Anyone can make a super PAC — even prisoners and kids who can’t vote
Since a landmark 2010 federal court decision on campaign finance rules, super PACs have been dominating the campaign finance world.
These independent expenditure-only committees are able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money for or against any political candidate — as long as they aren’t directly donating that money to a campaign or coordinating spending with candidates.
These super PACs wield massive financial power and influence in elections. Just this cycle alone, super PACs registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) have received over $1.3 billion and have spent $695 million.
By comparison, the Democratic and Republican parties are far behind that total. This cycle, the Democratic Party has raised $802 million and the Republican Party has raised $859 million.
For something with so much power over American elections, there must be specific requirements and regulations for who can own and operate a super PAC, right? Wrong. By following a few simple steps, basically, anyone can be the proud owner of a super PAC — including 14-year-olds and prisoners.
“The FEC has not kept pace with the change in modern campaigns,” said Corey Goldstone from the Campaign Legal Center. “This is due to vague rules that are the result of a bitter partisan divide among its commissioners that make it hard to agree to investigate even the most obvious crimes.”
The Center for Responsive Politics identified eight super PACs created by people who can’t participate in elections. Some of these super PACs were started by teenagers who can’t vote, while others were formed by people sitting behind bars.
Overly engaged teens
In 2016, two teens from Minnesota formed The Filthy Moose Super PAC.
High school seniors, Charles Vail and Joshua Norman, told MTV News they started the super PAC after being inspired by Stephen Colbert’s campaign finance segments on his political satire show, The Colbert Report.
The treasurer of the Filthy Moose is Vail, whose official title is “Not a Werewolf.” Norman is both the custodian of records (formally known as “Emperor”) and the assistant treasurer, according to the super PAC’s FEC filings.
Norman and Vail did run into trouble with the FEC, however, when they failed to file the super PAC’s end-of-year report. Freaked out by the threat of fines, the two dissolved the Filthy Moose.
In a letter to the FEC, “Not a Werewolf” Vail apologized for “being a bureaucratic waste of time,” and pleaded with the commission to not fine the Filthy Moose since it didn’t raise or spend any funds.
“We here are at the Filthy Moose take pride in the fact that this organization was able to be created by two high school seniors,” Vail wrote. “We do not, however, understand why we are at risk of penalty or fines for not being able to report our expenditures to you, the wonderful FEC.”
Vail signed off: “Sorry we are stupid kids. Good day!”
The “This PAC Has Nothing To Do With Taylor Swift” PAC was another committee formed by a pair of Minnesota teens.
Samuel Butterfass and Madison Conte formed the PAC in 2014. Butterfass runs the PAC under the title of Archduke. Conte is the PAC’s treasurer and her official title is “National Treasure(r),” according to the PAC’s FEC paperwork.
Butterfass and Conte told the Washington Post that the PAC was inspired by Colbert, their campaign finance lessons in AP Government and their love for Taylor Swift.
The PAC never reported any receipts and was terminated in 2015.
In 2016, Charles Baker submitted a handwritten application to the FEC for the super PAC, “Blaze it for Delegate Jill Stein.”
Baker, who at the time was a 14-year-old middle schooler in New Jersey, is listed as both the custodian of records and the treasurer. His official position is “Supreme Trap Lord.” The designated agent is Alex Klint, who has the title of “Elf Lord.”
Baker created the super PAC for a project in his social studies class, according to the Daily Beast. His teacher divided the class into different camps representing the 2016 presidential candidates. Baker was in the Stein camp.
Blaze it for Delegate Jill Stein never raised any money and was terminated this year.
In 2015, three Ohio high school juniors also formed a PAC with a 2016 presidential candidate in mind. “Killary Clinton” was formed after the students, Madison Messer, Elizabeth Gessner and Alicia Burdette, learned about how easy it is to establish a PAC in their government class, according to cleveland.com.
During the election, “Killary” was a nickname often used by Hillary Clinton’s critics.
