Hillary Clinton

In this April 29, 2015 file photo Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen in New York. When Hillary Rodham Clinton takes the stage at fundraisers thrown by a group that wants to elect her president, she’s not a White House candidate. She’s a “special guest.” When Jeb Bush fundraises for a group preparing to run major parts of his all-but-certain presidential campaign, he doesn’t personally ask for money. | Mark Lennihan, File – AP Photo

By Ken Thomas and Steve Peoples, Associated Press
May 11, 2015

When Hillary Rodham Clinton takes the stage at fundraisers thrown by a group that wants to elect her president, she’s not presented as a White House candidate. She’s a “special guest.”

When Jeb Bush raises money for a group preparing to run major parts of his all-but-certain presidential campaign, he doesn’t ask for the cash himself.

And the hundreds of millions these groups will raise? They have to spend it without talking strategy with the candidates and campaigns they support.

The groups are called super PACs, and their influence in selecting the next president will be without precedent. Born out of two Supreme Court decisions in 2010, they are governed by rules some see as a game of winks and nods, enforced by an agency bedeviled by partisan gridlock.

As with most things in Washington, there’s not even agreement on whether they are a problem to solve, or are a solution to celebrate.

“What’s really going on largely is a breakdown of the enforcement system of the campaign finance laws,” says Craig Holman of the left-leaning consumer group Public Citizen. “The Federal Election Commission is just broken.”

Counters David Keating of the right-leaning Center for Competitive Politics, “I think this is overblown. The line has been drawn: It’s the First Amendment. So if people want to speak, let them.”

The primary benefit for campaigns of the super PACs is that they can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for and against candidates, with only a few rules holding them back.

Among the rules is a ban on campaigns and super PACs working together. They cannot discuss political strategy or share key information such as internal polling. While candidates can attend super PAC events, they cannot technically ask for the unlimited donations that make the groups such a powerful force.

“Most of these super PACs that are going to be spending millions of dollars, I think they have a good understanding of what the law is,” Keating said.

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