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The Forum

A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics

Ed. by Disalvo, Daniel / Stonecash, Jeffrey

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Volume 10, Issue 4 (Feb 2013)


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

Raymond J. La Raja
  • Corresponding author
  • Associate Professor, Department of Political Science,University of Massachusetts, 200 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA 01003-9277, USA
  • Email:
Published Online: 2013-02-09 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/forum-2013-0009


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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About the article

Raymond J. La Raja

Raymond J. La Raja is an Associate Professor in Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and co-editor of The Forum. He is the author of Small Change: Money, Political Parties and Campaign Finance Reform (University of Michigan Press, 2008), and a forthcoming book, Do Campaign Finance Laws Matter? Money and Politics in the American States (University of Michigan Press, 2013), and an edited volume, New Directions in American Politics (Routledge, 2013). He serves on the Academic Advisory Board of the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington, DC. He wishes to thank Jesse Rhodes and Maryann Barakso for helpful comments for this article.

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

Published Online: 2013-02-09

Citation Information: The Forum, ISSN (Online) 1540-8884, ISSN (Print) 2194-6183, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/forum-2013-0009. Export Citation

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