Beware Election-Year 'Scam PACS'

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What business would you tell a young person to go into these days? Plastics? Oooh, that can mean lots of regulations. Wind turbines? Solar panels? Who knows how long those may take to pay off? App development? How many Angry Birds does the world need?

Then what about superPACS? They're political-action committees that can spend unlimited amounts of money to laud, mock or bash any political candidate.

The Center for Responsive Politics says that as of Friday, 942 superPACs have raised more than $403 million during this election season. They include Restore Our Future, which supports Mitt Romney — and has raised $97 million — and Priorities USA Action, which supports President Obama — and has raised more than $47 million.

If you look down the list of superPAC filings with the Federal Election Commission, you see a range of other groups with exalted names, like Campaign for Our Future and It's Now or Never.

My favorites are: Americans for Logic, which, maybe significantly, reports no contributions; and Zombies of Tomorrow. Maybe their take will pick up around Halloween.

But a beguiling pitch aimed at people eager to contribute to a political campaign can also have some of the makings of a classic con. And this week, the news outlet Politico reported that indeed, at least a few of what they call "Scam PACS" have sprouted.

Several groups — which may be no more real than a website and a credit card reader — have invoked the image of Rep. Allen West of Florida to raise money, but do not spend any on ads or other activities to support his campaign.

Mr. West is a Republican, but Politico reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns say the potential for this kind of fraud transcends party lines — finally, something does.

"A cottage industry has sprung up," they write, "in which groups with such seemingly innocuous names as Patriots for Economic Freedom use high-profile campaigns ... to raise money for themselves and build their e-mail lists."

In a time of high anxiety about jobs, superPACS sound like a growth industry. Coin a name, maybe a slogan, put up a few photos, send out a few emails, and you're in business — er, politics:

"Dear American Friend: Are you worried about our country? Are you worried about your children? Are you worried about unemployment at home, unrest overseas, street crime, cybercrime, fine lines and wrinkles around your eyes, drought, floods and Rob and Kristen's reunion? This is the most important election since George Washington! Or Julius Caesar! We need your help. Act now!"

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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