America’s First $100 Million Senate Race

Here’s a measure of how much money has been unleashed in our political system by the Citizens United ruling and its progeny: The U.S. Senate race in North Carolina this year is the first campaign ever for that position to cross the $100 million mark in money spent.

From the Koch brothers and Art Pope to George Soros and Michael Bloomberg, wealthy donors are making North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race one of America’s first $100 million contests.

Outside groups continue to flood the state with ads and accusations, forcing Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis to keep scrambling for dollars in the campaign’s final two weeks.

Money spent or committed in the race is poised to top $103 million, according to public records and interviews with donors. Three-quarters of it comes from party and interest groups. More than $22 million is “dark money” from groups that don’t disclose their donors.

“It’s a stunning number, and it tells you two things,” says Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. “That campaign finance is completely out of anybody’s control and North Carolina is a premier swing state.”

It tells us one more thing: That our political system is for sale to the highest bidder. The overwhelming majority of that money comes not from individuals but from huge corporate interests and billionaires. Could anyone really believe that the are doing that with no expectation of return? No, it’s an investment. And it’s a good one. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t keep doing it. They aren’t in the business of making bad investments.

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  • donkensler

    Damn! $100 million should go a long way in a state with no huge metro areas. NC TV must be wall-to-wall ads. And to think I thought it was bad here in Michigan with all of the ads for the Snyder-Schauer and Peters-Land races.

  • Chiroptera

    It tells us one more thing: That our political system is for sale to the highest bidder.

    Well, that’s the Constitution for you. I’ve always said, we live under the Constitution that exists, not the Constitution that I want. I’d say it in this case, too, if it weren’t for the fact that this is one of the times that Scalia et al. managed to give us the Constitution they want.

  • Kevin Kehres

    @1…that’s what the “mute” button is for on the TV remote.

    I rarely watch the local channels where the political ads are — but as soon as the program goes to commercial break, I hit “mute”.

    And, in fact, there’s an add for the right-wing asshole Tillis on this page at this very moment.

  • blf

    Despite the enormous amount the Kockroach brothers and others spent in the last presidential election, they still failed to get (many of) their lickspittles elected and decrees enacted / enforced, with the most obvious success perhaps being to delay the extraordinary small number of rational proposals made. They had to appeal to the chief child rapist in Rome to order the supine court jesters to define corporations as persons and woman as slaves.

    How to ethically slow, much less stop, this apparent avalanche of stoooooopidity has me puzzled, albeit the disappearance of the main supporting demographic (elderly authoritarians) and the complete loathing of almost everyone else suggests that if the damage can be limited, time will prevail. (Not an answer I’m too happy or confident about.)

  • scienceavenger

    Worse, its just a giant economic waste. There’s no societal benefit to all this “activity”, and that’s being generous given the low educational value of these ads. A big green $100M bonfire is arguably better, at least it isn’t miseducating people.

    The country would be better off if they just gave $10 to each of NC’s 10M population.

  • eric

    Could anyone really believe that the are doing that with no expectation of return? No, it’s an investment. And it’s a good one. If it wasn’t, they wouldn’t keep doing it.

    It’s an economic trap, analogous in some ways to a dollar auction, so they absolutely could be investing money with no expectation of net return. Which would make it exactly what scienceavenger says, a giant economic waste…unless you are a TV station or advertising agent, I guess.

    To see this, I’ll use a simple toy case. Let’s say you’re a corporation who has already spent $10 million on a candidate, with an expectation of $11 million in kickbacks or tax reductions or whatever if he wins. But now some opponent spends a bunch of money on the other candidate, and you are forced to make his choice: spend $5 million more and win, or spend nothing and lose. The rational choice is to spend the money. If you don’t, you lose $10million. If you do, you lose ($15m-$11m=) $4million. So you spend the money knowing you’re going to lose money on the deal, because you will lose less than if you don’t spend the money.

    Of course when you then spend the $5million, your opponent does the same calculation, and then he spends more again to lose less. Now you have to recalculate, and it will turn out that it will again be rational for you to spend more in order to lose less. And it sprials up and up, with neither of the corporate bidders on either side ever expecting to reap more benefits than what they have invested.

