In March 2002, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act -- commonly known as McCain-Feingold for its two lead Senate sponsors -- became law. It sought to make political donations far more transparent and to keep unregulated "soft" money out of the political process. A decade removed from the law's passage -- and in the wake of the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court ruling in 2010 -- vastly more untraceable money is flowing through the system than ever before.
According to tabulations made by the indispensable Center for Responsive Politics, there has been more than $50 million in "dark money" -- cash whose source need not be disclosed -- has already been spent on House and Senate contests, a massive increase from even the 2010 midterms when, at this point in the election cycle, just $6.6 million in dark money had been spent.
The chart below -- put together by CRP -- is eye-popping.
What's even more remarkable is that if history is any guide, we ain't seen nothing yet.
By the end of the 2010 midterms, more than $130 million had been spent on elections by groups that don't disclose their donors. So, if $6.6 million: $130 million then $50 million: ????. "If the rate of spending from previous cycles continues, the totals could reach upwards of $730 million or — if the rate seen in the last midterm holds — edge close to $1 billion," writes CRP's Robert Maguire.
That's "billion" with a "b". In a midterm election in which no one thinks the House is in play. Imagine what 2016 -- with a contested presidential race as well as battles for the Senate and House majorities -- will be like.