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The Forum

A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics

Ed. by Shafer, Byron / Disalvo, Daniel

4 Issues per year

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Why Super PACs: How the American Party System Outgrew the Campaign Finance System

1Associate Professor, Department of Political Science,University of Massachusetts, 200 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA 01003-9277, USA

Corresponding author: Raymond J. La Raja, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science,University of Massachusetts, 200 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA 01003-9277, USA

Citation Information: The Forum. Volume 10, Issue 4, Pages 91–104, ISSN (Online) 1540-8884, ISSN (Print) 2194-6183, DOI: 10.1515/forum-2013-0009, February 2013

Publication History

Published Online:
2013-02-09

Abstract

The growth of political spending by outside groups reflects the demise of a campaign finance system that was designed during an era when candidates largely controlled their electoral destinies. The original 1974 law assumed a candidate-centered framework in which political parties mattered less as sources of electoral support. Since the 1980s, partisan polarization and intense competition for control of government has pushed the candidate-centered framework to its limits. Partisans have strong incentives to organize collectively through party organizations and party allied groups to maximize opportunities for taking control government. The campaign finance system, however, is unsuited to the emergent party system because of its unwieldy restrictions on political parties and excessively low contribution limits, which have declined in value due to inflation. The current system induces a highly inefficient redistribution of regulated funds from incumbent officeholders to parties, and the escalating use of unrestricted funds by Super PACs and other weakly transparent campaign groups, which have strong legal protections in the wake of judicial decisions such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

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