Midterm Elections and the Influx of Corporate Cash
Corporate money bombs! Hundreds of millions of dollars from outside groups are being spent in this election. The overwhelming majority of it benefiting Republicans and much of it from corporate special interests. Or…corporate money bombs…BOOM!!
Large sums of money being spent in elections are nothing new. Campaigns are increasingly expensive endeavors. What’s unprecedented about this election is that we have very little information about where the money is coming from. Third party groups constituted as non-profits are not required to disclose donor information. These groups are allowed to operate surreptitiously and with a lack of accountability that’s ahistorical. A report by Public Citizen found [PDF] that in the 2004 election, 98 percent of outside groups disclosed the names of donors who paid for their political ads. This election season, only 32 percent have done so.
Interest groups are spending five times as much in this election as they did in the last midterm election. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $21 million thus far and plans to drop an additional $50 million. American Crossroads has spent a little over $20 million with plans to spend in excess of $60 million before the election. And the American Future Fund has spent a $9 million. Together, they’ve spent the most of all third-party groups.
Fred Wertheimer, the president of the nonprofit group Democracy 21, recently predicted that more than $200 million will be spent on ads that can’t be traced back to their original source. Come 2012, Wertheimer expects that number to exceed $500 million.
The Citizens United decision has enabled this political environment. If there is not a legislative fix, this year could prelude the death knell of any and all restrictions on campaign finance, which would be a truly horrific development.
Times columnist David Brooks argues that we shouldn’t be worried by all this spending. According to Brooks, at the end of the day the millions spent by special interests has a marginal if any impact at all on who wins.
But why do deep-pocket special interests spend inordinate amounts of money during elections? To exercise their First Amendment rights? Possibly there’s some truth to that. But donating millions of dollars bring influence, and buys a seat at the table, or maybe even a representative or two.
Pundits have been searching all year for the most apt label for this election. Rise of the Tea Party? Democrats desert Obama? The right wing strikes back? Labels help us understand and fixate on a narrative, right? This election may best be described by the increasing corporate influence in, over and around our political process.
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