Dark Parties: Dark Money Networks and Political Parties after Citizens United.
33 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2018 Last revised: 13 Apr 2020
Date Written: November 26, 2019
Following the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, independent expenditures have grown dramatically both in terms of raw dollars and as a percentage of spending in elections. A large and growing portion comes from political nonprofits --- so called "dark money" groups --- named because the terms of their incorporation allow them to partially obscure the sources of their income. I develop a new data set of about 2,350,000 tax documents released by the IRS and use it to test theories of political parties' role American elections. With this new data, I show that interest groups have begun to form new networks and route large sums of political money through nonprofit organizations --- where it previously lay outside the view of researchers limited to analyzing Federal Election Commission data. Next, I show that when viewed holistically, these subnetworks of dark money organizations --- "dark parties" or dark money factions within the extended party network--often deploy far larger sums of money into political races than formal party organizations, contrary to the prevailing view that the latter group maintained financial supremacy even after Citizens United. Finally, I show that despite all this, formal party organizations remain the most central players in coordinating the flow of money into candidate races --- though increasingly large sums of money have fallen totally outside of their orbit. These findings paint a more complex picture of how changes in campaign finance law have shifted the balance of power between formal party organizations and ideological interest groups in American politics.
Keywords: dark money, political parties, congress, campaign finance
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