The public wants the influence of money out of politics, but is cynical that anything can be done about it


The New York Times this week reports a new Poll Shows Americans Favor an Overhaul of Campaign Financing:

MoneySpeechAmericans of both parties fundamentally reject the regime of untrammeled money in elections made possible by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and other court decisions and now favor a sweeping overhaul of how political campaigns are financed, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.

The findings reveal deep support among Republicans and Democrats alike for new measures to restrict the influence of wealthy givers, including limiting the amount of money that can be spent by “super PACs” and forcing more public disclosure on organizations now permitted to intervene in elections without disclosing the names of their donors.

And by a significant margin, they reject the argument that underpins close to four decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence on campaign finance: that political money is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. Even self-identified Republicans are evenly split on the question.

The poll provides one of the broadest and most detailed surveys of Americans’ attitudes toward the role of money in politics since the Citizens United decision five years ago. And the responses suggest a growing divide between the nation and its highest court on constitutional questions that have moved to the heart of the American system, as the advent of super PACs and the abandonment of public financing by both parties in presidential elections have enabled wealthy donors, corporations and unions to play a greater role in political fund-raising.

In recent years, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has steadily chipped away at restrictions on political donations while narrowing the constitutional definition of corruption. In a series of decisions, the court has rejected the notion that the access and influence afforded big donors can justify further restrictions on campaign money, while dismissing concerns raised by the court’s liberal wing that unrestricted political money skews policy-making in favor of the wealthy.

The broader public appears to see things differently: More than four in five Americans say money plays too great a role in political campaigns, the poll found, while two-thirds say that the wealthy have more of a chance to influence the elections process than other Americans.

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Three-quarters of self-identified Republicans support requiring more disclosure by outside spending organizations, for example, but Republican leaders in Congress have blocked legislation to require more disclosure by political nonprofit groups, which do not reveal the names of their donors.

Republicans in the poll were almost as likely as Democrats to favor further restrictions on campaign donations, even as some prominent Republicans call for legislation to eliminate existing caps on contributions.

But Americans appear to be as inured to the role of money in campaigns as they are disillusioned by it, expressing a deep cynicism about the willingness of elected officials to fight the system they inhabit or to change the rules they have already mastered.

More than half of those surveyed said they were pessimistic that campaign finance rules would be improved. (Republicans and independents expressed more pessimism, while Democrats were evenly divided.)

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And virtually no one in the poll ranked campaign financing as the most important issue facing the country.

The nationwide telephone poll, conducted on landlines and cellphones May 28 to 31 with 1,022 adults, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

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Some, in the interviews, expressed a profound alienation from their own government. They said they did not expect elected officials to listen to them. They described politics as a province of the wealthy. And, despite being inundated with political advertising — and being repulsed by the billions of dollars required to pay for it — they said they sometimes did not feel informed enough to come to an opinion about the candidates.

Even if they do vote, the responses suggested, Americans do not believe they can overcome the political clout of people and organizations with money. Winning candidates, a majority in both parties said, usually promote the policies favored by their donors.

This is the malignant cancer that is metastasising in the American body politic from the influence of money in politics: Americans are becoming cynical and losing faith that their government is responsive to their concerns. They no longer participate in their democracy because they feel that it does not make a difference. Democracies die from indifference and neglect.

Chris Cillizza, the editor of the Neocon Washington Post’s political insider gossip column “The Fix,” who epitomizes everything that is wrong with the out-of-touch media villagers who lives in the insular Beltway media bubble, sniffs at the poll results: Can we please stop acting like campaign finance is a major voting issue?:

There are two seemingly contradictory data points in a new New York Times-CBS national poll.

1. 84 percent of people — 80 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats — believe money has too much influence in American politics.

2. Less than 1 percent of people said money in politics or campaign fundraising was the most important issue facing the country.

How can the public hold both notions in their heads simultaneously? It’s actually not that complicated — and helps to explain why we need to stop acting like campaign finance reform is a major issue in actual campaigns.

Let’s start with point No. 1.  When asked whether there is too much money in politics, more than 8 in 10 respondents said yes.  This reflects a broad consensus in the United States that the idea of billions being spent on our presidential races — including tens of millions by wealthy individuals — is unappealing and, at some level, regarded as wrong.

Okay. Fair enough.

What point No. 2 shows, however, is that the public’s broad dislike for the amount of money flowing through the political system is more a theoretical distaste than a practical one. As in, when prompted to offer judgment on how much money is in politics, people agree it’s too much.  But, left unprompted, they make quite clear that campaign finance reform is not even close to a top-of-the-mind issue.

It takes WaPo’s Greg Sargent to explain it to Cillizza: “In fairness, the poll reached this conclusion through an open-ended question that asked people to name the single top issue, so who knows how much this means.” Exactly.

Poll respondents will always rank their personal concerns first, such as job security, wages and income, taxes, retirement security, healthcare, etc. That does not mean that campaign finance reform is not important to them as Cillizza so blithely suggests.

It reflects a public awareness that the system is rigged in favor of the wealthy elite, that Congress does their bidding and is unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them, and that as long as the “Felonious Five” who gave us Citizens United v. FEC and its progeny are the majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, nothing much can be done about the situation. This does not mean that the public agrees with it or is resigned to the status quo.

Cillizza makes the point that “[Democratic] attempts to make the 2010 and 2014 elections referenda on big (Republican) money in politics just didn’t work.” True Enough, but we are talking about mid-term electorates which lean Republican because Democratic voters drop off from voting. And in Republican tribalism, as long as their candidates are winning, they don’t much care about the corrosive influence of money working in their favor.

In Arizona, Terry Goddard made addressing “dark money” in politics the focal point of his campaign. His opponent, Tea-Publican Michele Reagan, made some gossamer-thin promises during the campaign of “me too!” to address dark money, but she was lying and did not mean it. In fact, she benefited from some late “dark money” in her campaign.

Since she was elected Secretary of State, Michele Reagan has failed to push any meaningful legislation to address “dark money” in the legislature, and she recently announced that she would not even enforce the campaign finance laws that are already on the books. Reagan to stop enforcing election attack notification law; Previous: Secretary of state says 2014 campaign violations unenforceable. This is what makes voters so cynical about politicians and money in politics. it is why they have lost faith that their government is responsive to their concerns.


  1. When is the last time you saw a stop dark money on a bumber sticker on a car? I see anti Obama bumper stickers all the time.

  2. This is the same crap from the same people we hear on gun control! If the people really cared they would stop voting republican. The democrats know better on gun control those who haven’t been voted out of office. People don’t like money in politics so what they are not going to vote the republicans out over it.

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