The Super PACs earned their moniker because they turn decades-old limits on campaign contributions to candidates, parties, and independent groups on their head following two court decisions in 2010. The Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations and unions had a First Amendment right to engage in unlimited spending on political advocacy. Then a U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision in the Speech Now case gave the green light for unlimited contributions.
The Federal Election Commission issued a pair of "advisory opinions" last July which laid out the rules for Super PACs.
In the first half of 2011, liberal Super PACs raised $7.6 million from just a few dozen donors, while conservative Super PACs raised $17.6 million, with 80 percent of that money coming from 35 donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
There are now 232 active Super PACs including those formed to back presidential candidates. There is at least one backing every major Republican candidate, except former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
Introducting an earlier Super PAC story, CBS anchor Scott Pelley said that Super PACs can "keep their donors secet." That is false. Super PACs may take unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations, and unions -- but they must disclose them to the FEC. The CBS writer may have been thinking of 501(c)(4) groups, which do not have to disclose contributors.