Who's Afraid of Super PACs?

A lot of discussion on Super PACs has focused on whether they are able to get their candidate elected, some arguing that Santorum’s victories in Alabama and Mississippi show that their impact is limited. This is the wrong way to think about a very serious problem.

As we argued in this Huffington Post article, political inequality is a serious challenge to US inclusive institutions, and is the real reason why we should be worried about the increase in inequality. These problems predate the Citizens United ruling. Lobbying and campaign contributions already have major impact on politics, and the wealthy have much better access to politicians and are able to convince them of their viewpoint much more easily.

Larry Bartels documents an intriguing and alarming pattern in his book Unequal Democracy: US Senators roll call votes correlate strongly with the opinions of their rich constituents, and not at all — or even sometimes negatively — with those of their poor constituents. Notably, this is true both for Republicans and Democrats. Moreover, here rich is not the same as the top 1%, but those in the top 30% in the constituency. So one can imagine how much clout the very wealthy may have with our politicians.

In this light, the real problem with Super PACs is not whether they get Romney or Santorum elected, but how they have already totally changed the political agenda — and together with it, political inequality in the US.

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