Jay Mandle, professor at Colgate University and part of Democracy Matters, an organization that involves students in supporting Clean Elections efforts, has this article up at the Huffington Post tracking the level of public faith in government relative to the amount of private money in elections.
Mandle's correlations show a distinct relationship between an increasing amount of private money going to campaigns (and the relatively small number of people responsible for contributing that money) and an increasing level of public cynicism towards government and its institutions:
Why did this happen? Figure 1 below shows that the period of increasing political cynicism occurred during the very years in which there was a huge increase in the role of private money in the political process. The big jump in political expenses was initiated in the 1980 electoral cycle. Private political contributions were 50 percent higher (in constant prices) in 1980 than in 1976. They increased by another 19 percent between 1980 and 1984, and by 32 percent during the next four years. The level of private political donations in 1988 was almost three times that of 1976.
As Mandle demonstrates, this cynicism is not confined to one party, and it's not only a recent phenomenon. This is a voter alienation that has been on the rise for some time, and all signs point to the need to pursue a full public financing system for federal elections to remedy it.