Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Following the Money: Super PACs and the 2012 Presidential Nomination

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Following the Money: Super PACs and the 2012 Presidential Nomination

Article excerpt

Among the novel events and frequently discussed features of the 2012 presidential election, none is more obvious or, perhaps, more relevant to the state of the U.S. democracy than the ubiquity of money. Money has long played a role in presidential campaigns, but scholars frequently disagree over its effects. Political observers also hold a range of perspectives on the normative value of campaign expenditures between believing that money is a form of expression, and thus should be welcomed and protected in campaigns, to believing that money corrupts campaigns and representatives by favoring the wealthy at the expense of those with less.

Related debates about money's effects on campaigns and political representation in the United States continued throughout 2012 following major reconfigurations in its campaign finance laws. These changes made it possible for citizens to spend unlimited sums of money on campaigns through independent expenditure-only committees, better known as Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs), and made the 2012 presidential campaign the first to experience unlimited outside spending via Super PACs. The emergence of Super PACs within the 2012 presidential campaign thus prompts a reexploration of our understanding of the key factors of campaign dynamics and fundamental concerns about the role of money in campaigns.

We analyze the role of Super PACs in the campaign for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination. Super PACs contributed throughout the campaign, but their presence was particularly pointed during the nomination contest, where the demands for money are high but candidates are constrained in their ability to raise funds. Indeed, Super PACs repeatedly outspent Republican candidates and dominated the broadcast airwaves with their advertisements. Yet, as newcomers to the campaign, questions abound of what Super PACs actually do. Are they active in the invisible primary, perhaps playing an important role in winnowing down the field before voters get a chance to weigh in? Do they disproportionately serve the interests of front-runners? Or, do they keep afloat less organized challengers who otherwise would not be able to compete? We respond to these questions with a comprehensive description of Super PAC spending over time and across space, with careful attention to the direction of the outside groups' messages, for or against candidates.

In addition to questions of how Super PACs affected the behavior of candidates in the 2012 nomination contest, we also evaluate the legal and arguably more pertinent question, "Are they 'independent?'" A frequent criticism of Super PACs is that their independence from the campaigns is a ruse, as one might expect given that former campaign staff and trusted candidate advisors often work for Super PACs (see, e.g., Confessore 2011). To that end, we focus our efforts on testing whether Super PACs appear to be coordinating their expenditure behavior with candidates and how. We outline and test for two possible forms of coordination. First, campaigns and Super PACs might coordinate their expenditures to complement each other by spending in the same places at the same time, bombarding the airwaves with consistent messages. Alternatively, they might prefer a strategy of substitution whereby PACs and campaigns focus on different locales in which they might be more successful. We test for these two possible forms of coordination by performing a longitudinal analysis that tests the dynamic relationship between candidates and Super PAC spending.

In what follows we begin by presenting an overview of the new campaign finance landscape since Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) (2010) and discussing the possible implications of the entrance of Super PACs within the party nomination process. We divide the remainder of the article into answering the two sets of aforementioned questions pertaining to the behavior and nature of Super PACs, respectively. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.