As voters begin to assess presidential candidates ahead of the 2016 election, they’ll face a new world in which ostensibly outside groups — which often have extremely close ties to the candidates, but are theoretically separate from them because they aren’t “controlled” by the candidate and don’t give their money directly to her campaign — could dominate political spending. That’s because super PACs and other groups conceived after the 2010 Citizens United decision may raise money without limits, while candidates cannot. While many have understood that super PACs would make a significant impact on American elections, few could have predicted the speed with which they have evolved and moved to the center of our political system.
The skyrocketing spending from these groups has left many concerned that elected officials work mainly for the big spenders that helped get them into office. In cases like Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court has told us not to worry: outside spending cannot corrupt a candidate, the argument goes, because the candidate cannot control that spending — it’s not in his control, he may not want it, or may not approve of the way it is spent. That argument is looking increasingly divorced from reality. This analysis will discuss several ways in which presidential candidates in the 2016 cycle are engaging in even greater collaboration with super PACs and other outside groups, obliterating the distinction between candidates and “independent” organizations, which the Court has claimed is so important.