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It’s Not About the Spending, It’s About the Giving

As the election draws to a close, pundits and other race watchers are attempting to write the final word on the most expensive, secret, and billionaire-friendly election in history.  Many are starting to take the position that in the end, the $6 billion in spending didn’t matter much because swing states voters got so saturated with ads that they tuned out.  If the balance of power doesn’t change, some are even saying, that tsunami of spending will have been for naught.

These folks are missing the point. In the game of high-dollar financing of political campaigns, it’s not about the spending – it’s about the giving. No matter how a campaign spends the check written by a millionaire donor, that millionaire donor has purchased exactly what he or she wanted: influence. 

On November 7th, the real game begins – when those who purchased a full term of access to their favored candidate begin to exercise an undemocratic advantage over the millions of Americans who merely voted, to shape the laws and regulations that are written for all of us.

The giving is why campaign finance rules matter, and the next Congress has a chance to create a new set of rules to put small donors in control, such as the Fair Elections Now Act or the Grassroots Democracy Act.  The good news is that either of these could be passed on day one of the next Congress, without a decision or amendment overturning Citizens United.  In fact, that’s great news, since (as a new Demos briefing paper shows) one thing that actually gets citizens united – of all ideological stripes – is their outrage at the way wealthy individuals and corporate campaign donors are auctioning our democracy.