The Citizens United campaign decision in the US helped lay the groundwork for the proliferation of Super PACs, and is widely credited with increasing the spending gap between wealthy donors and the average citizen.

It's certainly easy to see why it wouldn't increase expenditures by less wealthy individuals: an individual donation limit around $5000 means that only the relatively wealthy can afford to spend the full amount, let alone on multiple elections, let alone seeing that amount of money as disposable.

However, it's less clear why it would notably increase the amount of campaign spending by wealthy donors. Individuals could spend unlimited money on personal advertisements before the decision, and super wealthy donors seemingly already had enough money to easily fund their own advertisements.

However, some research suggests that it increased expenditures by wealthy individuals significantly. Is this the case? And if so, why?

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    I don't have citations, but it's possibly because super-pacs don't have the reporting requirements, which means that they're more anonymous than donating to a PAC or a campaign, or using your own money directly.
    – David Rice
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 18:07

1 Answer 1


Super PACs allow corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money which means that wealthy individuals can now use multiple shell corporations to disguise their campaign contributions. Before Super PACs you had either a limit on how much you could spend (to a PAC) or had to spend the money as an individual and put your legal name on any campaign ad you ran. Now you can donate to a Super PAC unlimited amount and put their name on the ads.

source: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2012/03/the-supreme-courts-citizens-united-decision-has-led-to-an-explosion-of-campaign-spending.html

As for how much it affected spending that's harder to quantify since it's hard to tell who donated and how much. In theory they are supposed to disclose that information (though by allowing companies to donate it's easier to hide behind shell companies and such) but in practice they often delay or refuse to disclose that information until someone forces the point (and the Federal Election Commission seems to do nothing about that). https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/30/congress-super-pacs-donors-hidden-1076623

Super PAC spending was about 1/3 of all political spending in 2018 and other spending has only gone up since Super PACs became a thing so people didn't just switch to them. https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/summ.php?cycle=2018&disp=O&type=A&chrt=P

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