Do you miss them? With the election over, Tammy and Tommy disappeared and no longer dominate every commercial break in Wisconsin. Those ads were the most visible manifestation of the unprecedented money spent by outside groups and extremely wealthy individuals taking advantage of the post-Citizens United free-for-all auctions that our elections have become.
Even though the ads are gone and the election season is over (for now), the distorting impact of all that money permeates our entire political process.
In the first presidential election since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that money is speech and that limits on political spending are unconstitutional, special interest groups and billionaires went on a wild spending spree. Super PACS and other outside groups spent over $1.2 billion to influence voters this election cycle.
A system that equates money with speech is fundamentally unfair and anti-democratic. It took just 61 donors giving an average of $4.7 million to super PACs to match the $285 million raised from over a million small donors by the Romney and Obama campaigns. If we take the premise that money is speech literally, each of these mega-donors spoke at 23,369 times the volume of the average grass-roots donor.
To make matters worse, about a quarter of that outside spending came through "dark money" groups that do not disclose their donors. The big money is drowning out average people's voices, and we can't even follow the money to track who is making these massive expenditures in order to assess their credibility and motivations.
Beyond providing these special interests the ability to give their preferred candidates a hefty competitive edge, allowing the wealthy few to amplify their voices in the public square threatens the basic American value of political equality for several reasons:
First, a tiny number of wealthy individuals and interests continue to set the agenda in Washington and in state capitals across America. No one is shutting down the fundraising shops post-election. In fact, several of the largest super PACs are now making the move to lobbying in an attempt to use their unrestricted money power to bully lawmakers into following their agenda.