Research topic: Dark money and the midterm elections

Voting results in the midterm elections were likely affected by the shear amount of ads placed before the eyes of the voters. In the midterm elections 2014, an estimated $3.67 billion was funneled into media ads. When you’re deciding how to cast your vote on an issue it often helps to look at who supports and who opposes that issue.

Learn how dark money and the midterm elections are related. (Credit: The Westwire)

Learn how dark money and the midterm elections are related. (Credit: The Westwire)

But when issues are funded by dark money, you don’t know for sure who the players really are. Whether you’re a student of economics, political science, or business you might consider looking at the issue of campaign finance for your next research paper.

Capitalism v. democracy

According to author Timothy K. Kuhner, as of 2014 it costs approximately $1 billion to become president, $10 million to become a senator, and $1 million to become a member of the House. When so much money is required to gain elected office, can corruption be far behind?

In his book, Capitalism v. Democracy: Money in Politics and the Free Market Constitution Kuhner explains how the Supreme Court has been instrumental in allowing politically powerful companies to gain control of the political system and turn the practice of economics to their favor. As a result, he sees the U.S. gradually changing from a democracy into a plutocracy where society is governed by the wealthy and not the people.

“Much of American democracy as we know it today can be explained by the fact that there is no limit to the total amount of money that candidates and parties can raise and spend, and that virtually all of that money comes from private sources, not the state,” Kuhner said.

Rules of the game

Kuhner isn’t the only one who is raising the alarm about the role of money in politics. Russ Choma provided his own analysis in his November 5, 2014, post for OpenSecrets.org, “Money Won on Tuesday, But Rules of the Game Changed.”

Choma pointed out that in the House races the candidate who spent the most money won 94.2 percent of the time while in the Senate races the figure was 81.8 percent. In many cases Democratic candidates raised more money than their Republican opponents but their funds were primarily from small donors whose identities were disclosed.

“Republicans made the most of their fundraising advantage and routed Democrats in Tuesday’s midterms, but they seized the majority in the Senate and built their lead in the House even as fewer donors participated in the process and more of the dollars came from secret sources,” Choma explained.

Dark money

If you think that none of this affects you then think again. Lee Fang exposed how this dark money can corrupt the political process and affect your financial future. Fang described the process in his November 5, 2014, post for PublicReport.org, “Sallie Mae Lobbyists Control Midterm Election Dark Money Groups.”

First a little background. Historically federal law has placed limits on how much individuals and organizations can donate to political campaigns and political organizations. But ever since 2010 those limits have been eroded.

In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that the government could not restrict independent political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation.

This decision opened wide the door for super PACS (political action committees) to accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals without disclosing their identities or the amounts contributed.

How this affects you, a college student loaded with students loans, can be seen in Fang’s article.

“Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network, according to filings, were two of the largest dark money groups in America. Both are organized under the 501c4 section of the tax code, meaning they do not have to disclose a dime of donor money,” Fang said.

According to Fang, these two donor groups are led by lobbyists who work for Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest student loan servicer.

Fang questioned the extent that Sallie Mae supported the Republican candidates who gained the House majority in the midterm elections. Many of these candidates oppose efforts to rein in student debt, lower student loan interest rates and making it easier to discharge student loan debt through bankruptcy.

Currently an estimated 40 million Americans are carrying a total of $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. That is an average of $29,000 per person.

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Are you concerned about the role of dark money in politics? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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