Campaign Cash by Outside Groups in 2010 Mid-Term Eclipses Total from 2004 Presidential Year
According to Opensecrets, we've achieved an ignominious milestone, as third-party spending in this off-presidential year, at $455 million and counting, eclipsing the total from the 2004 cycle.
If outside groups spend another $130 million, which seems possible, then they'll break the record set in 2008.
In other words, if you feel overwhelmed by an unusually heavy barrage of sleazy attack ads and endless robo-calls, you ain't seen nothing yet. Wait until 2012.
I debated conservative radio host Chuck Morse earlier this week -- he's pretty far out -- and he argued, bizarrely, that Citizens United didn't change a thing. I say it's a bizarre assertion because the simple and indisputable fact is that before the decision corporations and unions couldn't buy millions of dollars in election ads in the 30 days before the vote, and after the ruling they could. How anyone could imagine that kind of change would have no impact whatsoever is beyond me (he also claimed that France has a "permanent 20 percent unemployment rate" (French unemployment stands at 10.1 percent in the middle of the worst jobs crisis since WW 2 -- just a fraction above our own) and lacks "our democratic tradition").
Anyway, these latest numbers tell a very different story. And it's just begun. Every expert with whom I've discussed the issue agrees that Corporate America is wading into the post- Citizens United electoral system slowly, and that outside spending will only increase, probably dramatically, in subsequent cycles.
Yet one other thing to consider is this: short of some legislative relief, which will be very difficult to achieve in the next Congress, the one thing that has the potential to curb the flood of corporate campaign spending is that despite the fact that these outside groups are no longer legally required to disclose their donors, that info can get out through other avenues (like leaks by employees who don't agree with a company's politics), and, as Target and Gold's Gym have learned, that can create a backlash within a firm's customer base. So the challenge for those in the executive suite will be to find ways to cover their tracks better, obscure their hand even more. That's something to watch out for.