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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 12, Issue 2


Independent Spending in State Elections, 2006–2010: Vertically Networked Political Parties Were the Real Story, Not Business

Keith E. Hamm / Michael J. Malbin
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Political Science; Rice University, Houston TX 77005, USA
  • The Campaign Finance Institute, 1425 K St. NW (Suite 350), Washington DC 20005, USA
  • Email
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Jaclyn J. Kettler / Brendan Glavin
Published Online: 2014-08-08 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/for-2014-5003


This article examines independent spending in state elections before and after the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. We find that the decision did not have much of a direct effect on business spending, despite public expectations. Increases were higher in the aggregate in states that prohibited corporate spending before the decision. However, the major growth was not in the business or labor sectors, but in the network organizations of political parties – and most particularly the national organizations of state elected and party officials. Contrary to some contemporary views, these developments cannot be understood as a displacement of within-state money from parties to interest groups. Instead, national party organizations were operating across state lines, deciding whether to contribute to formal party committees or their party allies as local circumstances might dictate. This complex movement of money belies any theorizing that would treat a decline in the proportional role of formal party spending as equivalent to a zero-sum increase in the non-party power of interest groups. Rather, we see the pattern of independent spending as part of a larger story of change in American political parties. These changes now include vertically networked parties operating across levels of jurisdiction, alongside the horizontal networks receiving attention in recent scholarship.


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About the article

Keith E. Hamm

Keith E. Hamm is Edwards Professor of Government at Rice University.

Michael J. Malbin

Michael J. Malbin is co-founder and Executive Director of the Campaign Finance Institute and Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, SUNY.

Jaclyn J. Kettler

Jaclyn J. Kettler is a PhD candidate at Rice University who is soon to be Assistant Professor of Political Science at Boise State University.

Brendan Glavin

Brendan Glavin is Data and Systems Manager at the Campaign Finance Institute.

Corresponding author: Michael J. Malbin, The Campaign Finance Institute, 1425 K St. NW (Suite 350), Washington DC 20005, USA; and University at Albany, SUNY, e-mail:

Published Online: 2014-08-08

Published in Print: 2014-07-01

Citation Information: The Forum, Volume 12, Issue 2, Pages 305–328, ISSN (Online) 1540-8884, ISSN (Print) 2194-6183, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/for-2014-5003.

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