- Special Interests Dominate U.S. Senate Race
- The U.S. Senate race between Mark Pryor and Tom Cotton is among the most expensive Senate campaigns in the country. Both candidates have spent enormous sums of money to win over voters, but outside groups have spent much more. Of the $36 million spent to date, close to $25 million was spent by groups other than the candidate committees themselves.
- Unfortunately, outside groups are becoming more and more dominant in tight races across the U.S. since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending on elections in the devastating Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.
- Why care? Big money is drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens. Candidates are forced to spend time defending themselves against attack ads rather than talk about issues voters care about. The groups that place the ads have little or no accountability to voters. Much of their money comes from out of state, and many outside spenders don’t disclose their funders.
- But candidates can take back control of their campaigns and keep outside spending out. Consider what the U.S. Senate candidates in Massachusetts did in the 2012 race between Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Brown requested Warren sign a joint, voluntary agreement called “The People’s Pledge.” If an outside group ignored their request to stop advertising, the candidate who benefited from the ad would donate 50 percent of the ad’s value to a charity of her or his opponents’ choosing. Many were skeptical about whether it would work, but it did.
- No such agreement has been struck in Arkansas, but we still have a month until Election Day.
- The majority of outside money being dropped in Arkansas is by a small number of groups making considerable “investments” in who wins. For instance, Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA have spent $4 and $3 million to boost Mark Pryor’s candidacy. Tom Cotton has likewise benefited from outside spenders: Crossroads GPS ($1.2 million), the Freedom Partners Action Fund ($1.55 million), the National Rifle Association ($2.57 million), the Government Integrity Fund Action Network ($1.04 million), and American Crossroads $1.9 million).
- Patriot Majority USA, Crossroads GPS and the Freedom Partners Action Fund do not disclose where their money comes from. So these groups are telling voters whom to support, but won’t tell voters who is paying for those instructions.
- When ads are aired that one of the candidates pays for, you may not like what it says, but you at least know who is responsible for it and can do something about it on November 4.
- Often, when you see an ad sponsored by an outside group, most voters will not recognize its name or know the group’s true motivations. The names of these groups are often vague, yet are broadly appealing.
- If the candidates don’t put an end to this, you can expect another infusion of big money into the U.S. Senate race in Arkansas as we hit the home stretch of the campaign. The tight race is being closely watched by big money groups in Washington, D.C., New York and across the country.
- While our democracy aims to give each individual equal power when he or she casts a ballot, corporations and special interests have an outsized amount of power to affect what happens on November 4. The candidates can stop it.
- John Cutler is a resident of Harrison, Arkansas and a supporter of the good government group Public Citizen. Aquene Freechild is the Co-Director of the Democracy Is For People campaign at Public Citizen.
Arkansas Dem Gazette Oped published Oct 13 2014
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