On Money in Politics, 2014 Shows What's Wrong -- and What's Right

The most enduring "winners" in the midterms may be the wealthy interests that bankrolled their candidates of choice and can now expect to have the ears of their chosen representatives. But importantly, it's not all bad news on the money in politics front.
11/05/2014 04:19 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2015
A voter casts his vote at a polling station in Pasadena, California, on November 4, 2014. Months of campaign promises, partis
A voter casts his vote at a polling station in Pasadena, California, on November 4, 2014. Months of campaign promises, partisan charges and a seemingly endless flood of political ads and mailers will finally come to an end Tuesday as voters make their choices for offices ranging from governor of California down to city councils, harbor commissions and water boards. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Last night, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart called the real winner of the midterms: big money. "Incredible night for money in politics!" gushed one of the show's correspondents. Indeed, in the first national elections since the Supreme Court allowed even more money to flood our democracy through its April McCutcheon v. FEC decision, the tidal wave of spending was worse than the most dire predictions.

The "Money Midterms," as some dubbed them, were predicted to be the most expensive in history. Local news stations struggled to keep up as spending on political ads skyrocketed. Unsurprisingly, a tiny fraction of our country was calling the shots. As of October 15, just 140 donors had made more than 60 percent of this cycle's super PAC contributions. In a post-Citizens United political landscape where corporations and billionaires can literally spend as much as they want to influence elections, The Daily Show is right: The most enduring "winners" in the midterms may be the wealthy interests that bankrolled their candidates of choice and can now expect to have the ears of their chosen representatives.

But importantly, it's not all bad news on the money in politics front. Despite -- or perhaps in some cases because of -- this influx of money, 2014 also gave us a number of hopeful signs that the tide is rapidly turning in the fight against big money. Yesterday Tallahassee voters passed a referendum to step back the influence of big money in local elections. In Maine, more than 1,000 volunteers collected signatures in support of a ballot initiative to update the state's clean elections law for next year's ballot. Cities across Wisconsin passed referendums against Citizens United. Notably, Republican Larry Hogan will be the first Maryland governor to have used the state's system of public financing for his campaign.

And that was just on Election Day. In the months leading up to it, everyday Americans have been taking action pushing for democratic reform. In September, Atlanta's city council overwhelmingly passed a resolution in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, joining the more than 550 other towns and cities that have passed similar resolutions. In the same month, activists from around the country made over 15,000 calls to Senate offices in support of a proposed amendment being debated on the Senate floor.

Even during the "money midterms," it's clear that politicians are taking note of this swelling movement. This cycle, we saw candidates from both major parties making money in politics a theme of their campaigns, reacting to the fact that the push for change is coming from Americans of all political stripes.

The fight to take our elections back from the chokehold of wealthy special interests is not going anywhere. Americans know that as long as the system is rigged, it's not going to work for anyone except those doing the rigging. The worse our money in politics problem becomes -- and anyone who has been subjected to the endless barrage of political ads and emails this cycle knows it's out of control -- the stronger the will to change it becomes. That's why we're fighting alongside committed activists around the country to amend the Constitution to overturn decisions like McCutcheon and Citizens United and reclaim our democracy. The more Americans sign petitions, write op-eds, organize rallies, and challenge their elected officials to take action to address our money in politics problem, the more campaign finance reform becomes a pivotal issue that every candidate will have to address in future elections.

So while 2014 exemplifies everything wrong with our campaign finance system, it also demonstrates how we're going to get out of this mess: through the power of ordinary Americans.