In a country where free speech and paid speech are increasingly interchangeable, obfuscation is swiftly cementing itself as a national political virtue. Unchecked spending is now squeaky clean and SCOTUS-approved, thanks to cases like Citizens United, McCutcheon, and SpeechNow.org. As of mid-October, 1,210 groups organized as Super PACs have reported more than $420 million in donations for this election cycle—of which they’ve spent $214 million on the 2014 midterms.
Of course, these groups don’t necessarily have to disclose much about who the donors are before the election. They can make those reports quarterly, after the fact (if they so choose) and keep their sources anonymous. Likewise, the names of these organizations do little to reveal what exactly their aims are, often cloaked in euphemisms and buzzwords like “patriot” and “action.” This lack of clarity amplifies the election-time white noise and helps these PACs confound voters. They don’t want you to know where the message came from necessarily, much like how large food-processors don’t really want you to know where their ingredients are sourced.
The general rule of thumb for decoding a super PAC’s name is that if it sounds ambiguous or invokes images of Americanness, it’s probably conservative. And, if it sounds pragmatic, straightforward and bland, it’s probably liberal. Democratic PACs have actually out-fundraised Republicans’ this past quarter. Everyone’s doing it, and it’s guaranteeing a mutually assured destruction endgame in our media wars.
To help you parse these upcoming midterms and associated propaganda, we took a look at what 5 super PACs call themselves, what they say they do, and what they actually do.
Actual Name: Freedom Partners Action Fund
Translation: Koch Brothers Conservative Agenda Piggy Bank
Money raised: more than $15,000,000*
Sample ad tagline: “There’s a lot of us that are ‘just’ farmers from Iowa”
Freedom = Conservative
The same logic of naming applies to “Freedom Fries” as it does to Super PACs; it’s no secret that post-9/11 conservatives have redefined the word “freedom” to mean big military, small government, and low taxes.
See also: Conservative leaning super PACS like Freedom works for America, Hometown Freedom Action Network, Faith Family Freedom Fund
Partners = Koch Brothers
“Freedom Partners” could be the name of a divey gay bar, or it’s a euphemism for the shadiest people sharing DNA in the U.S.A.: billionaires Charles and David Koch, whose outpouring of capital into the electoral system has made them increasingly influential.
Action = Conservative Agenda
Action, as in “Lights; Camera; Let’s spend shitloads of money on misleading advertisements.”
See also: Ending Spending Action Fund, Fair Share Action, Club for Growth Action, Freedom Pioneers Action Network (this last one gets extra points for the word “pioneers.”)
Fund = Piggy Bank
Fund is the only straightforward word in this PAC’s name, letting you know that, yes—every PAC is essentially a war chest.
See also: Government Integrity Action Fund Network, American Principles Fund, Liberty & Leadership Fund
Actual Name: Patriotic Prosperity PAC
Translation: War Chest for Limited Government and Big Business
Money raised: more than 300,000* Sample ad tagline: “Claudia Tenney even voted against cutting the Death Tax. That’s wrong.
Patriotic = Limited Government
Was it Uncle Sam who said true patriots became government-hating anarchists? We can’t remember, but 'patriot’ is much like ‘freedom,’ ‘frontier,’ and ‘American,’ in that it’s a right-leaning group trying to evoke classic American individualism. Often this is just the Tea Party.
See also: Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, Texas Tea Party Patriots PAC, Carolina Patriot Alliance
Prosperity = Big Business
Prosperity for corporate America, that is.
See also: Americans for Prosperity, New Prosperity Foundation, Americans for Growth, Opportunity & Prosperity
PAC = Shady Political War Chest (let’s just call it what it is)
PACs have been around since the 1970s. Currently, a PAC’s only basic rule is that it can’t ‘coordinate directly’ with a candidate. The ‘Super’ was added after Citizens United, as limitations on fundraising and spending were removed. Sometimes PACs include “PAC” in their name; other times, it’s just implied.
See also: All the other PACs.
Actual Name: Americans for Responsible Solutions
Translation: Bipartisan (but maybe not) Gun-Control Legislation Tweaks
Money raised: more than $20,000,000*
Sample ad tagline: "Keeping guns out of the hands of the dangerously mentally ill, stalkers, and domestic abusers? Common sense.”
American = Trying to be bipartisan (sometimes)
This Super PAC may sound like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads PAC, but it is, in fact, a progressive entity with a huge amount of financial support that is, perhaps, purposely hiding itself with conservative buzzwords. Sarah Palin’s 2008 speech praising “the real Americans” of a small Southern town forever tinged this adjective a Republican rouge and that’s normally true in Super PAC-speak. This PAC presents a rare progressive use of the term in an attempt to make gun control seem bipartisan and mainstream.
See also: American Crossroads, American Unity PAC, American Heartland PAC, Concerned American Voters
Responsible = Gun Control (sometimes)
Again with the conservative terminology: responsible. This word usually means “cutting the deficit” but here it’s all about gun control.
See also: Kansas for Responsible Government, Responsible Leadership for America, Citizens for Responsible Leadership
Solution = Legislation Tweaks
‘Solution’ here suggests that our epidemic of mass shootings can actually be solved. This is sadly wishful thinking, considering we as a country can’t figure out basic problems, like getting money out of our elections.
See also: Conservative Solutions PAC, Montana Solutions, Americans for Solutions
Actual Name: NextGen Climate Action
Translation: Trying to Get Money from Young People to Save the Earth
Money raised: more than $43,000,000*
Sample ad tagline: “Rick Scott [who takes oil money] is for the powerful, not you.”
NextGen = Youth-focused
‘NextGen’ is one of those neologisms that tries to both describe and target youth culture. It’s like one step above a clown being like “Hey, kids, the earth is cool!” As corny as it sounds, this PAC has raised a staggering amount of money.
See also: America’s Next Generation, Alliance for the Next Generation, Crossroads Generation
Climate = Saving the Earth
It’s “climate change,” not “global warming,” got it?
See also: Climate Hawks Vote, Environment America Action Fund, Environmental Action PAC, Environmental Majority
Action = Trying to get money
The main 'action’ of any Super PAC is simply to get money.
Actual Name: Ready for Hillary
Translation: Raising Money for an Undeclared Candidate
Money raised: more than $10,000,000*
Sample ad tagline: “Her voice. Her values. Our movement.” (Editor’s note: This video is a glorified Hillary Clinton fan-art slideshow with Katy Perry in the background.)
Ready for = Fundraising like crazy for
It’s not uncommon for a candidate to have a PAC set up, whether they have announced a run or not. Hillary can’t really start raising money yet since she isn’t officially running, so this is a bit of a workaround. One advantage to being undeclared: you could work more closely with a Super PAC without violating current FEC rules, especially if you’re out of office (like Hillary).
See also: Ready for Warren, Ready for Christie PAC
Hillary = Insert Undeclared Political Messiah Here.
Super PAC’s gearing up for future candidates are for voters who are just bored with these snoozy midterms and are looking ahead. The potential of a 2016 Hillary run has seen widespread grassroots support, with the average donor giving a modest $52. Hillary being Hillary, this isn’t the only Super PAC her name shows up in.
See also: Women Against Hillary, Hilary Schmilary PAC (sic; one of the many registered PACs that no one is actually giving money to), Hillary 2016
*All fundraising figures as of mid-October.