The Impact of Citizens United in the States
36 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 3 Nov 2012
Date Written: 2012
There can be no denying the profound changes in U.S. campaign financing since the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Nevertheless, there has been confusion about the extent to which the decision should be seen as the primary explanation for what has occurred. This paper begin to disentangle the strands through an analysis of independent expenditures in elections at the state level in 2006 and 2010 from new data gathered and supplied by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The paper’s findings tend not to support some key claims being made on both sides of the contemporary political debate surrounding independent spending. First, contrary to statements made by some of the decision’s critics, we find that Citizens’ United itself did not have a noticeable direct effect on independent spending in 2010 – although this could, of course, change. Increases were more or less comparable in states that prohibited corporate spending before the decision and those that did not. However, the paper also addresses one of the claims normally associated with the opposite side of the political spectrum. It is often said that limiting contributions to the political parties (ending “soft money”) has displaced party money, increasing independent spending by unaccountable non-party organizations. We find that party contribution limits have indeed displaced some party independent spending in the years and states we studied. However, the displacement has been not been toward ideological groups, umbrella organizations or vaguely defined party networks, but rather toward national organizations of state elected and party officials who are acting as party organizations in all but the most formal sense of that term.
Keywords: Citizens United, state elections, independent spending, independent expenditures
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