Here's a question for the 6th of November, now that we've all been through two years of electioneering, but before the actual results influence (corrupt?) intuitions: did Citizen's United actually change anything big? There are many ways of getting at that question, and the answer probably depends on what you value, but my instinctive response is to say no, it didn't matter much, at least in terms of partisan outcomes:
1. If the metric is election outcomes, then I claim the impact has been negligible. Both Romney and Obama raised and spent more money, but it was basically a standoff. They both have demonstrated the ability to raise the ~billion dollars of money needed to wage a campaign.
2. I suspect campaign spending is hitting diminishing returns already in terms of ability to influence outcomes. The recent swings I remember from this election (Clinton's speech, Romney's 47% video, the first debate, Sandy and Christie) all had nothing to do with money. Basically, we've moved to a new equilibrium with ~twice as much spending, but the issues influencing elections *differentially* in favor of one candidate continue to be one or more of:
- pretty low-information: random goof-ups, media controversies and similar tripe
- largely stochastic: economy crash, bin Laden death, Libya, hurricane
- cultural and strongly emotion/values driven, pretty resistant to *monetary* influence: rape/contraception, religion, gays.
3. If you worry about the wastage of a billion odd dollars of money, then sure, this is an issue. I would argue that it doesn't underwrite the amount of panicked/outraged commentary that decision generated. To set a scale, we're *comfortably* in sub-chewing gum territory.
I'm being rather too blunt here; if I spent ten more minutes on this post I'd be able to write down a para on ways that the spending rise (and more importantly, the composition of this rise) has mattered. But it's useful to make zeroth order statements at the outset, and it sure seems like Citizen's United and campaign finance have mattered rather less than people were forecasting back in 2010.