Political Super PACs in Iowa

Posted: November 11, 2015 | By: Iowa Caucus Project Staff Tagged: Blog

There were a lot of weird pieces I could pick out of the puzzle that was the Iowa Pays the Price rally against big money in politics Sunday, but one thing’s for sure: Iowans know how to throw a rally. There are a few requisites: signs, buttons, stickers, a few T-shirts that identify the passionate volunteers in the crowd and in this case, some dancing dollar bills. In the current political climate with the caucuses just over two months away, issue rallies are a pretty popular occurrence. A rally against super PACs isn’t an outrageous event, but what are super PACs anyway, and how do they affect the race in Iowa?

You probably remember super PACs from when The Colbert Report put them in the national satiric spotlight. On Sunday, super PACs managed to bring both Democrats and Republicans together through mutual dislike and distrust. Independent from a candidate, super PACs largely function in funding ads and outreach efforts and accept unlimited donations from corporations or individuals. Though they’re used most often and on the largest scale by Republicans, there’s only one candidate who doesn’t benefit from a super PAC, and you probably know who it is because he mentions it in every speech he gives: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination is hailed for running entirely on the goodwill and donations of his supporters and volunteers. At the Iowa Pays the Price rally, Sanders was the only candidate represented by supporters waving signs and wearing buttons.

You can find events in every county that allow Iowans to get up close and personal with presidential candidates. In many cases, these events may be organized by super PACs instead of a candidate’s campaign, which is a luxury Carly Fiorina and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have taken advantage. Despite federal law stating that campaigns and super PACs may not coordinate with each other, Jindal and Fiorina have blurred, but not crossed, the line of legality by taking advantage of volunteers and financial support lent by the faceless groups. The day before this rally, perhaps ironically, I visited Saints Pub and Patio for a tailgating town hall hosted by Bobby Jindal’s super PAC, Believe Again. For the two lower-ranking candidates (6 percent support for Jindal and 4 percent support for Fiorina), their super PACs are a fundamental element of keeping their candidacies afloat. Fiorina’s PAC, “Carly for America,” has four times more staff in Iowa than her campaign does. The group also provides information about the businesswoman at campaign events while collecting signatures, similar to a campaign, which makes the distinction between campaign work and super PAC capabilities more difficult to discern.

A major part of super PAC funding is also funneled into television ad spots. In Iowa, Jeb Bush’s “Right to Rise USA” has aired around 5,300 ads in October that target Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He’s trailed in air time by Ohio Governor John Kasich and Jindal. Donald Trump has yet to air an ad, probably because he gets enough publicity by just being himself. By the end of the year, super PACs are expected to spend hundreds of million of dollars supporting candidates. Right now, a lot of this money is being poured into Iowa for ads and campaign stops. Looking past the race, though, is the idea that a super PAC’s monetary contribution to a campaign gives it influence if the candidate it supports takes office, which is a disconcerting thought for both Republicans and Democrats —  a key point in Sunday’s rally.

The Iowa Pays the Price rally was an eclectic mix of young hipsters, older activists and people drifting over from the tweed bike ride (think 1920s detective) just a little further down the capitol stairs. Prior to the key speakers (which included the Iowa Nice guy, Iowa Caucus Project member Bri Steirer and a Republican from Simpson College), a band called Uniphonics performed and hyped up the crowd with music that can only be described as hopelessly confusing. Example: a combination of smooth jazz and rap. Because Iowa.

IMG_1215LeBlanc is a junior political science and journalism major from Madison, Wisconsin. She’s visited three countries in the last six months and enjoys copious amounts of Netflix, chocolate and bad puns. Follow her on Twitter.