  • colnago80

    Re blf @ #4

    Unfortunately, they got a bigger payoff in 2010 in state legislative elections which, in turn, have led to gerrymandered congressional districts which enable perpetual Rethuglican control of the House. They also gerrymandered state legislative districts so that even redistricting after 2020 will not alleviate the damage done in 2010 relative to Congressional redistricting (Democrats got some 1 million more votes for Congressional representatives then did Rethuglicans in 2012 but still failed to win the House).

  • scienceavenger

    I’ve often wondered how much economic benefit we would reap if we just changed three things in society:

    1) Place a reasonable limit on the Citizens United-inspired economic arms race.

    2) Shift to a priority voting system. No more primaries, no more runoffs, no more pluralistic crazy winners. One and done.

    3) (a bit OT) Give each attorney in jury trials 3 strikes, pick the jury in minutes rather than hours, and GET ON WITH IT.

  • David C Brayton

    I don’t buy the investment argument. Every voter, whether a business owner or an unemployed welfare recipient, is self-interested. Everyone that contributes to a politician expects that that candidate will do things that benefit the donor’s self interest. That is precisely why the donation is being made–to get folks elected that are sympathetic to the donor’s cause.

  • colnago80

    Re David C. Brayton @ #9

    As Voltaire (or perhaps Napoleon) said, god marches with the big battalions. In this case, politicians march with the big contributors.

  • Reginald Selkirk
  • Michael Heath

    I oppose dark money contributions. However, the district I live in has been overwhelmed with money semi-transparently spent by the Koch brothers. Both mailings and TV ads reveal the organizations they control.

    Several years ago (less than 10), the Koch brothers bought and then soon shut down my town’s biggest employer, a plywood factory. This year’s bought-and-paid-for state representative candidate, Triston Cole, is funded largely by Koch money. He doesn’t just out-spend the Democratic nominee, that’s anti-climatic in my part of Michigan; instead he overwhelmed all Republican primary opponents with Koch contributions.

    After the 2012 elections the Koch brothers TV ads were the only political ads I encountered on TV. There were a lot of them, all of them attempting to influence people against Obamacare. They also were going after Democratic candidates prior to the primary season even heating up by mispresenting their position regarding Obamacare. Every single ad I encountered was also found to be dishonest by various factchecker sites.

    Even when people like the Koch brothers spend money where citizens can track-back, it’s effectively dark money. That’s given voter apathy to the point they don’t care or bother to discover that people that have already caused them direct harm are still active in the area and committed to getting them to vote and support people committed to doing them even more harm when this area’s interests are in opposition to what the Koch brothers want to see happen.

    So while I oppose dark money, I see voter apathy and PACs doing far more harm to our democracy than dark money in my little neck of the woods.

  • janiceintoronto

    $103,000,000? Jesus H. Fuck on a pogo stick. All for -one- states’ Senatorial race.

    Your political process has gone insane. Seriously. You guys need to see a specialist. If this isn’t a sign of civilization in decline, I don’t know what is.

    It’s just too bad we share 4,500 miles of border with you. It’s very scary being your neighbor.

  • eric

    @13 – if it’s that scary, why does 75%-90% of your population live within 80 miles of us? You’ve got a lot of land you could use as a buffer, you know. Admit it, we are the people you love to hate. Or hate to love. Or something… 😉

  • malefue

    This seems simply unhealthy from my perspective.

    In the little central european country I live in, at roughly the same population as North Carolina, all 6 (!) major political parties put together spent about 30 million EUR. That’s about 38 million USD, Google tells me.

    Looking at american politics sure is a surreal “Brazil”-like experience.

  • malefue

    Oh, I forgot to mention that these are the numbers for this year’s general election. You know, parliamentary elections, the kind that decides who gets to govern the whole country.

  • marcus

    janiceintoronto Oh, you’re just jealous because you guy don’t have $100,000,000 to piss away in bullshit demonstrations of fiscal idiocy and political demagoguery. Sucks to be you!

  • felidae

    Money talks, its official, the Supreme Court says so–A ruling on whether bullshit walks will be made soon