Analysts of American elections routinely confuse the voice of the people with the sound of money talking. Habitual modes of thought and long standing incentives to reaffirm the democratic faith encourage grasping at straws. Pundits become hopeful that big money doesn’t matter as much as they feared, and that democracy is alive and well.
In the Spring of 2012, however, as Mitt Romney’s Super Pacs carpet bombed the rest of the Republican field into oblivion, falling into that trap became much harder. It was obvious that a handful of multimillionaires were playing pivotal roles in the election. Despite some talk about small donors in President Obama’s campaign, the general election enhanced the impression that American politics was sliding into a new and sinister phase. Once Romney clinched the nomination, his campaign paused to restock its war chest in advance of the Republican convention. The Obama campaign seized the opening. Instead of waiting until fall to deploy its heavy artillery, first the president’s formal campaign vehicle and then its nominally independent SuperPac laid down monster barrages of negative ads.
Sheldon Adelson, Harold Simmons, the Kochs, and a raft of Wall Street 1 percenters responded by opening their wallets even wider to the GOP, determined to engineer their own vision of “real change.” As campaign expenditures soared past all records, unpublished polls showed voters of all persuasions – even many Republicans – filled with revulsion at the spectacle of elections so clearly compromised.