In a recent article, Gavin Aronsen reported on James Bopp’s reaction to the 2012 elections. As the architect of a political strategy to dismantle campaign finance law which gave us Citizen’s United v. FEC, Bopp feels his ideology has been vindicated.
“The lesson here is all the hype over independent spending was just completely overblown,” Bopp says. “Nobody can buy an election.”
Nothing to see here, move along.
His avowed goal is to create a laissez-faire campaign system dominated by wealthy individuals and corporations, which in light of the 2012 elections has been overwhelmingly successful. Now he would like to direct your attention to the fact that the electorate still matters (somewhat) in our democracy, and the voice of the voters has not been completely overwhelmed by the screech of endless attack ads. I too, find this encouraging, but entirely beside the point.
While money’s effect on voters is a serious concern, the explicit and implied obligations of candidates is a far greater and more immediate threat. Most if not all candidates for federal office received large donations from wealthy corporations and individuals, and that bill will come due throughout the next term. President Obama and all members of the 113th Congress are still beholden to their major donors who, betting on both red and blue, were certain to win whoever was elected.
Likewise the fund-raising frenzy continues, sapping the time and energy which should be spent improving the lives of all Americans and implementing real solutions to our most pressing problems; solutions which in many cases enjoy broad public support but somehow never make it through a system rigged to favor wealthy donors.
The article also quotes Mr. Bopp as saying,
“There’s a general cynicism among the American people about politicians and politics … they could care less about campaign finance.”
He must not have noticed, but voters in eight states had the chance to weigh in on this issue and in every case supported a Constitutional amendment to limit election spending and corporate rights by 70-80% margins. Voters very clearly care about campaign reform, regardless of party affiliation.
Even taken strictly on his own terms, Bopp may be mistaken. He admits that without Citizens United the election would have turned out much worse for Republicans. I agree. So does unlimited spending have a powerful influence on elections or not? We can’t re-run the election to see what would have happened without the influence of big money. According to a report from Public Citizen, outside money played a dominant role in the mid-term elections. It will take similar careful analysis to really see how that influence increased or waned over time, but would anyone seriously propose that in 2014 or 2016 major candidates will restrict their fundraising to small donors and reject big money?
Ask Buddy Roemer, who ran for President in 2012 first as a Republican, then as an Independent, accepting only donations of $100 or less. You never heard of Buddy Roemer? Exactly. Granting that other influences may have played an important role in the 2012 election, even Mr. Bopp agrees that SuperPAC money still talks.
I must admit I feared the worst going into this year’s election. I could not predict what effect such an unprecedented flood of secret money might have, but the outlook was grim. So while it is comforting to see that unregulated money isn’t the only thing that matters in U.S. politics, we should not relax our efforts to reform the system and make it accountable to all Americans, not just Super-PACs.