Heres a distinction thats not exactly a point of pride: North Carolina ran second only to Florida in spending by outside groups in this past primary season. Campaigns reaped nearly $10 million. Of that, $7.8 million went into a sometimes bitterly contested Republican U.S. Senate primary.
The U.S. Supreme Courts Citizens United ruling in 2010 equated spending by corporations and other groups as the exercise of free speech, which opened the floodgates for all sorts of special interest groups to funnel money to campaigns.
Those groups and the people who fund them dont look at millions of dollars in contributions as simply limbering up their vocal cords to do a little free speaking. Contributions, when they come from special interests, are seen as an investment.
The candidate who solicits such contributions can expect that before the leather is even warmed on that congressional or legislative seat, visits from contributors will be paid and their attention called to legislation or issues of interest to those who funded that successful campaign.
Oh, its true that labor unions and liberal interest groups play the game, but Republicans have made special interest solicitation a fine art, indeed.
After all, nearly $8 million in outside money for a GOP primary for the U.S. Senate? And this was a race in which the state House speaker, one Thom Tillis, was the early and leading candidate. His opponents were a Charlotte minister, a Cary doctor favored by the tea party and a low-profile nurse.
With the general election next up, the gates will be opened by Republicans and Democrats, with incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan having also gotten pretty good at the fundraising game.
Its no wonder, really, that average Americans in the political mainstream of both parties have grown cynical about whether their government represents them or is hostage to the never-ending money grab by candidates and office-holders.
Politicians try to say that the money-raising is a necessary evil of politics. They dont like it, but it helps them do good for everyone once theyre in office, and it certainly doesnt influence their votes. But there are far too many political histories written in which a legislator, senator or House member is shown to have voted down the line for those who, oh, by the way, happen to be big contributors to their campaigns.
That so much money poured into North Carolina during the primary season was simply a reflection of how Republicans believe Hagan is vulnerable and how contributors to Republicans believe they can realize a return on investment if a GOP candidate takes that seat away from her.
More and more, it seems money isnt just one factor in seeking or holding office. Its the only factor.