With the 2010 Citizens United decision, the United States Supreme Court radically changed campaign finance by removing restrictions on political expenditures by corporations and labor unions. The decision also saw the rise of the super PAC - a kind of high powered political action committee that could spend with impunity so long as it didn’t coordinate with actual political campaigns.
Initially, many Republicans were in support of the new paradigm due to their traditionally larger number of wealthy backers, but Democrats quickly learned to turn their disadvantage into an edge by focusing their spending on a smaller number of vulnerable Republican candidates. The result has been an unprecedented torrent of negative ads from both parties - more than any year to date, according to firms like Kantar Media that track political advertising.
With two more weeks until voters head the polls the onslaught of negative ads is bound to get worse. Now that Republican candidates have experienced what unfettered and uncoordinated campaign spending looks like, several lawmakers are working on proposals to try and put the campaign spending genie a little bit back in the bottle, or at least impose some restrictions designed to provide oversight.
California Rep. Dan Lungren has been one such Republican who has been in the crosshairs of his unrestricted opponents’ spending, and he has penned legislation designed to make campaign messages more the purview of the campaigns themselves. But how will new laws be able to change the post-Citizens United reality? What, exactly, will campaign finance reform look like after November 6th?
David Keating, President of the Center for Competitive Politics, a nonprofit that advocates for unlimited spending on political campaigns