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Money in politics? Quit whining!

Congress for sale...J. Roberts, A. Kennedy proprietors
Congress for sale...J. Roberts, A. Kennedy proprietors
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Last week the most recent proprietors of money in politics…John Roberts and the Republican majority on the Supreme Court…decided that while it wasn’t okay for an individual to pay more than $5200 for a politician, it was okay to buy as many politicians for $5200 each as you wish. In striking down the individual aggregate, the Court essentially said that an individual…rich, of course, who else could afford it…can give as much money as they want as many places as they want.

Reaction to the latest attempt to sell our government has divided along predictable lines. Republicans…the leading beneficiaries of big money in politics…hailed it as yet another victory for free speech…on the theory that money is speech. Democrats, liberals in particular, decried it as yet another victory for big money in its effort to take over the government for its own nefarious purposes. Of the two, the progressives cries of pain were loudest and most numerous.

While one tends to agree that money is best removed from politics altogether, one also tends to say to the progressives…get over it!

The belief that the very wealthy are trying to buy our elections isn’t an illusion. The belief that they’re having any success at it is. The results of the 2012 election, the first in the wake of the Citizens United case, are instructive. Any number of billionaires threw in millions of dollars to elect their favorite candidates. Sheldon Adelson invested $15 million in Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. It sometimes seems that the more money Adelson threw at him, the worse Newt did. He was out of the field well before the nominating convention, leaving Adelson to invest the rest of his campaign cash in Mitt Romney…who also lost. Rick Santorum had his own billionaire…Foster Friess. Santorum finished second in the nominating process. A very distant second. And Mr. Friess managed to make a fool of himself on national television with an aspirin between his knees. Karl Rove spent over $340 million on the 2012 elections. He elected nobody.

One reason our erstwhile millionaires and billionaires have such a poor record of electing candidates is simple. They’re horrible at it. The commercials they produce, either supporting their own candidates or attacking their opponents, are egregiously bad. Not only bad, but often demonstrably false. The recent burst of ads from the Koch Brothers Americans for Prosperity attacking Obamacare were debunked as lies before they even hit the air. And Obamacare not only met its enrollment goals, it exceeded them.

Contrary to common belief…or fear…money doesn’t win elections. Votes do. If you get your voters out, you win. If you don’t, you lose. Democrats didn’t lose in 2010 because of money. They lost because their voters stayed home.

Quit whining! VOTE!!!