President Obama has been sounding the alarm to Democrats about the midterm elections. He's trying to energize the base, warning that Democrats get "clobbered" in midterm elections and urging a major push to get people to the polls.
At a Houston fundraiser Wednesday night -- at a mansion with a pool flanked by palm trees, which a reporter there described as "a sight from Versailles" -- Obama lambasted the amount of money that Republicans were pouring into super PACs and what he believes are deliberate efforts to dissuade Democrats from voting.
"And what’s compounding the problem is obviously the massive amounts of money that are coming from super PACs on the other side and active efforts to discourage people from voting -- which is another thing I don't understand but apparently is fairly active here in Texas. The idea that you’d purposely try to prevent people from voting," Obama said.
"Un-American," an audience member shouted.
"Un-American," Obama responded. "How is it that we're putting up with that when we don't have to? But it requires a level of organization and a level of effort that has to be coordinated and has to be executed. And that's why your presence here tonight is so important. We need you to take these midterms as seriously as any presidential election that you’ve ever been involved in."
It's been a big month for the intersection of money and politics. Eight days ago, the Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits on contributions to candidates and political committees, a sweeping decision with far-reaching implications. Regardless of party, a lot more money will be flowing.
So, people must be very interested in this, right?
Wrong. In fact, the American public barely took notice.
A new Pew Research Center poll is the latest indicator of how little attention people pay to campaign finance matters. It also underscores the challenge Democrats face this year as they seek to make the billionaire Koch brothers into an electoral issue.
About half the public (49 percent) said they didn't follow last week's Supreme Court decision closely at all. Just 13 percent said they followed the ruling "very closely," meaning it was greatly overshadowed by a handful of other events, such as the Fort Hood shooting, the missing Malaysia Airlines flight and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine situation:
Okay, so it was a busy news week, as Pew points out. But it's not like big campaign finance developments normally capture the public's attention. Other landmark cases, such as Citizens United v. FEC and McConnell v. FEC, also attracted scant notice, as the following Pew chart shows:
Campaign finance is an arcane issue. It's complicated stuff, even for those who cover it. So it's no surprise that most of the public isn't captivated. It's also all about the process of politics. And unless it involves scandal (See Jackson, Jesse Jr.) voters are rarely moved by such process stories.
Which is why this all matters in 2014. In addition to Obama's push to spread the word about Republican-aligned groups spending heaps of cash, Democrats are going to great lengths to turn Charles and David Koch into electoral bogeymen. The wealthy industrialists are tied to Americans For Prosperity, a group that has already spent some $30 million helping Republican candidates in congressional races this cycle. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is leading the charge, and other Democrats are echoing him.
The challenge for them is twofold: One, the public is mostly unfamiliar with the Kochs. A recent poll showed that about half of voters (52 percent) don't know who they are and another 11 percent had no opinion of the duo.
The second part involves the difficulty of turning campaign finance -- which the Pew data show is mostly met with a shrug -- into an issue that animates the electorate. The Kochs' connection to politics is money. They've spearheaded an elaborate coalition that wields immense influence away outside public eye.
Democrats feel like if they can tie Republican candidates to the policies favored by the Koch brothers rather than the process story of money and politics, they will stand a better chance of making voters see those candidates as villains.
Overall, it's going to be a very tall task.