In the months and years following Citizens United — which struck down a large chuck of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law — Democrats pushed for legislation that would require disclosure for entities that are now able to give anonymously and in unlimited amounts. But one of the worst side effects of the court ruling, which most Republicans support, is that it has hamstrung formal party organizations such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee. While party organizations must still adhere to strict disclosure and coordination rules, the Supreme Court opened up nearly infinite possibilities for outside groups to grow, spend and coordinate. The result is that members such as Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., — the conservative kingmaker who once said, “I’d rather have 30 Marco Rubios in the Senate than 60 Arlen Specters” — can be just as influential as leaders such as McConnell or NRSC Chairman John Cornyn of Texas.
In both 2010 and 2012, more conservative candidates emerged from primaries. Though that has resulted in some successes for Republicans, such as in the case of Rubio in 2010 and Nebraska Sen.-elect Deb Fischer on Nov. 6, it has also led to some spectacular failures in the general election.
In 2010, the NRSC tried to pick its candidates in the primaries only to have a tea party electorate reject them in favor of candidates that were perceived as more conservative. In 2012, the NRSC largely sat on the sidelines in the primaries, leading to primary winners such as Rep. Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, who went on to lose seats that were otherwise considered prime GOP pickup opportunities. This year, every Senate Democratic incumbent kept his or her seat, and Democrats were able to put Republicans on defense in states such as Arizona, where the GOP has traditionally held an advantage.
In September, Roll Call first reported that Cornyn thinks the Senate should look into reform next Congress.
“I think it would be a worthwhile exercise ... next year, to look at our campaign finance system in light of the Supreme Court decisions and say, ‘What makes sense in terms of accountability and with concerns to transparency?’ That I think would be important,” Cornyn told Roll Call then.
And there has always been a small group of Republicans who opposed the Citizens United case and unlimited spending, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. The namesake of the 2002 law told Roll Call in September that “the flood of money, because of the Citizens United case, has destroyed the whole political system as we know it. So I think we have got to go back.”
The 2008 GOP presidential nominee added that there would need to be “scandals and then there will be reform.”
It’s unclear whether failure to recapture the Senate repeatedly will be scandal enough for Republican leaders to consider amending what was once a sacrosanct position.
Moreover, not all Republicans see a correlation between outside groups and un-electable conservative candidates.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with Faye, a pot belly pig, after a news conference held by Citizens Against Government Waste at the Phoenix Park Hotel to release the 2015 Congressional Pig Book which identifies pork-barrel spending in Congress, May 13, 2015.