Mired in money: Bang for the buck shot some campaigns in the foot

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Money talks. If any proof of that were needed, the 2012 presidential election stands as fresh evidence. Freed from legal restraints by a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court in the notorious Citizens United case in January 2010, corporations and unions unleashed a tsunami of TV advertising funded by super PACs.

And what did this judicial activism heedless of precedent turn out to mean? In the weeks before Nov. 6, the American people found out -- back-to-back TV ads, on and on, nagging continually to the point of viewers' frustrated screams or a rush to press the mute button. This election was the most expensive in American history, The New York Times reported, with a price tag estimated at $6 billion.

As both Democrats and Republicans benefited from this money stream, the money bought nothing but the status quo with a bit of tweaking. After all, President Barack Obama won and Mitt Romney lost. But the biggest individual donors, not surprisingly given his business connections, were for Mr. Romney and it is remarkable how futile their efforts were.

Most spectacular, as The Times also reported, was Sheldon Adelson, a Romney supporter who is said to be the biggest single donor in political history. He supported eight candidates at a cost of $60 million in contributions to super PACs and other outside groups -- and none of his candidates won.

This does not mean that Citizens United is an overblown worry; with that sort of money floating around, the chance of politicians remaining independent of their funders is ever more imperiled. A politics where the biggest check buys the biggest influence is always going to be subversive of the democratic ideal.

Something must be done about Citizens United, which has negative effects for both parties. On Nov. 6, in Montana, which Mr. Romney won, and Colorado, where Mr. Obama triumphed, voters passed nonbinding resolutions that called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling. That trend needs to spread.

In this election, Americans can take comfort in knowing that while money talks, voters don't always listen.

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