The Big Question: Are outside groups' ads reshaping races?

David Donnelly, Director of Public Campaign Action Fund’s Campaign Money Watch, said:

Of course campaign ads are having an impact on races across the country. They inject issues and attacks the candidates won’t touch. They define candidates. They clog up the airwaves making television advertising more expensive. But more than just moving a few voters to one side or another, or mobilize (or demobilize) specific slices of the electorate, they also have a more troubling and personal impact on candidates and voters.
 
First, candidates targeted by these attacks have to find some way to keep up.  Complaining to the press doesn’t give you more money to respond. Candidates have to go back to the same big donors and special interests and ask for more money. The more time they spend raising money, they less time they have actually connecting with voters. And they’re raising and spending faster than any election cycle in history.
 
Second, we won’t fully know the impact of these ads until the 112th Congress convenes in January. Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads, and others are spending big to get their preferred candidates in office. It’s likely that the Chamber and its allies, who also spend big money on lobbying fees, will no doubt remind these candidates of their election support when they meet to discuss the legislative agenda. In fact, the Chamber has poured so much in, they may not need to meet with its crop of wannabe members of Congress and Senators at all.
 
So yes, the ads have an impact—but that impact is felt in places other than the ballot box.  So the question is, how do you deal with it? Transparency is important but not sufficient. We need to put voters back in charge of our elections to lessen the corrosive impact of this nonstop raising and spending. The Fair Elections Now Act, which passed the Committee on House Administration in September, would be the best and most important step toward that.


Lisa Gilbert, deputy director of Congress Watch at Public Citizen
The 2010 election is awash with special-interest money, corporate contributions and secretive spending — the bulk of which is being funneled through outside groups with non-disclosed donors. The public is drowning in the all-hours, all-mediums of political attack advertising that is the result of the spending deluge.

This flood is courtesy of the 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision that will go down in history — the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, which opened the gates to unlimited election spending by corporations and unions.

All this new money is making for very different races than we saw in 2008. Outside money not raised directly by candidates or political parties is up 90 percent over 2008, mostly from unidentified sources. According to a recent Public Citizen study, in 2004 and 2006, big donors were 100 percent identified, but more than two-thirds of outside groups spending heavily on electioneering communications in the 2010 elections are not reporting where they got their money.

The fact that outside groups receiving corporate and special interest funds are the biggest players in this election, but no one knows who they are funded by, is striking fear in the hearts of many candidates, but much worse is that it is denying American voters the information they need to make educated choices at the polls.

When Congress comes back into session, strengthening disclosure laws and accountability of corporate spending must be a real priority. We need to pass the Disclose Act and the Shareholder Protection Act to provide information to the public and provide checks and accountability on secret Wall Street spending.


Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit said:
The single biggest factor shaping races this cycle is Barack Obama. Next to the impact of his overbearing, self-satisfied ineptitude, no other force compares.


Peter Navarro, professor of economics and public policy at U.C. Irvine, said:
Hell yes. We’ve got the best democracy special interest money can buy.


Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, said:
No, campaign funds are merely handing the Democrats an even bigger defeat than they would have otherwise suffered. All this whining about "foreign" money is nonsense: unless of course the Obama-ites consider American business to be a "foreign" entity, which they no doubt do.