The Nation

John Nichols

This article appeared in the February 18, 2013 edition of The Nation.


“There is little in the way of good news on the campaign finance front. In 2012, campaigns for every office—from the presidency to the San Jose City Council—cost exponentially more than ever before. It is certainly true that right-wing billionaires like Sheldon Adelson blew fortunes on losing political bets, as did the US Chamber of Commerce and other groups that had hoped to buy elections with unlimited expenditures. But as Public Campaign’s Nick Nyhart notes, “billionaires lost, but big money won.” Republicans backed by Adelson and the Koch brothers got beat by Democratic campaigns and progressive interest groups that came close to—and sometimes matched—Republican and conservative spending. Even those who complain about the political arms race reject unilateral disarmament. The pay-to-play political process remains cloaked in “dark money” secrecy, as special interests develop new schemes to use and abuse it, and every indication is that the courts are determined to make things worse.

The situation is overwhelming—and that’s the good news. The days of imagining we can merely tinker around the edges of America’s historically dysfunctional system for funding political campaigns with private dollars are over. There is no small reform that will begin to adequately control what former Senator Russ Feingold identifies as “legalized bribery.” That understanding is what has made even the winners under the current system, led by President Obama, recognize that big changes are needed.”

“Campaign-finance reform movements have been around for more than a century, in varying forms. They have always had popular support, but never before have they seen the level of specific and sustained engagement now on display. Eleven states have moved legislatively or at the polls to call for a constitutional amendment, with Colorado (an Obama state) and Montana (a Romney state) both voting on November 6, by roughly 75 to 25 percent margins, to urge their congressional delegations to propose and support an amendment that allows Congress and the states to limit campaign contributions and spending.”

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