There is no candidate in this nation, except for presidential contenders, who has faced more Super PAC-funded negative ads than Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. At last count, he's faced $5.1 million in such attack ads from the US Chamber of Commerce ($2.7 million), the 60 Plus Association ($1.4 million), others like Rove's Crossroads GPS.I followed up six weeks later, and again in July when anti-Brown spending had topped $10.5 million.
Now keep in mind that unlike Obama, Sherrod Brown isn't a household name, not even in Ohio. He's a freshman Senator, at his most vulnerable reelection effort—his first. These are the kind of races in which negative ads have the most impact, helping define candidates in voters minds.
So what have those millions done to Brown's numbers? Here's a poll composite of the state, excluding Rasmussen's numbers:Essentially, Brown has gone from a 13-point lead in the polls last September, to an 11-point lead six months later.
If you've ever longed for some glimmer of hope that the era of corporate-funded Super PACs won't completely overwhelm our democracy, this is it. If they can't blow Brown out of the water with an 8-figure ad blitz, it means that their ability to influence elections—while it exists!—isn't the be-all, end-all of politics.In early August, it was clear we were going to kill it in this year's elections, and I wrote so. Among my reasons:
But what about conservative billionaires? How can we fight off the millions of Super PAC dollars as conservative billionaires try to buy the election? We already are. See those Obama poll numbers above? He has already faced nearly $100 million in conservative Super Pac attack ads and his numbers have gone up.Well, by the time Election Day rolled around, Brown had faced a crazy $40 million spent against him: $31 million on the air, $2 million in polling, $7 million in direct mail, and staff, billboards, and other expenses.
And it's not just Obama. Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown was supposed to be the most endangered senator this cycle—a freshman that was too crazy liberal for his closely divided state. As of early July, he had already faced $10.5 million in Super PAC attack ads, far more than any other. Yet through this year, his numbers have improved.
Maybe people have gotten good at tuning out attack ads. Or maybe they just skip commercials via DVR or online media consumption. Maybe it's a combination of the two. But whatever the reason, those millions being spent by conservative billionaires are all being wasted. The evidence is incontrovertible. So Karl Rove announces that he will spend $5 million targeting incumbent Senators in five states? Who cares! Rove has already spent $41.6 million and Democrats have only gotten stronger throughout the year.
Remember, negative attacks serve one purpose—to make the target so radioactively unpopular, that malaria could defeat him or her at the polls.
In October of 2011, PPP had Brown's job approval ratings at 40-35. In late January he was at 42-34. On Election Day, he clocked in at 48-43.
In other words, all those attack ads moved Brown from a 5-point net-positive approval rating late last year, to ... a 5-point net-positive approval rating on Election eve.
That's not to say that the big money isn't a problem, and I have no doubt it had an outsized effect at the House level and below that, as well. We actually have concrete examples of big money moving elections in unexpected ways (that link points to a place where the result was good for progressives, but obviously that's not always the case).
But at the Senate and presidential levels? It was all wasted money. So two big questions moving forward: Can we make headway on a Constitutional Amendment banning such expenditures, and if not, will conservative billionaires keep wasting hundreds of millions trying to influence such races? Those guys may be assholes, but they didn't get rich by pissing money away ineffectively.