In the last election cycle, a common refrain in the media was that there was too much money in politics – much of it undisclosed, so-called “dark money.” To this end, politicians and organizations that advocate for more campaign finance regulations have proposed lower contribution limits, taxpayer-financed campaigns, and increased disclosure, all of which infringe upon the political speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.
The truth is that the majority of money spent in elections is disclosed. According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, approximately $7.3 billion was spent on federal races in 2012. Of that, only approximately $311 million was spent by 501(c) organizations that did not disclose their donors – just five percent of that total.
Nonprofit groups that do not have to disclose their donors are not “buying elections.” In fact, the percentage of independent spending by organizations that are not required to disclose their donors declined in 2012 from 2010. Only 28 organizations that did not disclose their donors spent more than $1 million on all independent expenditures in 2012 – and most are well-known groups like Planned Parenthood and the National Rifle Association.
All this aside, the fact of the matter is that money doesn’t buy elections. Candidates who received the most financial backing – whether directly, or indirectly as the recipients of spending on their behalf – are in no way guaranteed electoral victory. As with Mitt Romney, Linda McMahon, and others, the candidate with the most votes always wins.
Contrary to most reporting, the vast majority of money spent in politics is fully disclosed. This growing level of political spending should be encouraged, as it represents everyday Americans participating in their community and in civic life.