Pocket Change

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Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) survived his recall election last night, buoyed by millions in contributions from the country’s wealthiest Americans. As Mother Jones points out, Walker outraised his opponent Tom Barrett by a 7:1 margin, or $30.5 million to $4 million. Two-thirds of Walker’s money came from out-of-state.

The scary part, though, is that donations to Walker from these wealthy people are just pocket change to a lot of them. They have plenty left and can (and will) keep spending it in races across the country.

In May, we reported that at least eight billionaires had donated to Walker’s campaign, handing over $1.275 million. If those eight people donated just one percent of their net worth to super PACs or other outside groups, that’d be nearly half a billion dollars. They could pick 50 U.S. House races and throw in $10 million to each of them, swamping candidate spending. It’d be 47 percent more than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spent in the 2008 presidential election. Even one-half of one percent would be significant.

This analysis leaves a lot of people out—the Koch Brothers and other big donors to outside groups. It’s an example of what November could look like in races across the country in a political system where the wealthiest Americans are drowning out the voices of everyone else.

Those complaining about big money’s influence last night need to seriously address—and advocate for—structural changes to the way our democracy works. We need either a changed Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment to allow common sense restrictions on campaign spending. And transparency is vital. But it’s more than just getting money out or shining a light on it, we need to get regular people back in.

As Ezra Klein noted this morning, we need public financing legislation like the Fair Elections Now Act that would allow candidates to run for office based on collecting small donations from people back home that’d be matched on a 5-to-1 or larger basis.

Polling released by Public Campaign Action Fund last month showed that voters will reward candidates who push for policies like these. As massive money now lines up to be spent in the fall, it’s time politicians spoke up loudly and in big numbers for the changes the public wants to see in our rapidly diminishing democracy.