Campaign Finance Law: The Changing Role of Parties and Interest Groups
Current campaign finance laws in the United States are a puzzle. The rules as they apply to candidates and parties are far more restrictive than the rules for anonymous interest groups, many of whom have no reporting or disclosure mandates. This incentivizes political actors to form outside groups to fund and sponsor pro-candidate messages with donations of unlimited size. It is arguably more advantageous for candidates currently to rely on wealthy friends and allies to aid independently a candidate’s efforts than it is to draw on the support and expertise of the formal party organizations, whose primary purpose is exactly such support. For example, while the Democratic Party worked hard to reelect Barack Obama in 2012, his former deputy press secretary, Bill Burton, formed Priorities USA, an independent group free to raise unlimited funds from any corporation, union, or wealthy citizen. The Democratic Party is forced in contrast to raise funds from individuals and political action committees (PACs), both capped at $31,000 and $15,000 per year, respectively. Though the value of a democratic system based on “small donor contributions” is apparent and not debated or challenged here, one ponders the logic of disadvantaging parties in this obvious way. Moreover, party leaders are increasingly outsourcing some of their campaign functions and data collection to for-profit groups so as to sidestep financing barriers. We are left with what might be termed an ascendant “interest group-centered” campaign finance system.