The money problem
EJ Dionne is really eloquent on the flood of anonymous, corporate cash that's flooded the final days of the election. And though I'm not sure how much this money matters -- the political science on the question is mixed, and megaspenders like Meg Whitman and Linda McMahon often lose -- the fact that the people who practice politics think it matters, and the corporations handing over the cash think they're making wise investments, suggests we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss it.
Some of this is to be expected. Political money is pro-cyclical: When Democrats look likely to win, they get the cash. When Republicans are ahead, much of the money flows toward them. The Supreme Court talks about money as a form of speech. Corporations use money as a type of bribe.
But there's also the money that would surprise the public. The Democrats are hated for TARP, because voters think they were too soft on the banks. But TARP's recipients disagree, and are shoveling money toward the Republicans. And though Republicans have benefited from anti-bank sentiment, Rep. Spencer Bachus, the conservative congressman who will chair the House Financial Services Committee in the event of a Republican victory, is literally berating members of the financial industry who donate to Democrats. "It is hard to believe, he told the crowd, that some in their industry were still giving more to Democrats than Republicans after, he said, Democrats hammered them with over-reaching Wall Street reform legislation."
And then there's the money that no one can be surprised about because we simply don't know where it's coming from. "You can be sure that the benefactors will not keep their identities hidden from the members of Congress they help elect," writes Dionne. "Only the voters will be in the dark."
But not totally in the dark. They know the money is there. They see it going to Democrats in some years and Republicans in others. They hear about it being secret, foreign and constant. They know that the same people who run against the system end up at lobbyist-hosted fundraisers two years later.
Money may or may not buy elections. But it does undermine public confidence in them. It may or may not buy legislation. But it does discredit it. It may or may not sway politicians. But it does delegitimize them. What's most appalling about this system isn't even the amount of money in it. It's that the politicians at the center don't care enough about what Americans think of their government to give them a government they could actually think well of.
Or, to put it slightly differently, watch this:
| October 25, 2010; 5:24 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Midterms
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