The midterm election marked a new record in the amount of money spent in a political cycle. What’s more worrying, the amount of money in political campaigns from individual donors diminished for the first time, being eclipsed by big interests and their millionaire contributions.
The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) estimated that 3,670 million dollars have been spent during this electoral cycle, a sum surpassing the budget of Honduras and Nicaragua. The amount is slightly higher than that of the 2010 electoral cycle, but it is of a very different nature because it undermines the individual donor.
The big difference between both elections is the implementation of the judicial decision Citizens United, which opened the gates for external and anonymous contributions.
Four years after this U.S. Supreme Court decision, it’s clear that the money’s influence has meant less spending for candidates and their parties.
It has also meant that, for the first time since 1990 and until 2010, the amount of donors who contribute $200 or more has decreased. Four years ago they were 817,464, and today they are 666,773, according to the CRP.
The decision also expanded the use of political money without identifying the original donor, further muddying the waters of what should be a transparent, representative democracy.
The money problem in the U.S. political system has only aggravated since the Supreme Court indicated long time ago that giving money to a politician was an act of freedom of expression.
Lobbyists often say that money doesn’t buy a legislator’s vote, but the access to promote a point of view.
No matter what anybody says, it’s hard to accept that a politician —or any other person— will not be influenced by the thousands or millions of dollars helping his or her election.
The CRP analysis confirms the growing influence of big private interests over the median citizen, which leads to voter frustration and apathy. When the relevance of the individual in the political process decreases, representative democracy is in danger.