There's no mistaking how, in less than a year, Citizens United has radically tilted the political playing field. Along with several other major court rulings, it ushered in American Crossroads, American Action Network, and many similar groups that now can reel in unlimited donations with pathetically few requirements to disclose their funders.
What the present Supreme Court, itself the fruit of successive tax-cutting and deregulating administrations, has ensured is this: that in an American “democracy,” only the public will remain in the dark. Even for dedicated reporters, tracking down these groups is like chasing shadows: official addresses lead to P.O. boxes; phone calls go unreturned; doors are shut in your face.
The limited glimpse we have of the people bankrolling these shadowy outfits is a who's-who of the New Oligarchy: the billionaire Koch Brothers ($21.5 billion); financier George Soros ($11 billion); hedge-fund CEO Paul Singer (his fund, Elliott Management, is worth $17 billion); investor Harold Simmons (net worth: $4.5 billion); New York venture capitalist Kenneth Langone ($1.1 billion); and real estate tycoon Bob Perry ($600 million).
Then there's the roster of corporations who have used their largesse to influence American politics. Health insurance companies, including UnitedHealth Group and Cigna, gave a whopping $86.2 million to the U.S. Chamber to kill the public option, funneling the money through the industry trade group America's Health Insurance Plans. And corporate titans like Goldman Sachs, Prudential Financial, and Dow Chemical have given millions more to the Chamber to lobby against new financial and chemical regulations.
As a result, the central story of the 2010 midterm elections isn’t Republican victory or Democratic defeat or Tea Party anger; it’s this blitzkrieg of outside spending, most of which came from right-leaning groups like Rove's American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It's a grim illustration of what happens when so much money ends up in the hands of so few. And with campaign finance reforms soundly defeated for years to come, the spending wars will only get worse.
Indeed, pundits predict that spending in the 2012 elections will smash all records. Think of it this way: in 2008, total election spending reached $5.3 billion, while the $1.8 billion spent on the presidential race alone more than doubled 2004's total. How high could we go in 2012? $7 billion? $10 billion? It looks like the sky’s the limit.