A constitutional amendment granting Congress and states the authority to enact common-sense campaign finance regulations progressed in the Senate this week, passed by a Judiciary subcommittee 5-4. Coincidentally, a new report from election experts at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law delves deep into the political effects of so much money in our system. The authors worked for more than a year interviewing former and current members of Congress, campaign and legislative staff, and other political figures.
There's a lot in the report to make it worth reading the whole thing, but here's what's possibly the most disturbing of their key findings: "Members of Congress see independent spending as a threat—usually implicit but sometimes explicit—for those who refuse to toe the line of outside groups."
What does that lead to? Here's a handful of former members explaining:
"When Club for Growth first came out we used to laugh about them, we used to chuckle on the floor… But, after the Citizens United case, they became….much more active….if you didn't behave in a certain way they would come into your district and spend a lot of money to make sure you were defeated in the primary."—Former Rep. Steve LaTourette (p. 87-88)That's exactly what these groups want—to put that fear into the hearts of lawmakers. The far-right groups—the ones that have the really serious money in this game, like the Kochs—have had tremendous success at that. Just look at the Republican House, or even the degree of obstruction by Senate Republicans since 2009. There's an ideological line to toe if they want to keep their jobs. And that's not even getting into the issue of how many people are kept out of politics because of the overwhelming amounts of money involved.
"You're already threatened.... You're sitting there saying ... is Americans for Prosperity going to advertise against me in a primary, yes or no?....If you're sitting there making a decision, [thinking]… we'd better do something about it, but if I do something about it, I know the Koch brothers are going to run an ad against me. I know they're going to put a lot of money to try to defeat me in a primary. I know it… They don't have to threaten me…the net effect is the same. I'm afraid to do what I think is right."—Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who ran for Senate again in 2012 (p. 82)