The Hidden Effects of Citizens United and Super PACs

Night falls on the White House seen through a fence as debt talks continue in Washington, Saturday, July 30, 2011. (AP Photo/
Night falls on the White House seen through a fence as debt talks continue in Washington, Saturday, July 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The obvious, out-front effects of the post-Citizens United world of political spending are obvious for everyone to see: the hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of extra advertising by secretive unaccountable organizations. But as irritating and nefarious as all that is, the hidden effects may be even worse.

Big money has always been a huge factor in politics, of course, with the people who could write the checks and raise the cash exerting a great deal of power in the system. But in the two election cycles since the Citizens United ruling, the power dynamic has shifted dramatically in three different ways, all of which are terrible for the future of our democratic system.

The first is the fear factor. Since Citizens United, I have begun having conversations with members of Congress on a regular basis who are factoring into their voting decisions the awareness that if they piss off a big money special interest, they will have to contend with a huge amount of cash -- hundreds of thousands, even millions -- being dumped into their race. Because so much of the money is not reported, they don't know for sure when it might come or if it will come, but the fear of making someone with a bunch of money mad is so much bigger than it used to be. Because the amounts being thrown into these races are so much bigger than they used to be, and because so much more of the money is secretive, the fear factor has grown exponentially.

The second factor that is new is that the sheer amount in some of these super PACs and 501(c)(4) non-profits is making the small number of people who give the big money to them far, far more powerful than they have ever been before. There is no rule against politicians and campaigns having conversations with the people giving these huge amounts of money to these big outside super PACs, and it is documented that people like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson have been in close touch with the Romney campaign. When they are writing the kinds of eight and even nine figure checks they are, I can guarantee that Romney is listening very closely to them, and not just on policy either. Longtime Republican insider Roger Stone has said, for example, that a source has told him that the Koch brothers told Romney they would give an extra $100 million to Republican super PACs and 501(c)(4)s if he would name Ryan to the ticket, and given how much money the Koch brothers would make off the Ryan budget, that is a completely believable story. The people giving these kinds of sums are having a massive influence on the politicians running for office.

The third factor is the Unaccountability factor. Back in the day when Karl Rove was working directly for candidate and President George W. Bush, he did plenty of dirty tricks and ran lots of sleazy ads, but he was at least held partly in check by Bush having to answer for what Rove did. Now Rove is a free agent. His ads don't need to have even a semblance of truth, and his dirty tricks directly harm no candidate. Having all this completely unaccountable money flooding the system is rapidly eroding any sense of fairness and honesty in our politics.

I have been involved in presidential and congressional campaigns for almost 30 years, and I can tell you definitively that the changes in the system due to big money since the Citizens United decision are profound. The system is being corrupted to its core, and we had better wake up before our entire democratic way of life gets washed away by this flood of unaccountable money.

This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.

HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at the corrupting influence of money on our politics August 29th and September 5th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.