The following editorial first appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star.
The billionaires and millionaires have pulled out their checkbooks. The advertising agencies and polling firms have crafted their products. Television stations and cable operators have booked the time.
Now the ads, positive and negative, have begun to fill the airwaves, selling their product with smears and cheers and forcing consumers to try to sort out the truth, the best or at least their favorite among the choices.
But the advertising isn’t selling pizza or peanut butter or pop. It’s hawking candidates for all levels of office, but primarily for top positions: governor, U.S. Senate and Congress. And it’s happening across the country.
The use of advertising and public relations techniques to promote politicians is far from new. The late Joe McGinniss detailed how those techniques were used by Roger Ailes, who now runs Fox News, to elect Richard Nixon in 1968 in his classic book “The Selling of the President.”
But more money than ever is pouring into campaigns this year, the result of a pair of Supreme Court decisions -- 2010’s Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, in which a 5-4 split court allowed corporate spending on elections, and April’s McCutcheon ruling, in which the same conservative/liberal split struck down limits on individual campaign spending.
“If Citizens United opened a door, today’s decision, we fear, will open a floodgate,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said in his dissent, which he read from the bench five months ago.
Breyer has already been proved prophetic.
According to the Washington Post, 310 donors gave a combined $11.6 million more by this summer than would have been allowed before the ruling.
Not surprisingly, those contributions favored Republican candidates and committees over Democratic ones by 2 to 1.
The cash has continued to flow and is fueling a never-ending onslaught of television commercials that often dirty up the process by attacking candidates with distortions and exaggerations and, at best -- when they’re positive -- overstate the candidate’s virtues.
That makes an undecided voter’s choice more difficult and drives elections to be ever more partisan and divisive.
The flood of money won’t stop before November -- or at all as 2016 presidential campaigns are already gearing up.
The biggest hope is that a direct correlation between spending and votes doesn’t become the electoral norm. If that occurs, the big money really will have purchased the democratic process.