John Mines, an 18-year-old University of Utah student, is making a humorous but important point. In the image of the Stephen Colbert's tongue-in-cheek super political action committee, Mines has started the Utes for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow PAC, hoping to raise awareness about the absurdity of the super PAC system and the corrosive influence it is playing on American politics.
The young Utahn is soliciting money for a PAC he eventually hopes becomes illegal.
Like Mines, Americans don't seem to have a stomach for the PACs. A recent national poll found there is a large, bipartisan consensus that super PAC spending is a dangerous threat for American democracy and leaves the door open to corruption.
The national survey, conducted on behalf of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law showed that nearly 70 percent of those surveyed believe Super PAC spending will lead to corruption and that three in four Americans believe limiting how much corporations, unions and individuals can donate to Super PACs would curb corruption.
At the heart of the super PAC discussion is not just limiting spending, but creating greater transparency.
Many Super PACs exploit the use of tax-exempt educational arms to hide contributors' identities and amounts donated.
While the political sides of the PAC house have to disclose names of donors to the Federal Election Commission, the nonprofit sides do not. Both presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are benefiting from the super PAC system. For Romney, the list of big donors includes some prominent Utah names.
When interviewed, the super PAC meisters are altogether too cavalier in their attitudes toward public accountability. In interviews, a frequent line is "all that we do is legal." Of course it is, but for Americans the question is, "is it ethical or helpful to our republic?"
A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision created this climate. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations or unions. The decision has sharply divided First Amendment and free-speech advocates.
If indeed corporations and unions have First Amendment rights, then the government should at least have the right to require more transparent reporting about where money is coming from, particularly when it involves nonprofits. The public needs access to this information to review how such money might influence political decision-making, the influence of foreign-owned businesses and pay-to-play government contracts.
In this case, Utah and federal political leaders need to have the political will to bite the hand that feeds them.
Joel Campbell is an associate journalism professor at Brigham Young University. His views do not represent those of BYU. He writes about First Amendment and open government issues for The Tribune. He can be reached on Twitter at @joelcampbell or at email@example.com