Tracking Citizens United: Assessing the Effect of Independent Expenditures on Electoral Outcomes
<italic>Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission</italic> has brought campaign finance reform to the center of the American political debate. The Supreme Court's 2010 decision created an opening for outside groups to play a larger role in campaigns, and potentially change the electoral landscape. Because this form of outside spending is a relatively new phenomenon, little empirical research exists on its consequences. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the analysis of independent expenditures and their effects on Congressional elections. Using data from the Federal Election Commission for House and Senate races in 2010 and 2012, I explore the relationship between independent expenditures and electoral outcomes to determine if spending from outside groups has had a significant effect on a candidate's chances of being elected. I combine this data with demographic characteristics from the American Community Survey to examine the role of population, region, and unemployment rates on a candidate's electoral success. My results show that spending is one of many factors that contribute to a candidate's chances of victory, and has only a minimal effect on electoral outcomes. The effect varies between incumbents and challengers, who rely on different channels of money based on their recognition among voters. But even a small positive correlation between outside money and the outcome of elections has the potential to change the political landscape, by creating a higher bar for campaign spending that many underfunded candidates will have trouble reaching.
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