How Outside Money Makes Governing More Difficult

Election Law Journal, Forthcoming

NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 20-40

20 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2020

See all articles by Mike Norton

Mike Norton

Stanford Law School; University of Oxford - Nuffield College

Richard H. Pildes

New York University School of Law

Date Written: July 19, 2020


Little empirical attention has been paid to the possible relationship between the sources of money in campaigns and whether political parties within the legislature are more unified or fragmented. Using recent data along with original interviews of leading party figures and former members of Congress, this article assesses how the rise of contributions from organizations outside the political parties affects the unity or disunity of the party caucus in the legislature.

With highly polarized political parties, party fragmentation makes all the more difficult the building of effective governing coalitions. Exploiting state variation in political action committee (PAC) contribution limits on party voting heterogeneity—the extent to which the caucus votes together—we find that higher levels of permitted PAC contributions decrease the unity of parties in the legislature. The results hold for both the majority and the minority party; for state legislatures that are both professional and part-time; and for whether the majority leader fully controls the legislative agenda or not. Through interviews with former party leaders, campaign committee and congressional staff, as well as rank and file members, we link this effect to federal reforms that have weakened the parties relative to outside interest groups and thus limited the leverage party leaders have to forge more unified party caucuses. As the debate over partisanship and government dysfunction in U.S. politics continues, this article adds an important component to understanding how changes in campaign finance laws have contributed to fragmenting the political parties, and hence, to making effective governing coalitions more difficult to forge.

Keywords: campaign finance, political parties, political fragmentation, coalition building, statelegislatures, congress

Suggested Citation

Norton, Mike and Norton, Mike and Pildes, Richard H., How Outside Money Makes Governing More Difficult (July 19, 2020). Election Law Journal, Forthcoming, NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 20-40, Available at SSRN:

Mike Norton

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

HOME PAGE: http://

University of Oxford - Nuffield College ( email )

1 New Road
Oxford, OX1 1NF
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://

Richard H. Pildes (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
(212) 998-6377 (Phone)
(212) 995-4341 (Fax)

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics