This election cycle was the most expensive in history. Candidates, Super Pacs, and political parties spent around $6 billion on federal, state, and local elections. The Obama and Romney campaigns spent a little under $2 billion dollars combined. In the post-Citizen’s United era the media-political industrial complex flourishes like never before. A majority of the spending bought TV ad space, especially in the swing states. I spent one weekend down in Miami and I saw political ads every commercial break. 300,000+ ads aired in Ohio alone. And yet what did all this money by?
Sheldon Adelson, the godfather of Newt Gingrich’s campaign and single largest donor in the 2012 election, spent over $50 million. And what does he have to show for it? Every candidate he backed at the state level lost, except one (I believe he lost 9/10) and Sheldon contributed $20 million to the failed primary campaign of Newt. Too many $50 million is more than we will make over many lifetimes, but it is pocket change to Sheldon. He stated he would spend over $100 million to defeat President Obama, so by his standards he went cheap this election cycle.
Karl Rove was another grand spender of this election cycle. He planned to defeat President Obama and win back the Senate for Republicans via Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads. These groups spent over $300 million combined! And once again I ask, what do they have to show for it? Democrats actually gained seats in the Senate and by any metric Karl Rove, Crossroads GPS, and American Crossroads were failures.
So what did we learn from this election? Money cannot buy victories? The consequences of Citizen’s United and unlimited political contributions by corporations and unions were overstated? Some people are making that exact argument; that this election cycle shows we don’t have to worry about campaign finance reform and political spending.
However, if this election has shown anything, it is that individuals and corporations will spend exponentially large amounts of money to help the candidates they support. And it just so happens that the most fervent contributors also possess the most extreme views. As Democrats and Republicans have moved to the radical left and right, the last thing we need are more extreme candidates.
Today it is way too easy for a Karl Rove or a Sheldon Adelson to fund a campaign against a candidate he does not agree with; or for Grover Norquist and American’s for Tax Reform to fund a challenger to a Republican Congressman who did not sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to not raise taxes - under any circumstances!
These are not the candidates America needs. We need more moderate, bipartisan candidates, and not for far left / far right candidates who refuse to compromise. And we need 3rd party candidates who have real chances at winning elections. So until I start to see billions of dollars spent on independent campaigns, I will argue against Citizen’s United and for campaign finance reform.
The real loser’s in the post Citizen’s United era are the American people because more political spending leads to more extreme candidates, which leads to less compromise and governance, which leads to more cynicism and punditry in the media, which leads to more political spending by radical individuals.