The new report that campaign spending in the 2012 cycle will reach $6 billion has come as depressing news to many despairing over the purchasing of our democracy. Some have held out hope that the sheer numbers will provide a wake-up call to all Americans that something must be done to take this democracy back. I think that’s highly unlikely.
It’s not that we have a perfect system; far from it. It’s simply that the beneficiaries of this system will be the ones with the capacity to change it. The elected officials in the White House or Congress either navigated the out-of-control independent spending successfully or directly benefited from it. They either think that SuperPACs and independent expenditures are a hurdle that people power can overcome, or an ally in the fight for a particular kind of government. Nobody significantly harmed by the campaign finance system will make it to Congress, in other words. They will have lost.
So what’s the constituency on Capitol Hill for changes to the system? Before the flood of SuperPAC and IE money trickled out in 2010, you at least had a majority in the House and 59 votes in the Senate for disclosure. But that was two election cycles ago, and everyone expects a smaller number of Democrats sent to Washington than in the 2009-2010 Congress. So who’s going to lead this crusade?
There’s a fine line between working past an imperfect system and just becoming a product of that system. Politicians, even the good ones, have reason to think that, if they can navigate the flood of outside advertising, anyone can. Indeed, there’s good reason to believe that a lot of SuperPAC money was badly wasted in this campaign cycle. You can make a compelling case that the funding OUTSIDE of elections, in lobbying, has more of an impact than the funding of elections, though the two are symbiotic.
But don’t expect the politicians who made it to be the ones to damn the system that got them there.