More than $6 billion was spent nationally on this year’s elections and a poll conducted by two Washington-based, Democratic-leaning groups suggests voters on both sides of the aisle are tired of big money in politics and ready for reform.
The Democracy Corps and Public Campaign Action Fund polled 1,000 likely voters in 54 competitive congressional districts with Republican incumbents. The poll was conducted on Election Day and the day after.
During a Tuesday conference call, Public Campaign Action Fund Executive Director David Donnelly said the scope of money now in play in elections has voters feeling like they don’t have much influence over their elected officials.
Voters were given several potential factors that might influence an elected official. They were asked to pick the ones they thought had the most or least influence. Fifty-nine percent said special interests and lobby groups had the most influence. For the two least influential factors, 31 percent of voters picked the elected officials’ own consciences and 23 percent said it was the views of their constituents.
“One quarter of all voters thought they themselves were the least influential, trailing only a member of Congress’ own conscience at 31 percent. There’s a joke in there but I’m not going to say it,” Donnelly said. “These are damning statistics.”
Donnelly said the poll represented a clear indictment of the current campaign finance system and saw both Republicans and Democratic voters largely embracing reform. Stanley Greenberg, CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Co-Founder of Democracy Corps, agreed.
“For me, the most powerful pieces here are the scale of contempt for money in politics and the role that it played in this election,” he said, adding that the feeling was held by voters in both parties.
Though it likely will be difficult to find bipartisan consensus in Congress over looming fiscal and budgetary issues, Greenberg said campaign finance reform may be one area where lawmakers can agree.
Greenberg, who is married to U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, said a majority of Republican voters said they would support things like publicly financed federal campaigns after they were told that more than $6 billion was spent on the election. But he admitted that such sentiments may be temporary.
“We are at a moment coming out of the election, you know, where people are disgusted with what happened in the election with regard to money in politics, and are ready to move,” he said.
Greenberg said barely 1 in 10 Republican voters polled expressed a positive view of Super PACs, making the issue one of the few where the parties agree.
“At a period of time of unbelievable polarization, this is not an issue that’s polarizing. This is a moment of change where people have witnessed the corruption of money,” he said. “. . . They’re ready for reforms like transparency but they’re also ready for reforms that move to matching funds with public funds.”
Even if the public disapproves of Super PACs, Donnelly said they had a very real effect on congressional races this year. Candidates on average wound up raising around 20 percent more than what’s normal in an effort to keep control of their messages in races where PACs were pushing their own narratives.
“If you try convincing a candidate in a competitive congressional race that Super PACs don’t matter, you’ll either get blank stares or you’ll get laughed at,” Donnelly said.
On Monday, an analysis by ConnPIRG Education Fund and Demos found that 61 donors contributing $4.7 million each matched $285.1 million in small donations contributed to the presidential campaigns.
More than 60 percent of the money raised by Super PACs this election came from 132 donors who gave at least $1 million each, the analysis found.
“Because of the Supreme Court’s equation of money and speech, these wealthy special interests were able to amplify their voices to over 23,000 times the volume of the average small donor,” Abe Scarr, director of ConnPIRG, said.