There has long been a "wink and a nod" between our elected officials and many special interests (and their lobbyists), but as Norman Ornstein writes in Roll Call today, after the U.S. Surpeme Court Citizens United v. FEC ruling, that isn't even necessary any more.
Now even the threat of voting the "wrong" way can bring on a torrent of independent spending that can crush the reelection hopes of lawmakers in Congress.
From the Roll Call piece:
"We are already seeing it in big, and corrupting, ways in Congress. I have had conversations with several incumbents in the Senate who are up in 2012 who say the same thing: They can handle any of the several prospective opponents they might face — but all of them fear a stealth campaign, landing behind their lines and spending $20 million on 'independent' campaigns designed to portray the incumbent as a child-molesting alien who should be behind bars, not serving in the Senate."
Citizens United opened the floodgates of special interest and corporate money into our elections. And this kind of spending not only drowns out the voices of ordinary Americans, who already feel like Washington, D.C. doesn't listen to them, it clearly affects policy-making, as members of Congress face the threat of being spent into oblivion in their next campaign if they don't vote the way an industry lobbyist wants.
And as Ornstein notes: "No money has to be spent to get the desired outcome." This isn't how a healthy democracy works. And while Wall Street and other wealthy interests continue to line their pockets, its the rest of us who pay the price.