5 Years After 'Citizens United,' SuperPACs Continue To Grow A new political committee will pay for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's pre-presidential announcement politicking. But don't confuse it with the separate superPAC of the same name.
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5 Years After 'Citizens United,' SuperPACs Continue To Grow

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5 Years After 'Citizens United,' SuperPACs Continue To Grow

5 Years After 'Citizens United,' SuperPACs Continue To Grow

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

While we're on the subject of politics, next week is the fifth anniversary of Citizens United. That's a Supreme Court decision that radically altered the campaign finance system and unleashed a flood of new money into political campaigns. For instance, the way perspective GOP candidate Jeb Bush moved to get his share through a new political committee could show the way for other candidates chasing big money donors. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The Bush organization has created a super PAC, a species of political committee that wasn't possible before Citizens United. It can take contributions of any amount. Confusingly, the Bush organization also set up another PAC at the same time, an old-fashioned PAC operating with contribution limits. And both PACs are called Right to Rise. They have similar logos and the same lawyer. Bush announced one of them - the old-fashioned one - in a smartphone video last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEB BUSH: Everybody, today we're setting up the Right to Rise PAC, which is a PAC to support candidates that believe in conservative principles to allow all Americans to rise up. If you're interested, go to righttorisepac.org.

OVERBY: OK. But if you're someone who's really interested in Jeb Bush's political future, Right to Rise a super PAC seems the place to go. At Right to Rise super PAC you can give six or seven figure contributions. Bush can even ask you himself, something he couldn't do as a declared candidate. It's a new twist in post-Citizens United politics. The hearts of Citizens United is the notion that super PACS and other outside groups are completely independent of candidates. That's why the money of their big donors wouldn't be corrupting. The law says federal candidates and office holders can't coordinate with them. But until Bush becomes a candidate, he isn't one.

CRAIG ENGLE: So long as you do not take steps to actively and publicly campaign, then a super PAC is permissible.

OVERBY: Campaign-finance lawyer Craig Engle represented John Huntsman in the 2012 Republican contest.

ENGLE: If you have a super PAC and there isn't a candidate, there's no worry of coordination because there aren't two entities that could be coordinating.

OVERBY: The Bush organization didn't respond to requests for comment. There's nothing to stop many other not-yet-candidates from having super PACs too - Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, anyone who isn't an announced candidate or federal office holder.

DANIEL TOKAJI: What Citizens United and related cases from the Roberts court have given us is a system that is pretty close to no-holds-barred.

OVERBY: Daniel Tokaji is a law professor at Moritz College of Law in Ohio, and he's co-author of a book examining the outside spending in politics. He notes that many of the old regulatory standards are still in effect.

TOKAJI: But they're increasingly ineffective at stopping people from spending massive amounts of money to influence campaigns. So we're not quite to a completely deregulated system, but we are pretty darn close to that now.

OVERBY: This year, a well-financed pre-candidacy could be especially important. The 2016 primary season starts later than normal. Tokaji says White House hopefuls might follow Bush's lead.

TOKAJI: You could have what is, in effect, a sort of wealth primary before the primaries and caucuses even begin.

OVERBY: Just another product of campaign finance law after Citizens United. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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