Big Money Still Threatens Democracy Post-Election

Because many of the candidates backed by mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson and Super PACs like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads came up short this election, it’s tempting to conclude that big money in elections is nothing to worry about.

That’s a mistake. Here’s why:

First of all, even though superPACs couldn’t swing the presidency or some of the high-profile Senate races, they often drove the debate. And downticket races, especially House races and local elections, proved particularly susceptible to outside influence. Because those contests attracted less news coverage, it was easier it is to control the narrative by flooding the airwaves with negative ads.

Let’s not lose perspective here—according to OpenSecrets, the better-financed candidate in House races won 93% of the time. That means the new Congress will be spending a lot more time thinking about how to pay back their funders, and a lot less thinking about how to help you and me.

In fact, if someone tells you that the biggest problem with money in politics is that it can swing key races, they’re completely missing the point. When millionaires spend money on candidates, they’re making an investment, and millionaires don’t become millionaires by making investments that don’t pay off.

That’s why the most damaging effects of dark money will be seen over the next year, rather than on Election Day. Once they take office, winning candidates will have the opportunity to return the favors that got them into office.

And because loopholes and front groups make so many of these donations anonymously, it’ll be much harder for journalists and watchdogs to connect campaign spending to legislative action.

Ultimately, we the voters are the biggest losers here. When candidates have to spend so much time and care wrangling donors and begging for money, they have that much less time to talk with and listen to voters. And, when campaign dialogue is dominated by the sort of mudslinging ads that SuperPACs traffic in, it’s that much harder to have a constructive debate.

This election, we saw how unchecked political spending can dominate our dialogue and our democracy.

That’s why it’s so important that we take decisive action now to overturn Citizens United and get big money out of politics. After all, insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results—if we don’t get serious about reform, elections in 2014, 2016, and beyond will just be more of the same.

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