In her new York Review of Books article, “Can We Have a Democratic Election?,” Elizabeth Drew addresses what is arguably the major problem of the 2012 election, one which is usually overshadowed by horse race reportage:
Beneath the turbulent political spectacle that has captured so much of the nation’s attention lies a more important question than who will get the Republican nomination, or even who will win in November: Will we have a democratic election this year? Will the presidential election reflect the will of the people? Will it be seen as doing so–and if not, what happens?…
Drew goes on with a disturbing account of the ramifications of the Citizens United decision, noting that,
The 2012 election has been virtually taken over by Super PACs; the amounts they are spending are far outstripping expenditures by the candidates’ campaigns….Though unions will play a part in campaign financing, they simply don’t have the resources that thousands of corporations have. A billionaire with a strong affection for a specific candidate no longer has to go through a party organization or a group organized around an issue to offer financial support–the women’s advocacy group Emily’s List, for instance, or the pro-business Club for Growth. The candidates and the Super PACs formed for the purpose of supporting them are ostensibly barred from collaboration; the candidates must not “request, suggest, or assent” to an ad taken by a Super PAC on his behalf, which leaves a lot of possibilities for means of communication between them, and this year’s Super PACs are noteworthy for the extent of the interlocking relationships between the candidates and those who run the Super PACs on their behalf. The election of 2012 has introduced a new kind of politics into American life.
…Numerous people and organizations have tried to figure out how to get rid of them, and though there is no ready solution, there are numerous efforts to find ways to overcome the inestimable damage done by Citizens United. Responsible and irresponsible solutions have been proposed.
…Citizens are now faced with evidence of the growing power of organized moneyed interests in the electoral system at the same time that the nation is more aware than ever that the inequality among income groups has grown dramatically and economic difficulties are persistent. This is a dangerous brew. Political power is shifting to the very moneyed interests that four decades of reform effort have tried to contain. The election system is being reshaped by the Super PACs and the greatly increased power of those who contribute to them to choose the candidates who best suit their purposes. But little attention is being paid to the fact that our system of electing a president is under siege. While the political press is excitedly telling us how the polls on Friday compare with the ones on Tuesday, little notice is taken of the danger to the democratic system itself.
Drew’s article includes a capsule history of soft money and campaign finance regulation, and the lack of it. She is rightly skeptical about proposals to tweak the first amendment to the Constitution to correct the harm done by Citizens United and acknowledges that “It’s too late to rescue this election from the appalling imposition of Super PACs.”
In addition to the Super PAC’s, Drew pinpoints the GOP’s voter suppression campaign as a parallel threat to the integrity of elections in the U.S.:
Ever since the controversial recount in Florida in 2000, through their political control of numerous states, Republicans have mounted a nationwide and organized effort to rig state election laws in order to tip the outcome in November. (This is not to say that Democrats are innocents, but there is scant evidence of a parallel effort.) The goal of this pernicious effort is to deny the right to vote to minorities, the poor, the elderly, and students–all groups inclined to vote Democratic.
“Can an election that’s being subjected to such seriously self-interested contortions be accepted by the public as having been arrived at in a fair manner?,” asks Drew.” And what will happen if it can’t?”