This paper compares the levels of ad spending from outside groups and traditional party organizations across seven federal election cycles. The data show clearly that outside groups advertised at historic levels in 2012. Such intense efforts send two important signals to students of American campaign finance. The first involves a crisis in the system of limited donations to candidates and party committees moving forward. The second resurrects an old debate in political science about whether parties or candidates should be the center of our electoral process. The paper concludes with a consideration of possible reforms that might help restore parties and candidates to the center of issue debates in competitive federal elections.