The Agenda

Matt Bai on the Post-Citizens United Political Landscape

Matt Bai of the New York Times Magazine, who chronicled the rise of the netroots in The Argument, has just published an article challenging the received wisdom about how Citizens United has changed the political playing field. It offers a very good look at the unintended consequences of successive waves of campaign finance regulation. Here is a brief passage that captures an important part of Bai’s argument:

A consequence of McCain-Feingold has been to flip on its head an old truism of politics, which is that incumbency comes with a fixed financial advantage. In the era of soft money, controlling the White House meant that a party could almost always leverage its considerable resources to dominate fund-raising. But today it’s much easier to tap into the fury and anxiety of out-of-power millionaires than it is to amass contributions in defense of the status quo. This dynamic probably explains why wealthy Democrats who pioneered the idea of outside money during the Bush years have largely stood down this year, even while conservative fund-raising has soared. It isn’t that liberals don’t like Obama or grow queasy at the mention of super PACs. It’s a function of human nature: nobody really gets pumped up to write a $10 million check just to keep things more or less as they are.

As a result, he suggests that if Mitt Romney is indeed elected president, we’re likely to see a flood of money flowing to outside groups backing Democrats come the 2016 cycle, as we did in 2004 and 2006.

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