The PAC’s sinister name earned a visit from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a summons to the principal’s office. Everything was fine — the three meant it as a joke — but they eventually dissolved Killary Clinton.
One of the more recent of these super PACs was formed in October of this year. “The Mets Are A Good Team Committee” super PAC was started by 15-year-old Ben Aybar from New York.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Aybar said he started the super PAC to make a point against super PACs. He easily found the forms online, quickly filled them out and submitted the paperwork.
“I get an email, five minutes later, telling me, ‘Congratulations, this committee has been verified,’” Aybar told the magazine. “I was sort of like, are you serious? They obviously didn’t look at this!”
The Mets Are A Good Team currently has $37.03, according to the super PAC’s FEC filings. Aybar is listed as both the custodian of records and treasurer for the committee.
The Colbert Effect
In 2010, the federal court decision SpeechNOW.org v. the Federal Election Commission made limiting independent expenditures unconstitutional under the First Amendment. This was the first ruling made after Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which decided that corporate funding of independent advertising during an election is constitutional.
Following both of these decisions, in 2011, Stephen Colbert — on his political satire show, The Colbert Report — created a super PAC and a 501(c)(4) organization to criticize campaign financing in the post-Citizens United world.
In 2014, researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania studied how these Colbert segments influenced public knowledge of super PACs and 501(c)(4) groups. The study found that viewers of these Colbert segments were better informed during the 2012 presidential election than viewers of other news channels.
Watching the show served as an “extended civics lesson,” researchers said.
The Colbert Super PAC — with the motto: “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” — inspired many of the aforementioned teens to create super PACs. Another pair of high schoolers were inspired to create “Americans for a Better Yesterday, Tomorrow.”
In 2014, two teens from Minnesota, William Czerwinski and Bastien Ibri, formed the super PAC. Czerwinski is the treasurer (or “Supreme Leader”) and Ibri is the custodian of records (or “Dr. Overlord”), according to FEC paperwork.
Not much is on the super PAC’s website, aside from the “The Rules of Super-PACing:
1. Don’t talk about Super PACs
2. DON’T talk about Super PACs
3. DON’T TALK ABOUT Super PACs
4. Do not directly support a candidate
5. Pretty sure that’s it? Wait while we check with the FEC
6. Yep that’s it.”
PACs behind bars
Another version of these super PACs are ones created by people serving time, another group who can’t vote but can make PACs.
Angelo Pesce is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence in Illinois for theft by deception. While behind bars, there’s no federal law preventing him from creating a PAC or requiring him to tell donors that he’s in prison, according to The Center for Public Integrity.
So far, Pesce has formed two PACs: “Impeach the Assole” and “Angelo Pesce Defends Pedophiles.” Pesce is listed as the custodian of record and treasurer for both, which were created in 2017, according to FEC filings. He doesn’t make it clear whether or not these are traditional PACs or super PACs.
In 2013, A former volunteer for the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich was sentenced to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to cyberstalking and extortion.
While serving his sentence, Adam Savader formed the Second Chance PAC. Savader is listed as the “founder/director,” treasurer and custodian of records of the super PAC, according to FEC paperwork.
Although Second Chance PAC hasn’t raised or spent any funds since its formation in 2015, Savader continues to file the necessary reports.
Savader’s dad, Mitchell Savader, helped him set up the super PAC. In an interview with The Center for Public Integrity, Savader said his son created the super PAC to influence legislation that would help people who have spent time in prison return to a normal life.
While these super PACs don’t appear to wield the power that other, more wealthy super PACs have, they illustrate how little regulation or oversight is involved in monitoring these committees.
“The amount of unlimited outside group spending has dramatically increased in the era of super PACs,” said Goldstone from the Campaign Legal Center. “This has been a negative trend overall for our democracy because it has allowed for the rise of single-candidate super PACs that give individual donors with extreme wealth even more power over the political process than they had before.”
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