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The Futility of Contribution Limits in the Age of Super PACs

49 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2012  

Anthony J. Gaughan

Drake University - Law School

Date Written: March 7, 2012


In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s controversial decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the time has come for a fundamental reassessment of campaign finance law. This article proposes that Congress and the state legislatures reassert the primacy of candidate campaign committees by abandoning limits on direct contributions to candidates. Rather than persist with the futile effort to limit the influence of money on politics through contribution limits, reformers should adopt the more modest and achievable goal of complete transparency in campaign fundraising.

This proposal is far less radical than it might seem at first. Currently, four states place no limits on contributions to candidate campaigns, and eight others impose only minimal restrictions. The experience of those 12 states — almost one quarter of the nation’s 50 states — demonstrates that elections without significant contribution limits are a viable and highly preferable alternative to the current state of affairs in federal elections.

To be sure, lifting contribution limits is not a panacea for all of the problems that plague modern American politics. With or without contribution limits, corruption and the appearance of corruption will remain a troubling feature of our political life. But liberating candidate campaigns from contribution limits will eliminate the outrageous fundraising advantage that independent expenditure committees (or “Super PACs”) enjoy in the post-Citizens United world. By reemphasizing the role of candidate campaigns, we will restore at least a modest degree of transparency and accountability at a time when both are in short supply in American politics.

Keywords: election law, campaign finance, Citizens United, contribution limits, Super PACs

Suggested Citation

Gaughan, Anthony J., The Futility of Contribution Limits in the Age of Super PACs (March 7, 2012). Drake Law Review, Vol. 60, No. 3, 2012. Available at SSRN:

Anthony Gaughan (Contact Author)

Drake University - Law School ( email )

27th & Carpenter Sts.
Des Moines, IA 50311
United States
5152712060 (Phone)


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