The ‘Citizens United’ Tsunami

The five right-wing justices on the U.S. Supreme Court downplayed how distorting their Citizens United decision would be to American politics. But the tidal wave of campaign cash is now inundating U.S. voters with unchecked factual claims, says Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

That ringing in your ears isn’t church bells or a touch of tinnitus. It’s the sound of campaign cash registers all over the country, chiming together like the world’s biggest carillon, as money pours in as never before.

The total being spent for all the races in 2012 is projected at $6 billion this year; possibly rising to as much as $8 billion which perhaps not coincidentally is the same amount the National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend on Halloween.

Graphic of a Tsunami approaching land. (Credit: Ilhador)

Scary stuff, and almost as frightening is the realization that even though Election Day’s still more than a month away, the post-analysis already has begun, much of it focused on whether those vast amounts of campaign money spent on TV have had an effect or merely annoyed the hell out of the viewing population of America, especially if you live in one of the swing states where the din has been unbearable.

Maybe, as some have argued, minds were made up long ago and all the spending has been a waste, reminiscent of the famous comment by British Air Chief Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris writing about the dropping of millions of propaganda leaflets over the Maginot Line during the first weeks of World War II: “My personal view is that the only thing achieved was largely to supply the continent’s requirement of toilet paper for the five long years of war.”

Nevertheless, the bulk of all those billions worth of campaign lucre is going to TV ads, and consultants and strategists are moving political spots around the airwaves like pieces in that tri-dimensional chess game Spock and Kirk used to play on “Star Trek.”

Rick Klein at ABC News tells us that because early voting has started, “both candidates are [already] on the air with messages that are geared toward the very end,” a change from traditional campaigning. The Washington Post reports that “President Obama has a little-noticed strategic advantage that gives him more control over the money he has raised.

“While Mitt Romney relies heavily on massive amounts of cash held by the Republican Party and interest groups, Obama has more funds in his own campaign coffers. That allows him to make decisions about where and how to spend the money and to take better advantage of discounted ad rates, which candidates receive under federal law.

“In one Ohio ad buy slated to run just before the election, for example, Obama is paying $125 for a spot that is costing a conservative super PAC $900.”

So the maneuvering continues. Despite the pundits, we won’t know the full impact for a while to come and chances are that all that money will have its deepest impact on down ballot races for the House and state legislatures, where massive cash infusions can overwhelm sparsely funded competition.

All of which is interesting and relevant; none of which you will see or hear being reported on the local TV stations that are hauling in the bounty that is political ad spending. Most of them are owned by giant media companies, and given their record of forthright transparency it may come as no surprise that the stations are resistant to allowing coverage on their local news about those profits and where the money’s coming from.

Tim Karr at the media reform group Free Press has just written a report, “Left in the Dark,” revealing that in five cities in swing states, local TV stations have received millions of dollars in political advertising from outside groups like the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the pro-Obama Priorities USA.

But with a single exception, there was no local reporting on the cash these groups are pouring into the election and no fact-checking of the claims made in their ads.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during the two weeks before the recall election against incumbent Governor Scott Walker when outside money was swamping the state there was nothing on local news about political ad spending. But there were 53 segments that mentioned Justin Bieber, the Canadian singer who has countless young fans but to the best of our knowledge has not yet established a super PAC.

In the swing state of Ohio, during the month of August, “Cleveland’s four affiliate stations provided no coverage of the Koch brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity, despite airing the group’s anti-Obama attack ads more than 500 times. Americans for Prosperity has reportedly spent more than $1.5 million to place ads on Cleveland television stations.”

And in Charlotte, North Carolina, site of the Democratic National Convention, “four affiliate stations provided no local reporting on the three top-spending political groups, the anti-Obama American Crossroads, Americans for Prosperity, and Restore Our Future. From Jan. 1Aug. 31, 2012, these three groups cumulatively spent more than $4 million to place ads on Charlotte stations.

According to the Free Press report, “This profiteering may explain broadcasters’ reluctance to investigate the relationship between political ad spending and local media. In exchange for this massive influx of cash, broadcasters must take their public interest obligations seriously.

“They must cover the money that’s poisoning our politics, expose the groups and individuals funding political ads in their markets, and address the falsehoods presented in most of these spots.”

Nonetheless, we have “a system gamed to a point of dysfunction by wealthy, undisclosed donors and media corporations that are all too content to just cash their checks.”

