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Can't Remember That Super PAC's Name? You Aren't Supposed To

by James Ryan, published
It can be hard to keep super PAC names straight.

For example, there is Right to Rise, the committee supporting a presidential run by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and there is America Rising, another PAC designated to raise and spend unlimited sums of money in hopes of defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016.

You may also have heard of Our American Revival (supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker), America Leads (New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie), and Pursuing America's Greatness (former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee).

It is almost as if these groups don't want you to remember their names.  Actually, that's the point.

According to Carl Forti, co-founder of the Republican political strategy group, Black Rock Group, "Super PACs aren't Coke and Pepsi; they're not even Democrats or Republicans. You don't necessarily want it to be a brand."

But why stay in obscurity? The simple answer is that hundreds of millions of dollars flow in and out of these groups, and it is far easier to produce vicious attack ads when they can hide behind an easily-forgotten name.

An ideal super PAC name is one that contains "forgettable and almost randomized combinations of generic political keywords," said Michael Cornfield, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.

The best super PAC names articulate a fairly vague and open-ended ideal without using language that makes it too memorable. That way, the tens of millions of Americans who will watch a TV ad will not be able to put their fingers on just who funded it.

They also tend to follow a particular theme, primarily dependent on the direction in which party leadership wants the contest to be framed.

In 2012, super PACs carried a trend of names that promoted conflict, or featuring buzzwords that indicated that the country was in serious trouble (Restore Our Future, Make Us Great Again, Now or Never PAC, etc.) In the 2016 presidential election cycle, the tune is much more positive and forward-looking.

"In 2012, the [GOP] leadership was so determined to defeat the left-wing incumbent (President Barack Obama) that we never fully developed our own narrative," said Michael Wissot, a Republican strategist who worked with Karl Rove's American Crossroads super PAC. "The 2016 Republican super PACs have names that imply a clean slate -- a new beginning."

That is, if people can actually remember them.

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