Most politicians understand that constituents who like them don’t really know a lot about them; voters don’t spend a lot of time focusing on politics and politicians. So a vicious and unrelenting ad campaign can work. What do candidates then do? All of them are working overtime to raise their own, protective war chests — meaning every spare moment is spent on “call time,” begging for money.
Ask almost any lobbyist. I hear the same story there over and over — the lobbyist met with a lawmaker to discuss a matter for a client, and before he gets back to the office, the cell phone rings and the lawmaker is asking for money. The connections between policy actions or inactions and fundraising are no longer indirect or subtle.
Now comes the third component. As one Senator said to me, “We have all had experiences like the following: A lobbyist or interest representative will be in my office. He or she will say, ‘You know, Americans for a Better America really, really want this amendment passed. And they have more money than God. I don’t know what they will do with their money if they don’t get what they want. But they are capable of spending a fortune to make anybody who disappoints them regret it.’” No money has to be spent to get the desired outcome.
This is what Citizens United hath wrought. It is thoroughly corrupting. And it is why, at minimum, we need to encourage the IRS to do its job and implement its own regulations related to 501(c)(4)s, rejecting the status for sham organizations that manipulate the process only to shield the identity of donors and make big donors pay a gift tax on their sham contributions; encourage the Federal Communications Commission to put online information from TV stations about the funders of political ads; and urge the Securities and Exchange Commission to require public companies to disclose their political spending to shareholders in their annual reports and extend the current regulations for private contractors with the government who have to disclose their direct campaign contributions and expenditures to include the stealth contributions to influence campaigns.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.