By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
HELENA — Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester frequently chest-thumped before his re-election contest that corporate money funneled through shadowy outside groups couldn’t buy Montana’s Senate seat.
What he didn’t mention, however, was that union and environmental money could – and did.
Tester, who will begin his second six-year term in January after defeating Republican challenger Denny Rehberg in the Nov. 6 general election, used his campaign pulpit to scare voters into believing the Citizens United ruling inevitably meant corporate overlords could drop a couple million dollars and buy a senator.
The ruling equated money with speech, thereby unbridling corporate and union cash in elections. Outside groups, now bearing free-speech rights, could spend unlimited sums on so-called independent expenditures, such as television and radio ads, mailers and ground operations.
Tester detested the ruling, so he tweeted about it, brought it up in debates and released a couple of commercials decrying corporate participation in Montana’s electoral process.
The incumbent senator went so far as to invoke Copper King imagery, taking Montanans back to a time when a mining mogul William Clark tried to buy a Senate seat through bribery.
Those days have essentially returned, Tester frequently insinuated in campaign communiques.
The senator was right. Big money was set to spend lights-out to ensure its favored candidate earned a seat in the next Congress.
Problem for Tester, big money bolstered his side – by a sizable margin.
For starters, the Democratic outraised Rehberg in the mano-a-mano cash grab. Tester raised just more than $10.8 million, while the Republican totaled $7.2 million.
That’s a $3.6 million advantage for Tester, though cash totals are not final. Candidates report final fundraising totals in December.
Then there was that outside money. According to the Federal Election Commission, outside groups funneled more than $25 million into Montana, where television and radio ad airtime runs relatively cheap.
Tester won that area, too. A host of top-tier left-wing groups, notably Planned Parenthood, League of Conservation Voters and American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees, bludgeoned Rehberg through the air and on the ground.
Records divulge liberal groups spent a staggering $13.5 million on Tester’s behalf – more than $11.9 million opposing Rehberg and the other $1.6 million supporting the Democrat.
Conservative heavyweights such as Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came close in the outside money match, but couldn’t top the left’s Treasure State efforts.
Those same records reveal just more than $12 million in outside money flowing to Rehberg’s aid — about $11.65 million disparaged Tester while a paltry $369,754 bolstered Rehberg’s candidacy.
In all, Tester and allies spent about $4.9 million more on the Montana Senate contest than Rehberg and his compatriots.
Tester acolytes might argue that the money just didn’t matter; Rehberg was simply a terrible candidate, they’d say.
Money matters — it always does. There’s even data to prove the important role cash plays in electoral politics.
Here’s a take from the Center for Responsive Politics the day after the Nov. 6 election:
And whether the money came from outside groups or was raised by campaigns themselves using old-fashioned pre-Citizens United methods, the candidates with the most cash on their side of the equation frequently prevailed. According to an analysis of congressional races, candidates who had the most money on their side (from their campaign and from outside sources) won 92.7 percent of House races, but only 63.6 percent of Senate races. In total, there were 460 winning candidates last night, but only 43 of them had less money on their side than their opponents.
In short, the better-moneyed candidates prevailed in nearly two-thirds of Senate races and more than 90 percent of House races.
CRP director Sheila Krumholz reflected on her group’s findings thusly: “Yesterday’s results remind us once again that money’s no guarantee of victory, but the genie is out of the bottle. The pressure to raise huge sums and develop new and innovative ways of spending unlimited resources will continue to grow as a result of this experience.”
While pundits will debate forever money’s curious and forceful role in American politics, the 2012 election debunked a massive money myth: Corporate money funneled through shadowy groups cannot simply buy elections.
“It appears from the overall results of the 2012 elections that the unleashing of corporate campaign contributions, predicted after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, did not come to pass, at least not in a way which dramatically impacted the outcomes of individual races,” Mark Petracca, a political scientist at the University of California-Irvine, explained to Watchdog.org’s own Will Swaim.
Perhaps elections hinge on which side — corporations and Republicans on the right, Democrats, labor unions and environmentalists on the left — can out-raise, out-man, out-gun and out-muscle its opposition.
That’s exactly how Tester won and why he — not Rehberg — will take the Senate’s oath of office come January.
Contact: Dustin@Watchdog.org or @DustinHurst via Twitter.
— Edited by John Trump at email@example.com