The Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United allowed corporations and the wealthy to exert undue influence on elections. The decision jeopardizes the heart of democracy.
That’s prevailing view of most on the left and the view Mack Paul recently reiterated in a opinion column in the Raleigh News and Observer. Mack lamented how campaign spending threatened to override the independent judgement of voters.
If the narrative is true, big money interests should be able to buy elections. Is that the case? That’s the question Yahoo Finance set out to answer in a recent article. After scrutinizing thousands of federal records on campaign donations in presidential and congressional campaigns in 2012 and 2014, they came to the opposite conclusion. They found:
- Wealthy donors of both parties often back losing candidates, partly because they align themselves with strident left- or right-wingers who have a hard time winning over mainstream voters.
- In many races, there’s a huge amount of money on both sides, with big donors essentially canceling each other out.
- Contrary to conventional wisdom, liberal spending groups have backed a higher percentage of winning candidates during the last two election cycles than conservative groups, perhaps because Democratic President Barack Obama won the White House in 2012, contributing to other Democratic victories.
- Much of the money flooding into politics is spent on political ads that aren’t that effective and sometimes have no discernible effect.
- External factors such as the economy or national political trends are still far more decisive in federal elections than campaign donations.
Recent Supreme Court decisions (Citizens United in 2010 and McCutcheon in 2014) have made virtually limitless campaign spending possible. The decisions however, haven’t made big donors and super PACS spend their money more wisely. Big money can influence, but it certainly doesn’t determine elections.
It’s also interesting to note, of the ten largest super PACs of the last twos election cycles, 6 are liberal, 3 are conservative and 1 independent. Another reality that flies in the face of conventional wisdom.