Press Release

May 17, 2012
Selling democracy

Sen. Ben Cardin put his finger on one of the country’s biggest political problems when he visited us Monday to talk to the editorial board of The Frederick News-Post — the amount of money being poured into national campaigns.

In particular, most of the damage has been caused by the nightmarish 2010 Supreme Court ruling in favor of Citizens United, which cleared the way for corporations to create so-called super PACs that can deliver millions of dollars on behalf of political candidates. The only requirement? Don’t coordinate that spending with the campaign.

“It’s absolutely outrageous the amount of money that’s spent,” Cardin said, “then a lot of this money is spent on negative ads that discourage voters’ participation, frankly, and it doesn’t really, I think, advance our democratic system. Citizens United just added another layer of money on a system that was already broken, and made it worse.”

We couldn’t agree more. More than $92.7 million has been injected into campaigns by prominent PACs out of $173 million contributed, according to tracking numbers by ProPublica. Look for more — much more — to come.

The question is, how does it get fixed?

Cardin’s thinking on this has evolved. Originally, he supported restricting the amount of money available to campaigns through public financing and requiring networks to make time available for candidates to debate the issues. He still supports that, but now, in addition, he would amend the Constitution.

We’re in favor of that, but we can only imagine the political will that would need to be involved for that to happen — so much that we’re not sure such a thing is possible. We’d also back public financing and donation caps, although those are pretty airy ideological solutions also unlikely to pass muster.

The voices of individual voters have never been weaker, nor more distant to those who seek to represent us. Instead, a new patronage system has been established wherein the mega-wealthy few can proffer their resources to a select bench of hand-picked candidates. And those candidates understand the quid pro quo of the transaction.

It’s a frightening thought, isn’t it, that your best interests, or the best interests of the majority, will be superseded by the political views of a handful of people who can game the system so effectively.

Conservatives, liberals, Republicans and Democrats alike should be outraged.

We also agree with Cardin’s second point that our representatives spend too much time raising campaign cash. Nowhere is this more prevalent that in the two-year election cycle of the House, which means almost constant rain-making. Things are better in the Senate, where senators have to raise money for only two years before each election, leaving four years to actually do some work.

Even that is too much, Cardin said. The amount of time spent traveling and making phone calls raising cash is “something that is just not the best use of a senator’s time, and is corrupting to the system when you have to make all these efforts to raise that type of money. It does affect how issues are considered in Congress; it doesn’t affect my individual vote … but it does affect the way the system considers legislation, and that’s just wrong.”