In my previous column, I took issue with liberals who take a “purist” view of financial regulation—who believe it’s wrong to appoint regulators or elect lawmakers who take campaign contributions from the financial industry, or who’ve worked in that industry in the past, or who won’t pledge never to work for it in the future. The idea is to keep regulation free of corrupting influence, but in fact their position makes it less likely that we regulate the industry well. I wrote about three of the reasons in my last column: If you worry too much about purity, you lose the inside knowledge of the industry that can make regulators more effective, as well as a personal connection with firms that can actually increase the likelihood they’ll comply with the rules.
The 2016 presidential contenders are stretching the latitude they have to work with their independent allies more than candidates in recent elections ever dared, taking advantage of a narrowly drawn rule that separates campaigns from outside groups. For the first time, nearly every top presidential hopeful has a personalized super PAC that can raise unlimited sums and is run by close associates or former aides. Many also are being boosted by nonprofits, which do not have to disclose their donors.
Last June, Scott Renfroe, a Colorado state senator running in a crowded GOP congressional primary, was hit with a slashing attack ad that accused him of supporting “taxpayer-funded bailouts” for a failed local bank. “Not conservative,” declared the ad run by a Denver-based nonprofit called Citizens for a Sound Government. The spot hit two weeks before the primary, which Renfroe lost by 20 points. The innocuous-sounding group was among a wave of organizations funded by secret donors that set a new high-water mark in the 2014 midterms, spending more than $170 million on congressional races, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The richest Americans hold more of the nation’s wealth than they have in almost a century. What do they spend it on? As you might expect, personal jets, giant yachts, works of art, and luxury penthouses. And also on politics. In fact, their political spending has been growing faster than their spending on anything else. It’s been growing even faster than their wealth.
The 2014 election season acquired its fair share of nicknames: the Nothing Election, the Seinfeld Election, and the Meh Midterms. Here's another: the Year of Koch. Big money from outside spenders like the Koch brothers' political network and the pro-Democratic Senate Majority PAC dominated this year's elections. In the battleground states, a voter couldn't watch five minutes of television, listen to the radio, or cue up a YouTube clip without being bombarded by political ads, most of them of the minor-chord, attack-ad variety. Broadcasters in Alaska, North Carolina, Colorado, and other critical states collected money by the fistful. Major candidates galore had a deep-pocketed super-PAC or a political nonprofit in his or her corner.
The Daily Show declared money in politics as the true victor of the 2014 midterm elections, in an acknowledgement of just how much money was spent on all the races this past year. Before adjusting for inflation, this year's congressional races were the most expensive ever. The Senate race in North Carolina, for example, was the costliest in history.
In September, a proposal to amend the US Constitution to allow tougher campaign finance and election spending restrictions went down to defeat in the Senate, on a party-line vote. Now, a new analysis by Common Cause rounded up the latest lobbying filings to find which interest groups disclosed lobbying against this amendment. Here are some of its findings:
THE 30-SECOND TV SPOT is stark and brutal. First it shows the bespectacled face of candidate Louis Butler, then a grainy mug shot of an ex-con. "Louis Butler worked to put criminals on the street," the narrator warns, "like Reuben Lee Mitchell, who raped an 11-year-old girl with learning disabilities." After Mitchell's release from prison, the narrator continues, he raped again. "Can Wisconsin families feel safe with Louis Butler?" This attack ad wasn't from a bitterly fought congressional race. It was from a 2008 campaign for state Supreme Court justice—a position that until recently was considered above the fray of partisan politics.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was considered a judge’s judge when she was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993, an incrementalist who thought Roe v. Wade might have gone too far. Some liberals were wary. But they don’t worry about “R.B.G.” anymore. At 81, Ginsburg has become an icon to the left, inspiring fanwear and Tumblr tributes. Her dissents in the most hotly contested of the Court’s recent cases unabashedly defend progressive principles while taking her colleagues to task. (“The Court falters at each step of its analysis,” she wrote in her dissent of the five-four Hobby Lobby ruling.
We are at a pivotal moment in American history. Building the United States of America has been long, arduous and rife with setbacks. But throughout the years, we have undoubtedly moved toward a more inclusive democracy. We expanded the right to vote. We eliminated the poll tax. We banned corporations from donating to campaigns after the scandals of the Gilded Age and imposed stricter limits on donations and expenditures after Watergate. But today, those improvements are in serious jeopardy. The Supreme Court struck down a major part of the Voting Rights Act and Congress has yet to pass a fix. Voter ID laws are the new poll taxes. And thanks to years of pressure from conservative activists, five members of the Supreme Court have destroyed more than a century of campaign-finance laws.
The gridlocked Congress may be stalled in efforts to stem the flood of dark money into U.S. elections, but a new analysis suggests much of America doesn't necessarily need to wait for Washington to act in order to shed light on secret campaign cash.
It’s an off election year, but the super PAC fundraising numbers so far in 2013 probably don’t look like what you’d expect: liberal groups are bringing in more cash than conservative ones. Liberal-aligned super PACs raised a combined $40 million in the first half of 2013, according to the Center for Public Integrity, which reviewed filings submitted to the Federal Election Commission. Conservative groups, meanwhile, raised a combined $20 million.
The Internal Revenue Service scandal is catnip for conservatives who claim that President Obama's leftish leviathan is out to get them. But the reality of what happened is far more nuanced and complicated.
Following the most expensive presidential election in history, Los Angeles voters are set to become the largest electorate to vote whether to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. The LA City Council voted Wednesday to draft ballot language for voters to weigh in on whether they believe there should be limits on campaign spending and whether corporations should have the same rights as people.