Saturday, Dec 10, 2016
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Mired in money

Money talks: If any proof were needed, the 2012 presidential campaign offered fresh evidence.

Freed from legal restraints by a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court in the notorious Citizens United case in 2010, corporations and unions unleashed a tsunami of TV ads funded by super-political action committees. What did this judicial activism, heedless of precedent, turn out to mean?

In the weeks before Nov. 6, Americans found out — back-to-back TV ads, on and on, nagging continually to the point of viewers’ frustrated screams or a rush to press the mute button. This election was the most expensive in American history, the New York Times reported, with a price tag estimated at $6 billion.

As both Democrats and Republicans benefited from this money stream, it is hard to say that the money bought nothing but the status quo with a bit of tweaking. After all, President Obama won and Mitt Romney lost.

But the biggest individual donors — not surprisingly, given his business connections — were for Mr. Romney. It is remarkable how futile their efforts were.

Most spectacular, the Times reported, was casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a Romney supporter who is said to be the biggest single donor in political history. He supported eight candidates at a cost of $60 million in contributions to super-PACs and other outside groups — and none of his candidates won.

This does not mean that Citizens United is an overblown worry. With so much money floating around, the chance of politicians remaining independent of their funders is ever more imperiled. A politics that allows the biggest check to buy the biggest influence is always going to subvert the democratic ideal.

The Citizens United ruling has negative effects for both parties. On Election Day in Montana, which Mr. Romney won, and Colorado, where Mr. Obama triumphed, voters passed nonbinding resolutions that called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling. That trend needs to spread.

In this election, Americans can take comfort in knowing that while money talks, voters don’t always listen.

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