Are Super PACs Killing State Parties?

Much to the chagrin of Mitt Romney, the Super PAC, brought to existence by the much maligned “Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission” Supreme Court case from 2010, continues to fund the unlikely candidacies of Newt Gingrich and Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum. While Mitt’s own Super PAC has helped him tremendously, the other campaigns have been kept on life support largely from single individuals who contribute to the Super PACs.

Traditional PACs and the Parties

Super PACs are unencumbered by donation limits and the disclosure process for contribution reporting is lax. State parties on the other hand have strict limits on contributions and how they spend their money and disclosures are strict. If individuals or corporations are interested in influencing an election it would be a lot easier to create your own entity instead of dealing with the usual drama of state party politics where technically the money cannot be directed to one specific candidate or race.

Moving forward, how will state and local parties compete with these new organizations?  The short answer is they can’t.

Exhibit A: the Democratic Party of Georgia

Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper has detailed quite thoroughly the ongoing drama at the Democratic Party of Georgia (DPG). The party elected new leadership after the 2010 midterm elections and as with many transitioning organizations, it has experienced quite a bit of change.

In truth this change started under the previous chairwoman Jane Kidd. Starting with Kidd, and now with Mike Berlon, the DPG leadership was not connected to the old guard of democratic politics in the state. The traditional political operatives, fundraisers/funders and researchers left after Bobby Kahn’s last term as Chairman in 2006 because of opportunities elsewhere and Republicans stronghold on state politics.

The core to any political campaign or organization is fundraising. Also, a great political mind once said, “parties only exist to elect candidates”. Given that, the last thing the state party needs to be doing is infighting while they are fighting for political relevance and financial stability.

Super PACs Already Used in Georgia

While Super PACs and other independent expenditure campaigns have mainly been used in federal campaigns, this should trickle down to state and local races in the next few years. One race, the mayor’s race in Macon, already attracted a successful independent expenditure campaign. In Macon, Republicans and Democrats formed and funded an independent expenditure campaign to help defeat former mayor Jack Ellis in a runoff against incumbent Robert Reichert.

And this is where the DPG should be careful, because if this trend of Super PACs migrating to state and local race continues it could seriously affect their fundraising and operations.

One saving grace for parties is their postage rates and the trickle down ability to receive money from the national parties. Because of their not-for-profit status they are typically able to mail at lower cost than candidate campaigns. Saving $0.10 per piece might not seem like a lot, but if you’re mailing 100,000 direct mail pieces it can add up. Also, national parties, who raise millions every year,  are much more likely to give money to influence a race to a state party than a rogue Super PAC.

Even so, parties beware. There’s a new kid on the block and the Super PAC is a real threat.


  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    The State Democratic Party was on the path to self-destruction before the Super PACs arrived. It will be interesting to see whether it can arise like a phoenix from its own ashes. Key to this would be establishing a platform that means something to Georgia voters, rather than more of the same.

  2. bloggingwhileblue says:

    Both parties have been affected by SuperPACs. Check the Republican party’s disclosure and compare it to the Perdue years and you will see what I mean.


  3. Burroughston Broch says:

    I agree that both parties are affected. However, the Democratic Party is most at risk since it is near death at this time, and seems clueless how to recover, other than ride the President’s re-election coattails.