Bad News for Campaign Finance

Friday overflowed with news about the inexorable influence of money in politics, none of it good. Every aspect of the post-election financial reports showed how this year’s campaigns took an irreversible turn for the worse.

• Both presidential campaigns raised more than a billion dollars each. The number is both entirely expected and yet still shocking, so much larger than previous elections that it suggests the nature of campaigns has utterly and permanently changed. Vast amounts will continue to be spent on data mining and voter targeting, now that the Obama campaign proved the effectiveness of that approach. Key television markets will continue to be saturated with ads, and the number of them will grow. No one’s e-mail inbox will be safe from solicitations. Most importantly, the ability of each party to raise that much money — in small donations for Democrats, and large ones from Republicans — provides no incentive to return to the sanity of publicly funded presidential races. The House bill to do so will continue to languish.

• Third-party spending groups, including “Super PACs” and so-called social welfare groups, did almost as well as the campaigns, raising $834 million. Nearly 60 percent of that figure came in donations of $1 million or more, from 159 people and groups, according to the Sunlight Foundation.

• The biggest givers of all were Sheldon Adelson, the gambling mogul, and his wife Miriam, who together gave $92 million in reported donations. Add in the amounts that political insiders say he gave to groups that do not disclose their donors and the total amount the couple gave was closer to $150 million, by far the largest political contributions ever made in this country. Although Democrats are snickering that almost all of Mr. Adelson’s candidates and causes lost, that in no way reduces his influence. He can demand meetings with top Republican officials whenever he comes to Washington, and he will inevitably be courted by the party’s presidential hopefuls.

• The national Republican party claimed it wanted nothing to do with Todd Akin, the Missouri senatorial candidate who propounded the offensive theory that women who were victims of “legitimate rape” couldn’t get pregnant. That turned out to be a lie. Though it wasn’t revealed until yesterday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee gave $760,000 to the Akin campaign in the final days of the race, and the state party contributed almost as much. Fortunately, all that money was wasted.

• The Obama administration announced that it will accept unlimited corporate donations for its inaugural festivities, a change from its policy in 2009. The news is a lavishly engraved invitation to all the military contractors, energy companies and financial interests who helped support Mitt Romney this year: write us a check and you can redeem yourselves.

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usman hashmi

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