To be fair, some stations are doing some form of due diligence local stations in Denver, Orlando, Phoenix, Dallas and Minneapolis, for example, are attempting to fact-check political ads running on their air. But they’re overwhelmed, and the media giants that have taken over most of our TV have been able to ignore their public obligations with impunity. Free Press and other media watchdog groups do their best, and your involvement is essential if they’re to keep reporting what the most of the press especially local TV stations will not.

The recent FCC decision to insist that stations place online public records of political ad buys was an important step toward transparency. But even after Election Day has passed, pressure has to continue on Congress, the IRS, the FCC and the Federal Elections Commission despite its current, weakened and feckless status. Dark money has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light.

Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the policy think tank, Demos, and senior writer, Moyers & Company, airing weekly on public television, Sirius XM Radio and online. Check local airtimes or comment at

10 comments for “The ‘Citizens United’ Tsunami

  1. clarence swinney
    October 9, 2012 at 07:25

    Years in Presidency——28—–22
    Total jobs created——–24m—42m
    stock market return—–109%–992%
    return per annum——–2.7%—11%
    gdp growth per annum–2.7%—4.1%
    Income Growth annum-0.6%—–2.2%
    Dept of Labor

  2. clarence swinney
    October 8, 2012 at 15:28

    The Tea Party is saying that taxes on land and financial assets punish the “Job Creators”.
    The wealthy claim they need to be pampered with tax preferences to invest and employ labor, while the 90% need to be kicked and prodded to work harder and get paid lower wages.
    These falsehoods are seen easily as false by looking at 1945-1980 when individual and corporate taxes were highest in history yet we had highest growth in history.
    Reagan started the transfer upward of income and wealth with his 60% tax cut for the top rate plus his spend/borrow fiscal policies. He spent more in 8 than prior 50 years. He increased debt by 189%.
    How can the rich justify the Fed printing $13Trillion to bail our bankers and scream were it to do the same for federal-grants-in aid to states and cities to vitalize our economy by creating millions of jobs
    Think about helping 90% not the top 10%.
    Our cities and states need revenue. Reagan axed Revenue Sharing which would be vital today.
    Bush II tried to outdo Reagan on Spend/Borrow with 92% increase in Spending and 112% increase in Debt giving us a Great Recession and 2,700,000 jobs outsourced to just China. Plus destroying our Housing Industry. Plus created two awful unneeded wars. Invade two unarmed, destitute nations.
    Shame on us is what history will read. Clarence disgusted swinney

  3. October 8, 2012 at 11:29

    This is very attention-grabbing, You are an excessively skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and sit up for in search of more of your great post. Also, I have shared your web site in my social networks

  4. paschn
    October 7, 2012 at 15:53

    Ever hear the cliche, “…..fiddled while Rome burned”? Here’s what all this splintered thinking and lack of focus has gotten us;

  5. paschn
    October 7, 2012 at 15:49

    Have you noticed how divided the people seem to be in this country? have you noticed how little progress this dying nation makes in cleaning up the mess within, while still finding abundant funds to fight other nations’ contrived “wars”? Do you seriously think the Obama’s, (aka Barry Sotero), the Mexican nationals in the Romney clan…the McCains, Bidens, Leibermans etc, etc, ad nauseum have all this division/inability to move in one direction? No, not at all.
    Every time there’s a law or a “bill” that needs passing that chips away at our constitution, POW! passed.

    NDAA, Patriot Act, Homeland Security, TSA…fly right through with mass support on BOTH blue and red parties. We pay for over 700 fully armed and invasion ready military bases in over 130 nations across the globe…no trouble finding money for them, is there?

    There was no difficulty in passing NAFTA or any other legislation that not only bled millions of jobs to nations with cheap or slave labor but gave OUR tax dollars to those treasonous corporations to help them make the move, THEN passed “laws” for those same bastards to import their foreign largess with little or no taxes…FOR US TO BUY!
    In addition, while we “blue” this or “red” that…Left/right whatever..We have a bought off and well trained “supreme” court exacerbate, (unconstitutional ESPECIALLY in a Domocratic Republic), Corporate citizenship by removing ALL constraints to corporations buying BLUE/RED/LEFT/RIGHT…traitors to pass bills, (no trouble getting support for these, is there?) crushing labor, vaporizing jobs, throwing tens of millions of our fellow citizens out of work and into storm drain or tent cities with their children THEN passing laws, (again, no trouble getting blue and red to agree on this, is there?), removing social programs to keep them from starving to death, militarize police, arming them with military grade weapons…nullifying Posse Comitatus/Habeus Corpus, pay a premier terrorist nation, (according to the U.N.’s Judge goldstone), to TRAIN them, (have you noticed a huge spike in constitutional/international human rights violations committed by cops against their OWN citizens?),in the art of crushing constitutionally guaranteed redress of their grievances?

