Dark Parties: Citizens United, Independent-Expenditure Networks and the Evolution of Political Parties
45 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2018 Last revised: 15 Aug 2018
Date Written: June 3, 2018
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 as such because the terms of their incorporation allows them to partially obscure the sources of their income. I develop a new dataset of about 2,350,000 tax documents released by the IRS and use it to test a new theory of spending in Congressional elections. I posit that the pathways for anonymous giving that emerged from the Citizens United decision allowed ideologically motivated interest groups to form new financial networks and aggressively challenge more established factions of political parties in ways previously unfeasible. Testing this theory, I find strong support that these groups back more extremist candidates — especially in party primaries — than either formal party organizations or access-oriented interest groups. These results give evidence to recent suggestions by some scholars that asymmetric polarization may be in part caused by changes in campaign finance law that empowered these ideologically motivated groups while hobbling efforts of more moderate party factions.
Keywords: dark money, political parties, congress, campaign finance
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