In the spring of 2007 I taught a class at Bowdoin College called “Money and Politics.” During one class session at the beginning of the semester, while discussing the dimensions of existing election laws, the conversation turned to legal loopholes. One student asked, “What happens if I leave a bunch of money on a candidate's doorstep? Can they claim to have 'found' it, thereby allowing me to avoid a contribution limit?” The class laughed, compelling other students to offer their own equally strange, but conceptually serious, alternatives. The bulk of the scenarios involved interest groups. What are the limits of the law relative to interest group electioneering? How and to what effect can candidates and their allies bend the rules to allow more money to enter the system? After class, I reflected on the experience and could not help but laugh. Loopholes are fun to find, but when you are actually participating in an election, where winning and losing is serious business, locating loopholes is more than an intellectual game; it's serious, risky, and consequential.
Indeed, the research for this book took place in the context of consequential debates over campaign finance reform. I first thought seriously about interest groups in the electoral process during the summer of 2000. As a research assistant for the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project, I witnessed the ad war firsthand (The Project coded