Since Citizens United completely changed the landscape of campaign finance, the amount of money thrown into national elections has skyrocketed. Senate races this year, particularly the one between Kentucky’s incumbent Mitch McConnell (R) and challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, are expected to be some of most costly in American history.
But the Right isn’t just attempting to buy elections at the federal level; Republican-affiliated groups have been pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race for Montana’s vacant Supreme Court seat.
“In one day the ideological balance of the Montana court will be decided by a single race,” wrote Eric Stern, Montana’s Deputy Secretary of State, “thus affecting just about any issue in Montana – energy development, land use, wildlife habitat, coal development, banking laws, water quality, insurance regulation, Obamacare, ‘stand your ground’ gun laws, logging, abortion, birth control access, gay marriage. You name it.”
The race in Montana is between the incumbent, Mike Wheat, who leans Democratic and is “a 30-year legal practitioner and purple heart recipient,” and a “young ‘movement conservative,’” Lawrence VanDyke. Stern wrote of the challenger,
“At Harvard Law in 2004, VanDyke wrote an article about the terrible persecution throughout the history of the gay rights movement – not persecution of gay people, but persecution of homophobes. He wrote another in which he offered a legal basis for teaching intelligent design in public schools. And he believes that Citizens United was an excellent Supreme Court decision. He has practiced law in Montana for one and a half years, as an appointee in the attorney general’s office, where he spent his days filing amicus briefs in other states on right-wing causes and cases. Now he wants to be a Supreme Court justice.”
So how does a race between an incumbent with 30 years of experience and a challenger with basically none get so close? The answer, of course, is money.
A conservative group called the Judicial Fairness Initiative, whose top donors include Koch Industries, Reynolds Tobacco, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Citigroup, and Walmart, has spent about “$330,000 for about 10 days of media in mid-October, a huge sum in Montana,” Stern said. And that’s on top of the money coming from the Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, “which is spending a few hundred thousand more (though not reporting any of it, thanks to an IRS loophole that president Obama has not yet closed, which allows all of this spending to be categorized as ‘social welfare issues advocacy’).”
A Democratic group, Montanans for Liberty and Justice, has helped raise a few hundred thousand dollars to help Wheat, but with Stern predicting that the amount of money going to VanDyke could hit $1 million, he’s not optimistic that it will help.
This is just another example of how the disastrous Citizens United decision has changed politics for the worse. Elections are bought and paid for by the highest bidders, and with corporations able to throw a seemingly-endless amount of money at races, the average person’s voice is drowned out. Unless the decision is overturned, democracy as we knew it is all but extinct.