"Concerns over financing federal elections have become a seemingly perennial aspect of our political system, long centered on the enduring issues of high campaign costs and reliance on interest groups for needed campaign funds. Rising election costs had long fostered a sense in some quarters that spending was out of control, with too much time spent raising funds and elections 'bought and sold.' Debate had also focused on the role of interest groups in campaign funding, especially through political action committees (PACs). Differences in perceptions of the campaign finance system were compounded by the major parties' different reform approaches. Democrats tended to favor more regulation, with spending limits and some public funding or benefits a part of their past proposals. Republicans generally opposed such limits and public funding. The 1996 elections marked a turning point in the debate's focus, as it shifted from whether to further restrict already-regulated spending and funding sources to addressing activities largely or entirely outside federal election law regulation and disclosure requirements. Although concerns had long been rising over soft money in federal elections, the widespread and growing use of soft money for so-called issue advocacy since 1996 raised questions over the integrity of existing regulations and the feasibility of any limits on campaign money."
CRS Issue Brief for Congress, IB87020
U.S. Dept. of State: http://www.state.gov/