Media Watch: Surprise! “Secret Money” Didn’t Buy Election

After two straight years of conniption after conniption over the “unfairness” of “secret money” in politics, Tuesday’s election seems to have caught the usually pro-regulatory media somewhat off guard.  Despite almost six billion dollars in campaign spending, it was candidates’ messages, not total dollars spent on their behalf, which mattered.

CCP Academic Advisor John Samples put it best:

It’s almost as if something other than campaign spending usually determines who wins and loses an election.

Allison Frankel of Reuters published an article (Election results raise questions about impact of Citizens United) addressing this:

“In a lot of races big money interests threw a lot of money at campaigns and lost,” said Michael Beckel of Public Integrity. Added Allen Dickerson, legal director of the pro-business Center for Competitive Politics: “The major takeaway is that voters are still sovereign. The fact that you can spend money to get your message out doesn’t mean that people will like your message.”

It’s a strange, twisty world when the legal director of a pro-business group can point to big business’s defeats in the 2012 elections to defend Citizens United and the idea of corporate campaign spending, but that’s what’s happening. Folks like Dickerson can now argue, as he does, that people are not sheep who can be herded to support a particular candidate by lavish television ads funded by Super PACs and trade associations. Opponents of corporate campaign spending, meanwhile, have had to refine their Citizens United arguments to account for the relative failure of big business in the 2012 elections to win seats for its chosen candidates with the help of outside spending.

Trying to save face, the left-wing speech regulation crew doubled down:

By Wednesday morning, when I spoke with them, both Bruce Freed of the Center for Political Accountability and Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington were already primed to explain why corporate campaign spending remains a pernicious phenomenon, despite big-business defeats in this election cycle. Freed, whose bugaboo is undisclosed corporate spending via trade groups and non-profits, said the long-term effect of such political activity outlasts the results of one particular election. Sloan focused on the vast expenditures by both sides, arguing that in the new status quo, candidates don’t just have to worry about filling their own campaign war chests with direct contributions but have to be concerned with attracting outside money as well.

“Money alone will never win the day,” she said. “But what we have is an arms race, mutually assured destruction. You can’t not raise money.”

Although we at the Center hate to be bearers of bad news, it’s time the reform community accepts that there’s very little in the world you can do without money, and politics isn’t one of those things.  Also, we must be missing something, as there’s nothing that seems to be mutually destroyed.

In short, the hyperbole is tired and they’re grasping at straws.  One need not look further than Al Gore to see what happens when over the top devotion to reform collides with reality.

Even the usually pro-reform Huffington Post had an article entitled “Super PACs, Outside Money Influenced, But Didn’t Buy The 2012 Election.”  Paul Blumenthal wrote:

From the evidence provided by the past two years of outside spending in the presidential race, you can, however, buy a bit of anarchy, a certain amount of time and a megaphone that only really works when it is joined with a compelling narrative.

With the election over, the pro-regulation community is turning its focus back on the states.  Yesterday, for example, Colorado voted in Amend 65, which instructed Colorado’s congressional delegation to propose a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

But, as the Denver Post pointed out:

…the measure won’t have legal standing anyway, even if it passes.

We’re not too worried.


  1. […] than Al Gore to see what happens when over the top devotion to reform collides with reality.   Read more… Independent groups Washington Post: An anti-super PAC super PAC had a good year  By Dan […]

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.