The New York Times has a major story today on President Barack Obama reversing his long-held opposition to Super PACs and dispatching surrogates to help fundraise for the pro-Obama pac, PrioritiesUSA.
Super PACs, which can raise unlimited funds from corporations, unions, and individuals for a campaign with which they're not technically affiliated have become a major factor in U.S. national and state elections. There are over 313 declared Super PACs as of February 7. You can find a full list of them at OpenSecrets.org.
Some of these, like Mitt Romney's Restore Our Future and Newt Gingrich's Winning Our Future -- not to mention, Stephen Colbert's Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow -- are well known. But move down the list and things get a little stranger.
There's the seemingly contradictory Citizens Against Super PACs. There's the just-for-laughs Joe Six PAC. There's the Article II Super PAC -- the fund-raising entity of the birther movement. There's IndyAmericans.com, founded by a group of Texas independent voters and whose website features a picture of a bald eagle pooping on Rick Perry's head.
Then there are the more than 60 PACs resigtered by Josue Larose -- also known as "The Super Pac Man" -- seemingly for the sole purpose of annoying the Federal Elections Commission. These include the Bloomingdale's Department Store Customers Super PAC, the United States Billionaires Super PAC, the NFL Sport Players Super PAC, and the United Nations Diplomats Super PAC.
But for my money, the most interesting PAC of those registered so far is the Hialeah, Florida, based American Phoenix SuperPAC, which is not, according to its founder, a joke. Here are a few highlights from American Phoenix's 23-point platform:
Ban cremation as a polluting, energy wasting form of departure and replace it with deep-sea burial in an effort to re-nourish the sea.
Ban circumcision before the age of 18 and declare the practice mutilation.
Declare Islam a hostile political party, not a religious organization.
Support candidates that encourage the United Nations to disallow membership to all countries that exhibit Quranic verses on their flags.
Classify the slaughter of the Sikh population of Pakistan, during the countries partition in 1947, as a genocidal event.
Stop the flow of foreign funding that is behind the Islamisation of the United States of America out of concern for the potential of creating a fifth column of subversive Moslem immigrants.
Replace electronic voting machines with our previous lever system.
As a replacement for traditional forms of capital punishment, allow those convicted of capital crimes to provide volunteer organ donations as a method of execution.
The PAC was founded by the Deep Sea Burial corporation, which promotes "carbon-neutral burial at sea." The Washington Post has called it "the first corporate Super PAC -- and some watchdog groups have raised questions about the legality of the entity, as private companies cannot be sponsors of PACs -- which is not to say that corporations don't fund them. OpenSecrets blames "sloppy paperwork" for the confusion.
Curious about what the PAC is up to, I spoke with Michael Benjamin, the president of both Deep Sea Burial and American Phoenix by phone. Benjamin, who has run for mayor of Hialeah, maintains that the PAC is not a joke.
"Of course we are serious," he says. "There are a lot of great things in there we want to do. Like discontinue the pensions of all public officials. They've driven the bus over the cliff and they don't want to get pensions."
I asked Benjamin, who says he grew up in an Islamic country -- he didn't specify which one -- and has studied Islam for a long time, why he objects to countries with Quranic verses on their flags holding seats at the United Nations:
They have this hidden agenda that our government and people haven't realized yet. They are aiming to take over our culture. They have done that in Europe to a large extent. And they have done that to African Americans in our prisons sponsored by Saudi Arabia. They are opening a foothold on our continent. Their system of belief is that when the flag of Islam is flying on the four corners of the Earth, the last Imam will appear.
Benjamin's views are a little hard to pin down on the right-left spectrum. He favors legalizing drugs and prostitution, wants to "end corporate rule," and sells underwater burial as a means of fighting climate change:
[Banning] cremation is one of the simplest ways to stop global warming and the emission of carbon. One body, when you burn it, creates almost 6-700 kilograms of CO2. And you have to burn it for five hours. You burn enough fuel to pull a train from Miami to Jacksonville with one person. 220,000 people just died in the state of Florida. 78 percent get cremated.
There's all this wasted energy. I have worked in aquaculture and fish farming for six years. I have seen how it can be consumed and come back to life again in fish form.
So, will American Phoenix be a major force come election time? Don't bet on it. Benjamin says the PAC has not yet been able to raise any money, as his website has been subjected to "a bunch of malicious Internet attacks." But assuming he can get his operation off the ground, he knows who he's supporting.
"I would like to see Ron Paul," he says.