By Chris Adams

Since the 2016 election, in which the loser outspent the winner, many people have been asking, “Does money matter?”

After decades of concerns that money would overwhelm the political system, 2016 showed that the money was everywhere: More money, both disclosed and non-disclosed, flooded races from the president on down. Hillary Clinton spent more money than Donald Trump – but it wasn’t enough to win.

In a session with Paul Miller fellows, Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington non-profit, reviewed the legal landscape that governs campaign finance law.

And on that big question: Yes it does, he said – particularly given the amount of time politicians spend fundraising (30 hours a week, for new members of Congress) and the ease with which donors get access to politicians’ ears.

It’s also far more important on down-ballot races than it is in the presidential election, for which free media and massive Twitter accounts can negate traditional spending.

“It definitely does still matter,” Fischer said.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a case that overturned restrictions on independent expenditures by corporations and unions, has had a major impact on campaigns since the Supreme Court ruling in 2010. But other cases have also played an important role since the modern campaign finance system was put into place in the 1970s.

One of those was McCutcheon v. FEC, in 2014, in which the court struck down aggregate limits that prohibited an individual from giving more than $48,600 combined to all federal candidates, and $74,600 combined to all parties and political action committees. That helped joint-fundraising committees flower, allowing candidates and parties to collect massive amounts of money to spread among different candidates – although there are ways to use the money for the benefit of a single candidate.

Fischer also suggested several emerging campaign-finance trends reporters should be aware of, including moves by candidates and aligned super PACs to push the rules against coordination; moves to create limited liability companies to funnel undisclosed money into super PACs; and efforts to spend money left over from state-level races on federal campaigns (such as when a state senator runs for Congress).