Welcome to the Super PAC Era

Is candidate centered campaign fundraising a thing of the past?

Greetings, and welcome to the Super PAC era. Thanks in part to the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United, we now have new entities called "Super PACs," which are organizations that can raise and spend unlimited political funds.

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Contributions given directly to candidates are unlimited, but again, contributions to outside groups such as Super PACs are not. Therefore, as many predicted, individuals and entities who wish to support candidates but have given up to the legal limit, now have a new outlet for their campaign donations. This pattern, however, is nothing new. Before there were Super PACs big donors gave to political parties or other outside organizations like independent expenditure groups.

Campaign fundraising by candidates is increasingly being marginalized and fundraising by independent groups including Super PACs is coming to the forefront. We are seeing this phenomenon play out real time in the Los Angeles mayoral race where the contribution limit to candidates is $1,300 both in the primary and the runoff elections.
While fundraising by candidates is still outpacing fundraising by Super PACs in the mayoral race, at some point in the near future that could change. In this election both candidates have raised approximately $5.7 million and independent groups have raised roughly $4.7 million for Greuel and $1.3 million for Garcetti. That means about one-third of the money raised in the mayor campaign has been raised by outside organizations. Again, the lion's share has gone to groups supporting Greuel.

Of course those giving money to outside groups are generally those who have a financial interest in what happens in City Hall. For instance, donors include real estate developers, labor unions, members of the entertainment industry, and lawyers and lawfirms. This set up raises a host of problems including corruption, the appearance of corruption, undue access and preferential treatment.

Because of the Supreme Court's misguided interpretation of limits on campaign contributions and expenditures, there is little hope, at least in the short term, of limiting how much can be given to and spent by outside groups. The best way to regulate the influence of money in politics is to advocate for robust campaign disclosure.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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