Sunday, April 29, 2012

Behind the Ad: Outside money in the Missouri Senate race

By Richard K. Barry

Who: The re-election campaign of Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill

Where: Missouri

What's going on:
One of most important stories of the 2012 campaign season is the massive amount of third-party money that will be spent to influence electoral outcomes in local races. The right has taken to the new rules in grand fashion and, if the 2010 midterms are any indication, expect a good return on their investment.

The Sunday New York Times this weekend ran an editorial about incumbent Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and what she is likely to be up against.

To her credit, she is taking the issue of Super-PAC money head on. As the Times writes:

“They’re not from around here, spending millions to attack and attack,” said one of her recent commercials, showing clips from the opposing ads that have become ubiquitous in her state. “But what they’re doing to Claire McCaskill is nothing compared to what their special-interest agenda will do to you.”

The amount of money involved is staggering.
It will be an uphill fight. Republican interest groups are outspending Ms. McCaskill and other Missouri Democrats by a 7-to-1 ratio; Ms. McCaskill herself is being outspent by 3 to 1. Though she has raised nearly $10 million, the amount could be dwarfed by the unlimited money at the disposal of Republican-oriented groups.

Maybe McCaskill has hit on a good approach, loudly complaining that people who are "not from around here" are trying to tell us what to do. As an aside, the right-wing is pretty funny this way. They complain that they don't want big government telling them what to do, but they don't seem to mind big corporate money doing it.

There is little that bores the average voter more than campaign finance rules, and, as important as these are, most see them as "process issues" of little consequence. That's too bad.

I haven't given this a lot of thought, but could a case be made to actually ban campaign donations that came from outside the state where they were being applied? There are rules on foreign money in U.S. elections, why not rules on "non-local" money?

I know there can be different rules for federal elections (i.e., U.S. Senate and House) vs. state and local races, but outside money for even federal elections is going to be a continuing problem. Wouldn't it be nice if our federal representatives actually spoke for the people who voted for them instead of the outside money that got them elected?

It's been interesting that Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts have agreed to curtail outside money in their contest. Clearly the wisdom of this is being considered.

Maybe this has been discussed and rejected for all sorts of reasons. It makes a certain kind of sense to me, though. And I do know that there is a long history to campaign finance rules in America, I just want to keep talking about it so we don't ever forget that these things can be changed. What we have done, we can undo.

Of course, the biggest problem to changing the rules is that you would be asking the same people who benefit from the current scheme to change it. Now, that wouldn't be hard, would it?

Here's the McCaskill ad:

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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