It used to be that, during federal election years, quarterly deadlines for campaign finance reports were a big deal. Journalists and other interested citizens could look at the campaign finance reports to determine the character of the financial support particular candidates were receiving.
We have one such deadline coming soon, on January 31. Don’t expect significant stories to result, however. For the 2012 congressional elections, reports of financial contributions to candidates’ campaigns will only partially reflect the character of candidates’ support.
The reason is the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined that anonymous, unlimited spending could take place in federal elections, just so long as the thinnest pretense of separation between candidates and external political action committees is maintained.
Independent expenditures are where the big money is going. It’s likely that independent expenditures, because they are anonymous and unlimited, will be the route that dirty money will take as well. Official reports of donations to candidates’ core campaigns will be clean and safe, in comparison, revealing few stories to journalists, compared to previous election cycles.
The most important stories of the 2012 congressional elections are likely to never be told.