Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

More and more "speech," fewer and fewer "speakers"


Seen enough political advertising yet? No?

Well, don't worry. If the governor's race goes into a runoff, you'll be able to bask in attack ads from now until December. If the Senate race goes into a runoff, you'll be golden into January. And if the Georgia race decides control of the Senate? Hoo boy.

But where is all this money coming from? The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political fundraising trends, gives us a depressing update:

"The 2014 midterms may well mark the election cycle in which the small donor got left behind. Revised projections by the Center for Responsive Politics for the total cost of these congressional races suggest they may be only slightly more expensive than those in 2010, but outside money will have played an outsized role. And the number of identified individual donors will shrink, meaning more money will have come from fewer people."

Spending by outside groups is already up 66 percent over the 2010 midterms, with almost a week left in the race. Money raised and spent by candidates is down; candidates for Senate spent $779.9 million in the 2010 midterms, falling to $636.2 million so far in 2014. Giving by billionaires is up sharply, while the number of individuals giving $200 or more has fallen from 817,464 in 2010 to 666,773 so far this year. Wall Street is by far the most dominant giver, investing the lion's share of its money in conservative causes and conservative politicians.

This cycle's two biggest individual spenders -- Tom Steyer ($73.7 million) and Michael Bloomberg ($20 million) -- supported liberal candidates, but 15 of the top 20 givers backed conservative candidates. And that was the money that could be be traced; much of it could not.

Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at CRP, notes that the data show "a further compression of the process":

“More and more of the relevant participation is happening among fewer and fewer actors, both people and organizations. In a world where vibrant democracies are a function of real participation by as many people as possible, the system we have now seems to be encouraging the opposite, where more and more impact comes from fewer and fewer players.”

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing in the landmark, 5-4 Citizens United ruling, reassured us that money is speech and that "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy."

The man had no idea what he was talking about.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.