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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nineteen weeks before the elections, and already the airwaves are clogged with competing political commercials.

Many are funded by so-called super PACs, political action committees that are allowed to collect unlimited sums from companies, unions and individuals, and then spend that money supporting or attacking candidates.

Every Super PAC commercial flashes microscopic text at the end, lawfully stating which group paid for the ad. This is a huge inside joke, because the names of the actual donors are on file with the Federal Election Commission and never listed in the commercials. Otherwise voters might get suspicious.

Super PACs also are, on paper, independent. That means candidates who benefit from the attack ads can conveniently disavow any involvement with their content.

If you’re starting a Super PAC, the most important thing (besides having suck-up billionaire friends) is choosing a feel-good name that looks solid at the end of your ads. No matter how venal and selfish your motives might be, the name of your fund-raising machine should always be sturdy and patriotic.

One of the biggest Republican Super PACs is called American Crossroads, which sounds like the title of a Woody Guthrie folk song but is in fact a tool of Karl Rove, the smear-and-fear guru who ran the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush.

American Crossroads has raised about $30 million, most of which is being spent on commercials bashing President Barack Obama. The credibility of its ads is immeasurably enhanced by not mentioning the connection to Rove, who isn’t widely beloved.