Dark Money In State and Local Elections

Buying a presidential race is incredibly difficult.

But you can significantly influence if not turn the tide in a congressional election with a lot less money.

More great work from Bill Moyers & Company

In the wake of Wisconsin’s $63.5 million recall election, we caught up with Mother Jonesreporter Andy Kroll to discuss the role of dark money in state and local elections.

Lauren Feeney: Big national organizations like American Crossroads and Club for Growth Action are pouring money not just into the presidential election, but also into state and local races. Why?

Andy Kroll: Three words: Return on investment.

You can turn an election a lot easier at the congressional level than you can at the presidential level.

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Citizens United Undermines Our Elections and the Supreme Court

As we draw closer to the November election, it becomes clearer that this year’s contest, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, will be financially dominated by big money, including, whether directly or indirectly, big money from the treasuries of corporations of all kinds.

Without a significant change in how our campaign finance system regulates the influence of corporations, the American election process, and even the Supreme Court itself, face a more durable, long-term crisis of legitimacy.

Russ Feingold

More than a Bit of an Oligarchy


In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others.

Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker).

On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation.

In reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy,

in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

-Economist P. Krugman, Feb. 2011

Citizens United: Judicial Activism

Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker argues that the Citizens United decision was an extraordinary example of judicial activism:

Above all, though, the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts.

Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did.

As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.

State Legislature Races Are Cheap

The thinking behind it, which was very ingenious, was that

State legislative races are cheap, and you can just put a bit of money into them and flip the statehouse…

And most people don’t pay a lot of attention to what’s going on in the states. …

But state legislatures are ground zero for where politics play out.

In the 2010 state races, where people don’t spend much money, he and the groups that he helped found — that were supposedly independent groups — spent $2.2 million.

It doesn’t sound like a lot nationally, but it can make all the difference in the context of one state.

So basically what you’re looking at is one very wealthy corporate captain who, when motivated enough, can exert enormous influence in a state.

–New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer, Fresh Air Interview, on how one billionaire is targeting state level politics, which could be a template for national interests seeking to leverage their politics at a local level in these “cheap” races in the age of Citizens United.

Campaign Coordination

Stephen Colbert shows what’s wrong with the idea that SuperPACs don’t/can’t coordinate with the candidates, in a legal discussion with John McCain advisor, Trevor Potter:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

New York Times: “Money Rules”

There’s one key that always fits Washington’s locks: a big campaign check.

President Obama boasts about the many small donors who propelled him to office, but it’s the biggest givers who find the White House doors smoothly swinging open.

Mitt Romney has tried to appeal to those in the middle class, but they’re not invited to the retreats with those who give him $50,000.

 And, despite decades of money abuses and scandal, neither presidential candidate has shown any interest in reforming the system.