Influence of Money and Interest Groups During Elections

There is no shortage of opportunities for outside interest groups to spend money during elections. Although there are still restrictions in place from the FEC in regard to things like key words, endorsements and collusion with campaigns, it is still very easy for interest groups to send clear messages to the public. Money can be used by interest groups to influence the outcome of elections in a number of ways, but by far the most common way is through advertisements. This is a form of independent spending by interest groups and providing they do not violate specific guidelines this is completely legal. Independent expenditures are done without any direct contribution or communication with candidates. This is an example of outside groups expressly advocating for candidates. With express advocacy, key words must be avoided, and hard money must be used, but by avoiding key words issue ads can be formed. Unlike express advocacy, issue ads were not regulated or subject to a $5,000 limit and could be funded by outside groups. After section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) was deemed unconstitutional, interest groups became increasingly relevant. This ruling eventually led to the creation of the term “super PAC”. The term super PAC is nonsense, they are actually independent expenditure only committees. These are non-connected PACs who are subject to independent expenditure rules and forced to use hard money, however they are free to raise and spend unlimited amounts unlike more traditional PACs. Although much has been said about the effects of outside spending on elections the research shows that it has fairly insignificant effects. Although it is still a subject that can easily be argued, it seems like much of this money is wasted as it has such a limited impact. Much of this would be different had the Supreme Court upheld section 203 after the Citizens United v. F.E.C. case in 2010. Yet it is hard to argue with the ruling that was made although it is rather easy to be upset about.

Providing the interest group does not collude with the candidate they will be free to run ads in said candidates favor. This has become the most common way for interest groups to influence voters in recent years. In this situation the candidate receives no direct contribution and can have no say in what the ads contain. By doing this the money is considered to be independent from the candidate, thus it is considered an independent expenditure. To get to this point two FECA amendments were questioned. One of these failed to pass strict scrutiny and was rendered null and void. This was the idea of making a more equitable system, setting out to create a more level playing field failed the test of strict scrutiny. The end result here was that it became much easier for congress to regulate direct spending, but much more complicated to handle indirect spending. After the Buckley and independent spending debacle independent spending, express advocacy and issue ads all became increasingly relevant. Independent expenditures are a common form of express advocacy, here hard money must be used, and they may directly call for the election or defeat of candidates. However, hard money can be frustrating at times to political campaigns and issue ads provide a way around that. By simply avoiding key words one can create an issue ad. Here soft money can be used, and any $5,000 limit is gone. If it seems like the line between an issue ad and express advocacy is thin, that’s because it is. Determination of these is often done on a case by case basis and questions and concerns over what an ad should be considered are commonly raised. This has led to political parties raising unlimited sums of money in order to run issue ads.

While the shape of the relationship will vary for different offices at different levels of government, it is most often the case that the first dollar spent on an election has much more value than the millionth dollar spent. This fact provides us with a reason to doubt that unlimited spending from corporations and labor unions will have a major effect on election outcomes. Knowing how little effect this spending has makes it more tolerable. 

07 July 2022
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