There’s nothing routine about it

THERE’S NOTHING ROUTINE ABOUT IT…. There was some discussion on the Sunday shows about what’s become of campaign financing in American elections, but much of the talk made it seem as if this year was par for the course.

It’s not. E.J. Dionne Jr. explains this morning that this is “a huge, historic deal,” despite media reports that have “treated the spending avalanche as a normal political story and arguments about its dangers as partisan Democratic whining.”

Imagine an election in a Third World nation where a small number of millionaires and billionaires spent massive sums to push the outcome in their preferred direction. Wouldn’t many people here condescendingly tut-tut over such a country’s “poorly developed” sense of democracy and the inadequacy of its political system?

That, of course, is what is going on in our country as you read this. If you travel any place where there is a contested House or Senate race, you are bombarded with attack ads, almost all against Democrats, paid for by groups that do not have to reveal where their money comes from.

What we do know from enterprising journalism and the limited disclosure the law requires is that much of this money is donated in large sums from a rather small number of wealthy individuals. […]

The outside money should be an issue for Democrats. They ought to be asking, even more forcefully than they have been, what these secret donors expect for their money. You can be sure that the benefactors will not keep their identities hidden from the members of Congress they help elect. Only the voters will be in the dark.

I don’t doubt that at some point next week, leading Dems are going to note that Republican gains were purchased by shadowy far-right groups, relying on secret donations from a handful of extremely rich conservatives, which progressives simply couldn’t keep up with. Republicans and news outlets will call this an “excuse” — a word Politico used in this context this morning.

But dismissing this as little more than an after-the-fact rationalization is a mistake. For one thing, the argument happens to be true. For another, the new system is simply unhealthy. Dionne added, “Secret money is dangerous. Secret money corrupts. Secret money is antithetical to the transparency that democracy requires. And concentrated money, which is what we’re talking about here, buys more influence and access than small contributions.”

And right on cue, the New York Times reports, “The anonymously financed conservative groups that have played such a crucial role this campaign year are starting a carefully coordinated final push to deliver control of Congress to Republicans, shifting money among some 80 House races they are monitoring day by day. Officials involved in the effort over the midterm elections’ final week say it is being spearheaded by a core subset of the largest outside conservative groups, which have millions of dollars left to spend on television advertisements, mailings and phone calls for five potentially decisive Senate races, as well as the scores of House races.”

One of the right-wing hatchet-men boosting Republican candidates, boasted, “We carpet-bombed for two months in 82 races, now it’s sniper time.”

Anyone who thinks this is good for the American political system isn’t paying attention.