The surge of super PAC funding in the 2012 election cycle, which kept many otherwise flagging candidates staying longer into the primary calendar than otherwise possible, looks set to repeat itself in 2016, according to The Washington Post
"Super PACs were an enormously potent factor in the primaries," Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, told the Post. "This was such a critical piece of who was viable and how long."
She added that a surge of super PAC spending enabled candidates to "remain competitive well past the point where they would otherwise."
The Post recounted how former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who ran in 2012 and did poorly in the Iowa GOP caucuses, nevertheless stayed on the campaign trail with the backing of a super PAC funded largely by his father. It massively outspent what his campaign would have been able to do on its own.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich also benefited in 2012 from a PAC funded by Nevada casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The PAC buoyed Gingrich after he limped through the New Hampshire primary, and was credited for delivering his victory in the South Carolina primary.
Since 2012, outside spending has continued to grow, and in both 2012 and 2014 outside groups spent more money in most key races
than the candidates themselves.
"Candidates for president being able to stay in the race thanks to massive outside spending probably would have seemed unlikely even five years ago," the Post said. "There's little doubt that the importance of PACs will expand during the 2016 election, in ways still being thought up by the lawyers working for likely presidential contenders."
It was the Supreme Court's 2010 "Citizens United" ruling that paved the way for unlimited outside spending.
There are advantages to the phenomenon of super PACs propping up candidates, the Post said. It potentially offers a chance for third parties and lesser-known candidates to gain some momentum and challenge more politically powerful front-runners in a way that they otherwise would not have been able.
At the same time, concerns continue to exist about the rising influence of outside spending and the ways that the spirit of the law can be skirted.
For example, while outside groups and campaigns are prohibited from coordinating, potential candidates thinking of running for office can work closely with outside groups to establish an comprehensive campaign strategy before they officially declare their candidacy, the Post said.
Separately, although outside spending did not give Huntsman or Gingrich the momentum to prevail, it's conceivable that candidates in future races could become viable and ultimately win because of the support they received from major funding sources, the Post said.
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