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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Parties after Citizens United

What should parties do after the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United? One possibility is increased use of independent expenditures. Michael Malbin writes:
Almost all of the Senate parties’ independent spending in 2008 went for attack ads, as did three-fifths of the House parties’. Many of the ads were hard-hitting, but when reporters asked candidates about them, many would say, “I had nothing to do with that.” This is an absurd state of affairs. Except for the rare maverick, the parties and their candidates are not independent of each other and ought not to be required to behave as if they are. Neither candidates nor parties like the inefficiencies of independent spending, and the voters deserve better accountability.

My co-authors and I therefore argued that parties should be able to make unlimited coordinated expenditures instead of being pushed into a false and damaging independence. But we oppose taking this route unless it is coupled with one major caveat. Individuals are allowed to contribute much more to a party than to a candidate. We know from past experience that the parties can set up earmarked accounts for specific candidates. Giving money to a party to support a coordinated campaign can therefore be an obvious and easy way to get around the contribution limits for candidates.

We therefore recommend unlimited coordinated party spending, but only from party money raised from small donors. The receipts from under-$200 donors alone in the last election cycle would have let the Congressional parties turn half of their independent spending into coordinated spending. And we know from recent elections that the small-donor pool is much bigger than we once thought, and it is growing.

With this kind of a change in the law, the Congressional parties would have a major incentive to boost their small-donor efforts even more than they already have since 2002. This simple change would have been valuable even before the latest court actions. It should be part of any legislative response to Citizens United.