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SCOTUS Spawns Search for Son of ‘Super PAC’

The chattering classes (no insult intended) are scrambling to come up with a snappy moniker for the joint fundraising committees that may emerge as political power centers in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling .  

First, the Huffington Post’s Paul Blumenthal alerted readers that the McCutcheon ruling, which struck the aggregate campaign contribution limit, would force them to learn all about these until-now obscure joint committees. The headline said it all: “Figured Out Dark Money Groups, Super PACs? Thanks to the Supreme Court, You’ll Have to Learn About This, Too.”  

Next, The Washington Post’s Matea Gold challenged readers of “The Fix” blog to come up with “some pithy names” to describe joint fundraising committees, as well as the turgidly-named “outside groups” that play such a big role in campaigns these days. Gold launched the contest on Twitter, and will announce the winners next week.  

So what are joint fundraising committees, and what should they be called? Election lawyer Robert Kelner, who chairs Covington & Burling’s election law and political practice group, has already got his answer: “super joint fundraising committees” or “super JFCs” for short. In a statement on the day of the ruling, Kelner predicted: “We expect to see the emergence of so-called super joint fundraising committees (JFCs) involving many candidates to which a donor could write a single very large check.” The Twitterverse is already buzzing with suggestions, from Blumenthal’s proposed “Super Bundling Fund” (or “Bundled Money Fund,” if you prefer), to the proposal from a Gold Twitter follower named Jason Gross that a joint fundraising committee should be known as a “Roberts Committee,” or a “Roberts Group.”  

The contest has generated not a few tweets aimed at yours truly, as the first reporter to use super PAC as shorthand for the unrestricted groups officially known as “independent expenditure-only committees.” (That’s even more of a mouthful than “joint fundraising committee.”) As Gold noted in her contest challenge, “super PAC” made it into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary this year — explaining why her “Fix” contest hashtag is #nextsuperpac.  

When it comes to political action committees, snappy monikers have a way of popping up naturally. When the FEC terminated 300 largely inactive super PACs last year, the headline “FEC Terminates ‘Zombie’ Super PACs” was impossible for Roll Call to resist. The Center for Public Integrity’s Dave Levinthal, who’s followed the story of the term “super PAC” from beginning to end, had some fun with “zombie” PACs, too.  

When comedian Stephen Colbert lampooned both super PACs and politically active tax-exempt groups on his show, he called the latter “Spooky PACs.” Mother Jones senior reporter Andy Kroll tweeted in response to Gold’s challenge: “I still wish [Colbert’s] moniker for political nonprofits — ‘spooky PACs’ — had caught on!”  

Created for the convenience of contributors, joint fund raising committees allow politicians to band together to collect super-sized checks from donors, and distribute the money in smaller amounts to multiple recipients. No single candidate or a party committee may receive a donation larger than the “base” contribution limit — $2,600 for candidates and $32,400 for party committees per year.  

But the McCutcheon ruling, which struck the overall limit that barred donors from giving $123,000 total in a single election cycle, will allow contributors to give to as many party committees and candidates as they like at one time. That will make the checks bigger, and the joint fund raising committees more popular and powerful, election experts predict. By some estimates, such groups will now be free to raise $3.5 million per election cycle from a single donor.  

That makes coming up with a term more compelling and readable than “joint fundraising committee” all the more imperative. Responding to Gold’s challenge, Reuters national political correspondent Gabriel Debenedetti tweeted: “If only ‘super committee’ weren’t already taken.”  

True, the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction created by the 2011 Budget Control Act was popularly known as the super committee. But that panel failed to reach a consensus, and it disbanded two years ago.  

The wisdom of the crowd will need to come up with the best word to replace the awkward, and as Blumenthal put it, “truly atrocious” term of “joint fundraising committee.” But if this reporter were writing the dictionary, she would gravitate to “super committee” as the obvious alternative.

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