The Corner

Muted Impact of Citizens United

In a couple of speeches I’ve given on the topic since the controversial (by liberal standards) Citizens United Supreme Court decision last term, I have predicted that the decision would not open the floodgates of corporate money into federal elections. Most corporations don’t want to alienate half of the population by taking sides in a contested election. Target Corp. may have learned that lesson the hard way by funding a group that supported a, gasp, conservative candidate for governor in Minnesota. And whatever money is going to find its way into elections will generally find a lawful way around congressional roadblocks anyway.  (Hence the rise of so-called 527 groups).

Now, Ben Smith at Politico reports on a recent study showing that outside groups did not have an appreciably larger impact on elections in 2010 than in prior years: 

A new study from the Wesleyan Media Project found that while outside groups spent slightly more on ads in House and Senate races in the 2010 cycle proportionately to the total amount invested in the campaign, their contributions represented only a small increase from 2000.

Despite the heightened attention on independent groups over the course of the campaign, according to the study, candidates and campaign committees actually drove most of the spending. By the time the final campaign ad aired, candidates and parties paid for 85 percent of all ads in Senate races and 88 percent of ads in House races.

“The initial evidence suggests that while interest groups were aggressive players in the air war, their impact may not have been as negative or as large as initially predicted,” writes Michael Franz, the study’s author and an associate professor of government and legal studies at Bowdoin College.


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