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Money equals Influence?

How Political Action Committees and SuperPACs influenced Washington Reporters during the 2016 Presidential Primaries

What contributed to the rise of candidate Donald Trump? One answer to that is the role of PACs and SuperPACs in the 2016 primaries. After SCOTUS rulings in 2009 and 2014, the amounts of money available to PACs were almost unlimited. Yet, SuperPACs cannot coordinate with campaigns. The amount of coverage determines the success of a candidate more than the content, thus they were expected to use free media and make an effort to influence journalists. Using qualitative content analysis of nine standardized interviews with on-beat-journalists in Washington, D.C., the author tried to identify that influence. The most prominent results were: Washington journalists knew PAC-Communicators from prior meetings in the “Washington Bubble”, yet the relationship was low-grade due to perceived interest and lack of reliability. Information from PACs came in the form of „tip-offs“ or no-fingerprint research subsidies, containing attacks on the opponent. PACs matched information to the criteria of news making – while the soil for subsidies was fertile, due to time and economic pressures. The role performance of DC journalists shifts towards „activist for truth“, manifesting most prominently in the rise of fact-checking. A point can be made that the growth of money outside the party system enforced this change and a focus towards politics outside of the two-party-controlled establishment, which led to a success of candidates who neglected PACs and were little tied to their party.