'Winner-Take-All Politics'

The mix of money and politics has reached new heights.

November 17, 2011
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Unchecked spending

It is hard to believe that the authors of the Federalist Papers—Madison, Hamilton, and Jay—would have supported the U.S. Supreme Court’s narrow but landmark 5-4 decision in 2010 for Citizens United.

That ruling held that the First Amendment prohibits government from censoring political broadcasts in candidate elections when those broadcasts are funded by corporations or unions.

That decision deep-sixed attempts at campaign finance reform and opened the floodgates to unlimited “soft” money from political action committees (PACs), Super PACs, and individuals so long as those entities were not directly tied to a candidate’s campaign.

The 2010 elections were the first elections following Citizens United, and the impact of the court’s decision was clear, according to the nonprofit and nonpartisan investigative journalism group ProPublica.

A greater sum of money than ever flowed through the 2010 campaigns and much of it was provided by new groups that are barely regulated.

Citing a new 2011 report from the Federal Elections Commission, ProPublica claims that independent spending by PACs, groups, and individuals more than quadrupled over the previous election cycle.

Outside spending

Spending by political parties stayed roughly the same, showing that this new campaign-financing landscape is eclipsing traditional party fundraising efforts because these new groups can take in unlimited funds.

The result is independent groups forming a shadow campaign apparatus fueled by unlimited and often undisclosed contributions—without the same accountability required of political parties or candidates’ own PACs.

An example is the unavoidable and constant presence of issue advertising that makes television advertising executives drool over the revenue they bring. Issue ads don’t explicitly endorse candidates but they are terribly effective in swaying voter preferences despite their misleading, negative, and highly subjective tone.

Increasingly, these national shadow groups are pouring money into state and local elections as well, as witnessed by the record amounts of outside money spent on the recall elections in Wisconsin this past spring by corporate interests and unions alike, as well as the successful campaign that overturned recent Ohio legislation affecting public sector union employees.

In Wisconsin, an effort to recall Governor Scott Walker officially kicked off November 15, but a Walker sponsor registered his “intent” to recall Walker on November 1. That trumped the planned kick off and jump started the flow of unlimited and untraceable money in support of the governor two weeks ahead of his opponents.

Next: Crossing the Rubicon

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