Silent Scandal of Big Money in Politics

Outside groups dominated spending in 2016's top Senate races.

February 22, 2017

Cross-posted at U.S. News and World Report.

As a candidate, Donald Trump often disparaged the control big donors have over politicians, but maintained that he was impervious because he was self-funding his campaign. As it turned out, big money played a large role in Trump's victory. He raised millions in large checks, and his campaign courted support from super PACs funded by multi-million dollar contributions. Even the political network of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who refused to endorse Trump, spent millions to increase Republican turnout in key states, which surely helped the top of the ticket.

Although President Trump hasn't criticized the role of big money in politics the way candidate Trump did, his critique was exactly right. In fact, the problem is even starker if we look beyond the presidential race. Big money is playing a more important role in elections than any time in recent decades, and control of campaign financing is shifting away from the parties and even the candidates themselves.

In congressional elections, the major political parties have outsourced much of their financing to super PACs and secretive nonprofits run by trusted former aides and funded mostly by a handful of million-dollar contributions. Big money prefers these groups because they aren't subject to contribution limits, unlike the parties and the candidates themselves. And they're making the most of their fundraising advantage: In the three most expensive Senate races last year, spending by the candidates accounted for only about one out of every four dollars spent.

This flood of outside money was caused by the Supreme Court's misguided Citizens United ruling. That opinion depended on the fairy-tale assumption that outside spending poses no risk of corruption because the money is never under the direct control of the candidate. But the reality is much less clear.

Read the full article at U.S. News and World Report.

(Image: ThinkStock)