Citizens United: All the Worry, None of the Effect
Well, this is a little egg on the face of the likes of the super-liberals and Russ Feingold-types, so at least there is that going for free speech in the 21st Century.
Outside money was the dog that barked but did not bite. Obama and other Democrats had long made dire predictions about the potential impact of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds on elections and created an entirely new class of wealthy political groups.
The money did dramatically change the focus and character of many campaigns. Candidates up and down the ballot were forced to spend more time than ever raising donations, while political advertising funded by outsiders was even more negative than before. Wealthy donors were so central to Romney’s campaign that a swarm of private luxury jets caused a traffic jam at Boston’s airport just prior to the nominee’s Tuesday night election party.
“Its lasting impact will be that it fueled the public’s disgust about politics,” said David Donnelly of the Public Campaign Action Fund, which favors stricter campaign-finance regulations.
Yet super PACs and secretive nonprofit groups — which spent up to $10 million a day on the presidential race alone — couldn’t move the needle far enough to prevail in nearly any of the big races they targeted. Outside money allowed Romney to be competitive with Obama, but that meant the candidate had no direct control over much of the spending, while his own campaign was plagued by high personnel costs and lavish consulting fees.
In the end, the two sides reached a kind of dreary equilibrium, clogging the airwaves with so many attack ads that Republican groups began airing spots in California and other deep-blue states where they had little chance of victory. By the end of October, more than a million commercials had been broadcast in a presidential race that remained close to a dead heat for much of the year.
Liberals will still be given dog-whistle phrases like “Koch Brothers” and “Citizens United” to encourage outrage at outside spending in politics — unless it’s from unions, that’s their money, dammit! — even when all it is being proven to show at the moment is that it is just more noise to be sacrificed to the channel changer or fast forward on the DVR.