    After the FED RES and their shills on Wall Street screwed us out of tens of billions, were they arrested, tried, and imprisoned? Well, no…they had their pocket politicians from BOTH parties give them what has grown to trillions in bail outs. The one thing you seem unable to grasp is when it benefits the insanely rich, they have no problem scraping together enough support, (virtually instantly), to “get it passed”.

    So, keep on “left” this or “right” that. Support the “blue” party or the “red”. Vladimeer Lenin is quoted saying “the best way to control the opposition is to lead it”. Stop your petty in fighting for a few moments and THINK about that.

  6. Purple Girl
    October 5, 2012 at 14:33

    Why use “Zionist Christian” instead of Roman Catholics? Because you know how ridiculous that sounds to those of us who have not only read history books but attended Catechism long after the Vatican II in 1965 exonerated the Jewish people of ‘Killing Christ’, and know they continued to teach and preach it anyway?
    Having had my 1st Communion in 1970,I know the Vatican’s proclamation of Jewish innocence was a marketing ploy not a change in actual doctrine teaching behind closed doors.
    Since the majority of Roman Catholic justice are older than me- I know that is what they were taught too. And since all 6 claim to be still practicing Catholicism, I’m more concerned about the Vaticans influence than your imaginary irrational “Zionist” cabal.
    The only logical conclusion that can be made, between your avoidance of calling them Roman Catholics and your innate disdain for homosexuals,is you are in fact a Roman Catholic and that is why you hate the “Jewish” “Lesbian”.

  7. Purple Girl
    October 5, 2012 at 13:23

    Why a self proclaimed proponent of Torture is still sitting on the bench of the Highest Court in the Land is mystery and a disgrace.
    Scalia Logic,
    “Cruel and Unusual punishment” is only a criteria pertaining to sentencing of those already tried and found guilty. Up until that point there are no restrictions on treatment.So it is not illegal, or even possible by this definition, to torture during apprehension, interrogation, or incarceration.
    After his televised admission to supporting this domestic and international crime, there was no doubt his finger prints are also all over the Yoo Torture papers.
    The only bench Scalia should be sitting on is one in Gitmo, awaiting trial with his fellow war crimes cronies

  8. F. G. Sanford
    October 2, 2012 at 17:08

    I caught a segment of Sean Hannity’s radio show the other day. The problem with the right-wing lunatic mindset is that it doesn’t matter what campaign ads say. If they believe that kind of voodoo, you can’t change their minds. They’ve bought into the “immoral national debt”, the “massive big government spending”, the deficit that will “destroy their grand-children’s future”, and the evils of “socialism”. What they want to cut in order to eliminate the debt are programs which exist ONLY IN THEIR OWN MINDS. I’m sure that if they understood what Paul Ryan wants to cut, they’d be against it. They want to cut “socialism”. It’s the LABEL that their brains respond to, not reality. In their dark, resentful, mean-spirited little minds, there are millions of shiftless, lazy, parasitic minorities who get a free ride because of “socialism”. “Big government”, pays the tab. The lunatic religious right’s churches, which now dabble freely in politics, do everything they can to promote these attitudes. To de-fang this attitude, Democrats need to start bragging about socialism. Lets start with socialism for churches: NO TAX FREE STATUS if they dabble in politics. Remind them that waste disposal is socialism. Trash collection is socialism. Public schools are socialism. Police and fire departments are socialism. Public libraries are socialism. Street-sweeping and public sanitation are socialism. Road maintenance is socialism. Public parks and county cemeteries are socialism. Public health and city water are socialism. Ambulances are socialism. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are socialism. Hedge funds, corporate loopholes and tax shelters are NOT socialism. They are WELFARE…for the RICH. They are forms of discrimination against the rest of us. We should demand the elimination of AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR THE RICH. Until these morons are educated about what they are really voting for, the campaign spending doesn’t matter. They’re going to vote against “socialism”. And, they’ll vote in favor of increasing defense spending and tax breaks for the rich. Unless, that is, the Democrats get some balls and start bragging about socialism. Socialism is what made America a great nation. These traitors want to end it. And they are traitors, in every sense of the word. They hate socialism? Fine. TAX THEIR CHURCHES!

    • greg haben
      October 5, 2012 at 12:10

      Bravo!!!!!!! I agee 100% I love all you points!!!! Awesum awesum job!!!

Comments are closed.