Letters to the Editor (Harper's Magazine)

Trevor Potter
May 17, 2016
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Adverse Effects

Andrew Cockburn’s analysis of the “election-industrial complex” [“Down the Tube,” Letter from Washington, April] argues, correctly, that the rise of super PACs has created a class of consultants paid handsomely to produce TV ads — often with no impact on election results. But we can’t lose sight of the many other ways in which big money influences candidates and corrupts our political system.

Most important, big money decides who runs for office: candidates can’t even leave the starting gate unless they appeal to major donors. A well-financed super PAC is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for political success. It’s true that money couldn’t buy Jeb Bush love (or votes). But you can see the difference big money makes in primary elections by comparing the campaigns of Ted Cruz, who was backed from the start by powerful super PACs, and John Kasich, who has far fewer billionaire backers.

As Cockburn demonstrates, fund-raising takes up an enormous amount of a candidate’s time even after he or she has assumed office, which means that elected representatives speak more with donors than with average voters.

It’s hard to deny that the political operatives producing these TV ads are winners under the super-PAC regime. And as long as big money can easily drown out the voices of voters, Americans and our democracy will continue to be the real losers.

Trevor Potter
President, Campaign Legal Center
Washington

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