How state political parties helped big money pay for this year’s elections

How state political parties helped big money pay for this year’s elections
An election official wipes down a table after every voter in Buckingham County, Nov. 3, 2020. (Source: Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

WASHINGTON — State parties played an unprecedented role in financing the presidential election this year, making it possible for the national political parties to raise eye-popping sums from individual donors — and keep more money than they might otherwise be allowed.

That’s all thanks to a 2014 Supreme Court decision that eliminated the overall limit on how much money an individual can donate over a two-year period to national political parties, federal candidates and state parties’ federal accounts combined. The limit had been in place since the Watergate era.

There’s nothing illegal about what happened, but a States Newsroom analysis of federal data shows how nearly every state Republican and Democratic party helped pump more big money into this year’s elections. The system also benefited swing states like Florida, North Carolina and Georgia more than states where races weren’t as close, like Maryland, Virginia or Tennessee.

During the 2016 presidential election, Republicans and Democrats tested this new world of campaign finance created by the Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

But in 2020, they appear to have perfected the scheme, which critics have called essentially a Supreme Court-sanctioned money laundering operation.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.