In a conference call with reporters today, Obama senior advisor David Axelrod said the message of the election to conservative billionaires is that the White House is not for sale.
Axelrod was asked what ended up being the point and effect of all of the outside money in this election. He called the results heartening in some ways because billions were spent in a losing effort to defeat the president and Democrats in the Senate. Axelrod couldn’t help taking a jab at Karl Rove, “If I were one of those billionaires funding Crossroads, I would like to talk to somebody about a refund, because they didn’t get much for their money.” He also thought that the larger point was that Citizens United money can be used to overwhelm Congressional races but, “the heartening news is that you can’t buy the White House.” Axelrod thought that in the future these conservative billionaires might be a bit more reluctant the next time Karl Rove knocks on their doors.
The discussion of the absolute failure of Rove’s Crossroads is disguising the fact that this secret money was very effective in two areas. It drove up the cost of running for office to unfathomable levels, and when the “dark money” was spent on negative advertising, it worked. It turns out that the Citizens United dollars were worth little for Republicans when it comes to supporting candidates, but it was more effective in opposing Democrats.
For example, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS Policy Strategists supported 0 winning candidates, but it did get a 14% return on its investment (which is still a lousy return on investment) by successfully opposing 7 candidates who lost. According to the Sunlight Foundation most of the largest Republican supporting super PACs were more successful with running ads against Democrats than they were with supporting Republicans. On the other hand, the smaller Democratic supported superPACs were much more successful in supporting and opposing candidates.
THe Republican super PAC numbers took a serious hit based on their total failure to defeat Barack Obama. In the last week of the campaign alone, the right wing super PACS spent $100 million on ads opposing the president.
I think Axelrod was correct to a degree. Super PAC money can buy the congress, but its potential effective is greatly limited by the national scope of the presidential election. The Obama campaign also did brilliant job negating the national super PAC dollars against them by running a targeted battleground state based campaign.
Citizens United money is just as dangerous to our electoral system and our system of governance as it was before the election. The conservative billionaires were defeated by a popular incumbent president this time, but they’ll be back in 2016. In the next four years, the pressure needs to be kept up, the law must be changed, and vigilance must be maintained to ensure that the people’s White House is never for sale.