Opinion: Not So Fast, Big Money is STILL Ruining our Democracy

Friday, September 28, 2012 - 11:19 AM

A still from a negative ad produced by Crossroads GPS, a SuperPAC supporting Republican candidates. (Youtube)

"Citizens United hasn't changed everything" seemed to be the claim coming out of a series of articles over the past few days. First there was word that Romney's campaign didn't have nearly as much cash as was predicted and feared. Then the New York Times report that the pro-Obama SuperPACs were finally competitive with their pro-Romney rivals. And New York Magazine broke down the cash comparisons of the two campaigns in key states arguing, with its provocative title "how the election wasn't bought."

This should be a sigh of relief for many of us who were concerned that dirty, secret corporate money was going to wipe out democracy this year. But I'm no sighing and I'm not relieved. Citizens United is still bad for our democracy... and still bad for this election cycle.

First of all, Democrats raising as much as Republicans doesn't mean their money is any more pure. Maybe Wall Street has focused on the GOP - but defense contractors have been supporting the Obama effort. Obama may have more small dollar donors than Romney, but he has plenty of support from the super-rich, lobbyists and power-brokers who expect returns on their investment. Obama's competitive fundraising may mean this election isn't bought for Romney - but it doesn't mean the buyers haven't bought the election. In a race of nearly limitless money, those who can pay more get to play more.

We'll see this in policy decisions down the road: whether it's the major role insurers played in shaping Obamacare, or the defense industry's motivation to keep us in a state of perpetual war. Whoever wins in November, somebody paid to help them get there.

The second impact that this amount of money has is in shaping the presidential race itself. You have a relatively popular incumbent running for reelection. On the other side, you have a man who embodies the 1 percent, insults the 47 percent, has never been embraced by his own party's base, yet has been beholden to that base in a way that has chased away all of the highly-prized independent voters, can't connect with the public and can't find any spark. Yet polls show it's close. It would be hard to explain that reality without seeing the impact of deep coffers.

As a result, the candidates also keep needing to debate what big donors want them to debate. So the public is treated to an expensive ad campaign for pet issues of major donors and industry backers. Money isn't just going to skew how they govern; it twists how they campaign.

Citizens United's biggest impact, though, won't be in the presidential race. Despite the Obama campaign's dire warnings, most believed that an incumbent would be able to raise the money he needed to stay competitive. In Senate and Congressional races, though, that won't be the case.

Until recent polls shows Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio pulling ahead, the relentless flow of SuperPAC money was making a close race in Ohio. Money may make the difference in key Senate races in Wisconsin, Nevada and Connecticut. In Massachusetts and Virginia, where candidates for both parties are gifted fundraisers, the hopefuls need to keep speaking to donors more than they can to voters.

The Senate could swing with the momentum of corporate and SuperPAC money. Numerous House seats and countless state legislative races can be turned by investments that are relatively small for corporations and mega-millionaires. The real impact of money in politics won't be as obvious at the top of the ticket -- but it is already transforming these lower-ticket races.

Americans know this. We might root for one party or another and be happy when we see fundraising totals. But we also root for our democracy and know that it's being done a disservice by the floods of campaign cash. This cycle we may be electing a president, but the real fight for fair elections has to continue beyond November 6th, to ensure we have a democracy we continue to be proud of.


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Comments [3]

Mark Richard from Columbus OH

I'm unable after reading this dissertation to understand why public money, in the form of pork-barreling and other vote-buying, is not a threat to our democracy, but private campaign advertising is a threat.

I have also noted left-leaning ideologues averting their eyes from the tough questions, such as: why should a private, profit-seeking media corporation such as the NY Times, or a semi-public media corporation such as the Corporation for Public Bfroadcasting, have rights to political speech not available to private, profit-seeking non-media corporations? That's all 'Citizens United' did - it gave non-media corporations the same rights to political speech as media corporations.

Oct. 16 2012 04:57 PM

If a corporation donating their private funds to support a candidate is damaging to our Republic (not democracy) than what should be said of a President and his party that spends over a trillion dollars of public funds to pander in the short term to unions, interest groups and particular segments of society in order to secure their votes for himself with no serious plan to pay for any of it?
A CEO who spent and borrowed billions of dollars with no budget would be in serious legal trouble but for a President it is used as an excuse to give him another four years on the job.

Sep. 30 2012 10:27 AM

Your assessment that big money is bad for democracy is flawed. Corruption and influence peddling, self-interest seeking, and let's face it ownership of the system is not damaging to democracy. The people are not compelled to buy into the lies, distortions, misinformation or hatred paid for by these entities. In fact the people have freely accepted that this abuse of the rich and powerful to take over the election process is in itself a democratic choice. If the people cared about being lied to, being defrauded, having their personal wealth stolen and used against them; the people have the ability to change it. But at this moment and in these circumstances they are still to afraid to take a stance against it. They are still willing to cower and bow down to Republican and Democratic ideologies that have been and are being warped to extremes that are a disservice to America and American ideals and values. The public accepts the incompentent and inept leadership of these mighty institutions that are weakening the nation and jeopardizing our very freedoms and democracy.

Either persons of vision and principle will stand up and oppose these fanatic power-hungry scum, who will offer an understandable path forward based on shared interests and shared responsibilities or the Republican and Democratic parties will deliver our democratic system into the hands of tyrants and despots.

Sep. 28 2012 08:49 PM

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