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Campaign Finance

- May 6, 2016
Does big money in politics subvert democracy?
  • Overview
  • Current Situation
  • Chronology
  • Pro/Con
  • More...
Featured Report

After four decades of court decisions lifting restrictions on campaign spending, Americans are going to the polls this year in the most expensive presidential campaign in U.S. history, financed mainly by a handful of wealthy individuals and business and labor groups. Public outrage over the big spending fuels some of the popularity of GOP billionaire Donald Trump's largely self-financed campaign and that of Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is supported mostly by small individual donors. But money did not help the top spender in the Republican presidential primaries: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush abandoned his well-financed candidacy amid weak voter support. Conversely, Sanders has run an unexpectedly strong campaign against deep-pocketed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Stymied by GOP congressional opposition and partisan gridlock on the Federal Election Commission, opponents of big-dollar politics are successfully pushing some states and cities to rein in election spending. But advocates of less regulation say limiting money in politics infringes on free speech.

Super PACs

Top-spending political action committees work closely with presidential campaigns.

State and Local Actions

Arizona and Wisconsin recently loosened spending regulations.

Congress Stalls

The Democratic minority hopes to limit corporate spending.

1876–1883Campaign finance reform era begins.
1896–1907Businesses dominate campaign fundraising.
1911–1974Congress gradually reins in campaign spending.
1976–PresentCourts reshape campaign laws.

Does big money in politics subvert democracy?


Richard Hasen
Professor of law and political science, University of California, Irvine; author of Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections .


David Keating
President, Center for Competitive Politics.
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