CAMPAIGN SPENDING: THE FUTURE

ABSTRACT: The huge sums of money in our political system are corrupting it, in subtle and not so subtle ways, and are undermining the promise of democracy of, by, and for the people. We the people need to work to blunt the impact and eventually stop the flow of these huge amounts of money. Steps that could and should be taken include: 1) Legislation at the federal and state levels should be enacted promptly that requires disclosure on a timely basis of all political spending and the sources of the funds; 2) Lobbyists’ contributions to candidates must be severely restricted and perhaps prohibited; 3) Tougher rules and enforcement are needed of the ban on coordination between Super PACs or other groups and candidates’ campaigns; and 4) Ultimately, a Constitutional Amendment is needed to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

 I urge you to communicate to your elected representatives at the federal and state levels your concern about the corrupting influence of huge amounts of money in our political system. Ask them what remedies they support and encourage them to support the steps listed above.

FULL POST: The huge sums of money in our political system are corrupting it, in subtle and not so subtle ways, and are undermining the promise of democracy of, by, and for the people. Despite the fact that all the outside money and all the advertising it bought were less effective in the 2012 election than was anticipated and than was hoped for by those paying for it, the big spenders learned some valuable lessons. They won’t give up on their efforts to influence and control government and its policy making. They will find more effective ways to use their money and will have substantial impacts in the future. [1] Therefore, we the people need to work to blunt the impact and eventually stop the flow of these huge amounts of money.

First, some of the lessons the big spenders learned:

  • Advertising, and particularly negative advertising, has diminishing returns as the amount of it and repetition of it increases.
  • Grassroots efforts to identify and turn out supporters can have a big impact.
  • Grassroots, person-to-person communications can be more effective than advertising.
  • Untested candidates or ones with extreme positions are more likely to lose.
  • Money can have a bigger impact in less visible, lower cost races.

The less visible, lower cost races include primary, US House of Representatives, and state office races (as opposed to the final Presidential election and final US Senate races). In the Republican Presidential primary, the big money from Super PACs clearly had an effect. Money from the Super PAC supporting Romney deluged state primary elections with negative advertising against whichever competitor was threatening Romney at that point. This clearly allowed Romney to win state primaries he wouldn’t have won otherwise. Huge Super PAC expenditures by extremely rich individuals single-handedly kept Gingrich and Santorum in the primary race longer than they would have been otherwise. [2]

In lower cost races, a given amount of money (e.g., $100,000) is more significant, may overwhelm other campaign spending, and can have a disproportionate impact, especially if spent late in the election period and as a surprise. State office races such as those for Governor, state legislative seats, and elected judges can be dramatically affected by relatively small amounts of money. State ballot initiatives can also be significantly altered by relatively small sums of money.

Given the corrosive effects of huge amounts of money in our political system, a New York Times Editorial stated, “A backlash against the damaging power of big money cannot come too soon.” [3] Steps that could and should be taken include:

  • Legislation at the federal and state levels should be enacted promptly that requires disclosure on a timely basis of all political spending and the sources of the funds. The DISCLOSE Act that has been introduced in Congress is one example. (It was filibustered by Senate Republicans multiple times.) Disclosure must cover all entities engaged in political spending, including non-profit, “social welfare” groups, known as 501(c)(4)s to the IRS.
  • Lobbyists’ contributions to candidates must be severely restricted and perhaps prohibited, especially for an elected official sitting on the legislative committee that oversees the special interest the lobbyist represents. The definition of a lobbyist must be expanded to cover all individuals and entities that work to influence government policies, rules, and regulations. The ability of lobbyists and others to deliver aggregated contributions from multiple individuals or groups, often referred to as “bundling,” and which can occur through fundraising events organized by a lobbyist, should be banned or at least fully disclosed.
  • Tougher rules and enforcement are needed of the ban on coordination between Super PACs or other groups and candidates’ campaigns. The overlap and connections between candidates’ current and former campaign staff and the staff of the supposedly independent groups, and the use of the same consultants, provide clear evidence that these groups are not, in fact, independent. [4]
  • Ultimately, a Constitutional Amendment is needed to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, to make it clear that corporations are not persons with Constitutional rights, that money is not the same as speech, and that corporations and political spending can be regulated.

 I urge you to communicate to your elected representatives at the federal and state levels your concern about the corrupting influence of huge amounts of money in our political system. Ask them what remedies they support and encourage them to support the steps listed above.


[1]       New York Times Editorial, 11/10/12, “A landslide loss for big money,” The New York Times

[2]       Boston Globe Editorial, 11/8/12, “Billionaires: Now, mind your own business(es),” The Boston Globe

[3]       New York Times Editorial, 11/10/12, “A landslide loss for big money,” The New York Times

[4]       Boston Globe Editorial, 9/29/12, “As super PACs link arms, mega-donors’ clout increases,” The Boston Globe

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