Connections: Money Talks

There is something very unsettling about super PAC money wielding power in state elections

   Did you know that all 400-some-odd members of the House of Representatives are up for election every two years? (Okay, the number is 435, not including the non-voting members who represent the United States territories and the District of Columbia.)
    I am willing to admit my own ignorance on this quite simple fact. Apparently I’m not alone: I’ve gotten consistent responses in the negative over the last few days, when I asked friends if they realized elections in the House aren’t staggered, as they are in the Senate.
    Not everyone I spoke to was as concerned as I am about who is going to be elected in November — and where the country will be headed — but, at the very least, we ought to know how our national government works, don’t you think? You get a better understanding of how representatives committed to the Tea Party took over the House in 2010 when you know that every seat was on the line. Were the terms staggered, the outcome might have been somewhat different.
    Senators, of course, serve for six years, with one-third of them coming up for election every two years. Of the 33 Senate seats up for election this year, two are now held by Independents (Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders), 10 by Republicans, and 21 by Democrats.
    I have never contributed to a senator’s election campaign, but a good number of incumbent Democrats have got my number, or, I should say, my e-mail address this year. Among them are Dianne Feinstein of California, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Jon Tester of Montana, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. I am sure there’s an explanation of how I got on their lists and why I don’t get similar requests for money from New York’s Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. At least their missives have acquainted me with what they stand for.
    As for Senator McCaskill, The New York Times reported this week that $15 million has been spent to defeat her since July 2011 by Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, Charles Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the 60 Plus Association. Ms. McCaskill is not expected to hold on to the seat she won with 49.6 percent of the vote in 2006.
    There is something very unsettling about super PAC money wielding power in state elections. When the Supreme Court ruled in what is known as Citizens United in 2010 that corporations and unions were entitled to First Amendment protections, the decision unleashed unfettered millions for political campaigns.
    Even if you were to concede that spending by national super PACs was acceptable in connection with presidential campaigns, it strikes me as truly inappropriate for such money to affect the election of anyone running to serve the people of a given state (or one of its regions). Moreover — in any potential future vote on legislation to override Citizens United, how independent could the decision be among congressmen who leaned hard on out-of-state super PAC money for their victory?
    Representative Tim Bishop, our local congressman, said recently that the Karl Rove forces had begun advertising against his re-election only five days after he was declared the winner of a very close race in 2010. Doesn’t that make a mockery of how a congressman is supposed to be elected to represent the people?