Last year, the mechanics of independent political spending mutated drastically, and we're all acutely aware of it. President Obama talked about "shadowy" outside groups for months before November's midterms. The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision got a lot of press.
What doesn't get much national media attention is the effect of that transformation on state politics, where races are cheaper to win, and where independent spending has been equally greased by those same changes in federal law. In this week's issue of The New Yorker, Jane Mayer illustrates how one man--Art Pope, the multimillionaire owner of a chain of discount stores--has taken over conservative politics in North Carolina by juicing significant amounts of cash into state legislative races:
Yet Pope's triumph in 2010 was sweeping. According to an analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies, of the twenty-two legislative races targeted by him, his family, and their organizations, the Republicans won eighteen, placing both chambers of the General Assembly firmly under Republican majorities for the first time since 1870. North Carolina's Democrats in Congress hung on to power, but those in the state legislature, where Pope had focussed his spending, were routed.
The institute also found that three-quarters of the spending by independent groups in North Carolina's 2010 state races came from accounts linked to Pope. The total amount that Pope, his family, and groups backed by him spent on the twenty-two races was $2.2 million--not that much, by national standards, but enough to exert crucial influence within the confines of one state. For example, as [GOP strategist Ed] Gillespie had hoped, the REDMAP strategy worked: the Republicans in North Carolina's General Assembly have redrafted congressional-district boundaries with an eye toward partisan advantage.
Read the full story in The New Yorker.