theSkimm's Guide to

CAMPAIGN FINANCE

THE STORY

It’s not 2016 yet. But you couldn’t tell from all the election talk. Pretty soon, you’ll be hearing all about the sugar mommas and poppas funding it: PACs and Super PACs.

I'M SO BORED

Don't be. Candidates want your vote, but they also need money...so people with a lot of it end up with a lot of influence over elections.

SO WHAT’S A PAC?

A political action committee. They’re formed to give money directly to candidates and political parties. But there are rules. PACs are only allowed to give $5,000 per candidate and $15,000 per party in an election.

AND WHAT’S THE OTHER ONE?

Super PACs. Not the kind you need a Nintendo for. These are PACs on steroids. They can’t do things like pay for candidates’ private jets, hotel rooms, or anything directly contributing to the campaign. But TV ads are fair game, and they can spend unlimited cash on ones supporting their guy or girl -- and hating on opponents.

HOW IS THAT ALLOWED?

It wasn’t until 2010, when a Supreme Court decision paved the way for Super PACs. In a case known as “Citizens United,” the Supremes ruled that spending on election ads is a form of free speech, so groups should be able to throw as much cash at them as they want. Enter: Super PACs. And anyone can make them. Looking at you, Stephen Colbert.

WHAT HAPPENED THEN?

Spending skyrocketed. In the 2012 election, more than $600 million was spent by Super PACs. And that doesn’t even take dark money into account.

DARK WHAT?

Not a Star Wars villain. This is money spent on elections by “social welfare” groups. These are groups that have gotten the OK from the IRS to give cash to causes like gun control and environmental conservation. They can also foot the bill for ads supporting candidates who are into their causes. The best part? They don’t have to disclose their donors. So no one knows for sure where the money comes from.

theSKIMM

There are a lot of rules to campaign finance. And also a lot of loopholes. 2012 was first year unlimited spending really came into play. Prediction: 2016 will be the most expensive one yet.