase (or at least maintain) the big money in politics, put a wall up between the politicians and the money. Which means large donations to PACs can not hide the kind of outright corrupt bribery made famous by Boss Tweed. While the money may still be stolen for non-political speech, it will be stolen by the people running the PAC, not the politician. The politicians may still be corrupt, but we have cut out at least one major method of them stealing from the people.
2) Attack ads are not anything new, they have always been around. While the PAC's do protect the politicians from blame, it also allows truly ethical people to run. At one point in time a saintly man could NOT win an election because he could never get down and dirty enough to beat the devilish men willing to do or say anything. Some people think this is why McCain lost the 2000 GOP Primary (Bush's people accused him, among other things of being the father of his adopted black child, while McCain said nothing that bad about Bush). The existence of PACs allow a saintly man to run and still win, if only because his less saintly allies can act without his knowledge or permission.
Let's assume that PACs are here to stay. What can we do to make our elections fair while keeping the PACs.
- Start actually enforcing strict "no cooperation" rules. If you run a PAC, you can never talk to anyone connected to a political campaign you are funding. Not on the phone, not in person. Put in an exception for listening to public addresses (speeches, ads, etc.)
- Require that only US citizens election may donate to a PACs. Foreigners, and corporations (which may be secretly owned by foreigners) are not allowed to donate to a PAC - but they may of course independently pay for their own advertisements.
- Require the PAC to list on their website - WITHIN ONE DAY, any donation that exceeds $10,000 and whose name was on the check. We can set this to some other limit, such as the cut off for the lowest possible tax bracket, currently about $9,000. When you check your bank account on-line you see it that same day, no reason we can't do a similar rule using modern technology. Free Speech is a legal right - but there is NO right to anonymous free speech.
- Make a "No Shouting" rule. Limit spending by any one PAC to more than 1/2 as much the second candidate raised. Money may be speech, but we don't let one person monopolize the conversation. Both candidate's speech should be far more important than someone that isn't running. Similarly, no person may contribute more than that same limit to PACS - so no one can give 1 billion to two PACs that proceed to each spend the maximum allowed.