Wealthy individuals and secret donors unleashed a torrent of cash leading up to Election Day, setting records and wearing out mute buttons on television remote controls. Ohio was in the thick of it, the key state in the presidential election and home of high spending races for the U.S. House and Senate.
The big money, much of it spent by conservative organizations, largely proved a bust. President Obama won a second term, while U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown survived an estimated $40 million in spending against him by outside groups.
An analysis of spending in the 16th U.S. House District found it attracted the largest sum of outside money in the country, at $9.6 million. There, Jim Renacci, the Republican incumbent, won against Betty Sutton, a Democratic House member, despite higher spending against him by outside groups. (The two were put in the same district.)
The results confirmed what campaign experts long have argued, big money is not necessarily decisive. But candidates must have sufficient resources to be competitive, which usually means enough to get on television. The results from 2012 also may suggest a point of diminishing returns for negative television ads.
Still, advocates for tighter spending requirements correctly note the potential for a corrupting influence through the unlimited contributions allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. They also make a telling point when it comes to spending by Crossroads GPS, 60 Plus and similar organizations, which do not have to disclose their donors. Such “dark money” accounted for about one-fourth of the more than $1 billion in outside money spent in the presidential race.
An argument long made by many Republicans called for dumping contribution limits yet requiring full disclosure. Since Citizens United, the tune has changed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, among others, insisting donors must be allowed to protect themselves from retaliation.
Nonsense. Republicans and their allies cannot have it both ways. In a post-Citizens United world, Congress must pass measures that provide the transparency necessary for the public to determine who is spending money to influence votes. Citizens then can judge accordingly.