This article is based on two propositions. First, the Marvel Comics movie, The Avengers, appears in theaters on May 4 and will likely be awesome. Second, if Super PACs -- these new organizations formed to support and oppose political candidates -- are in fact super, then they must possess superpowers. If so, which superpowers will they use during the 2012 campaign?
Super PACs -- or independent expenditure-only committees -- were created in the wake of the 2010 Supreme Court case: SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission.* Unlike traditional Political Action Committees (PACs), they can legally raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, businesses, and interest groups, and then use that money to help political candidates. Super PACs cannot give money directly to candidates, but they can buy endless amounts of political ad time on television. Are Super PAC negative ads more powerful than DVR? Much like superheroes, they sound harmless without their capes on, but Super PACs could use their vast riches to become the most powerful force in the 2012 election and conquer the universe.
So who's who in this battle of good and evil?
Steve Rogers (aka Capt. America) possesses Olympian strength, expert knowledge of martial arts, and a shield emblazoned in red, white, and blue. This super patriot must, of course, be Red, White, and Blue (RWB), the Super PAC formed to support Senator Rick Santorum's late presidential bid. RWB has been credited with helping Santorum win the Iowa caucus, but relies, much like Captain America, on few actual superpowers and a meager budget of $8.3 million. With Santorum out of the race, will RWB support Romney?
Everyone knows Bruce Banner -- The Hulk -- the physicist-turned-angry, green giant. The Hulk means well, but is a little unpredictable when he gets mad. This sounds a lot like Winning Our Future, the Super PAC funded primarily by Sheldon and Miriam Adelson that has placed its money behind former Speaker Gingrich. Much like The Hulk, Gingrich is a brilliant Ph.D. and has a habit of getting a little upset. Winning Our Future has raised $17 million, but until Gingrich makes an endorsement, this Super PAC remains as uncertain and volatile as The Hulk.
Clint Barton, a lesser-known Avenger, is the "outlaw" archer, Hawkeye. Once a rogue circus performer on the side of evil, Hawkeye has changed his ways and now uses his super powers of bows and arrows to fight crime. "Is he with us or against us?" Governor might ask of Hawkeye and American Crossroads. The Karl Rove-led Super PAC has raised $28 million thus far and is predicted to top $200 million by the summer. Much of the money has been donated by billionaire Harold Simmons, one-time neighbor of Oprah Winfrey and owner of the titanium conglomerate he (surprisingly not Marvel Comics' Stan Lee) ominously named the Contran Corporation. Yet American Crossroads has not financially supported the presumptive Republican candidate, preferring to remain an outlaw, and direct its aerial attacks on the president. American Crossroads also has the power of Crossroads GPS, an affiliated group funded secretly by mega-donors that remains a mystery to federal regulators, the public, and its enemies!
Tony Stark, CEO of Stark Enterprises, alum of MIT and certified genius, possesses no actual super powers, but instead uses his elite business acumen and enormous wealth to slay his opponents. Restore Our Future has backed its own super business executive, former Bain Capital CEO and Governor Mitt Romney, with the largest amount of funds raised of any group. The $51 million super PAC helped Romney defeat his Republican enemies in the primaries and now sets its sights on the general election campaign.
This, then, leaves the super hero needed for any good comic: the archenemy. Loki, adopted brother of Thor, is not a citizen of this country, but of the Realm of Asgard. Loki uses magical powers and shape shifting (flip flopping?) to defeat his enemies, The Avengers - produced and distributed by Disney. Priorities USA and its primary donor, Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of Dreamworks, have backed the president with $2.2 million raised thus far. And much like Loki, Katzenberg has feuded with his former brethren at Disney, and is back to seek revenge. Priorities USA, while dwarfed by its super PAC opponents in money raised, has Obama and his own Presidential super powers on its side.
* Research for this article was based primarily on data from opensecrets.org and a casual reading of comic books