What can break the grip of organized money on American politics? A month ago I would have answered that question by positing that it might take a crisis—perhaps along the lines of a scenario like the following:
A sharp economic downturn finally mobilizes significant numbers of America's majority party—the 100-million-strong party of nonvoters—to become politically active. On the strength of promises to deliver them from distress—unemployment, a collapsing safety net, rationed health care—they flood into the electorate on the Democratic side. To keep their promises, the Democrats are forced to end government-by-campaign-contribution; otherwise the lobbies would defeat their agenda. So they enact public funding for Congressional elections and require television broadcasters to run political ads for free or lose access to the public airwaves (i.e. go out of business). Meanwhile, whether bowing to Court-packing threats from the Democrats or by following the election returns, the Supreme Court strikes down Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 decision that transmogrified money into "speech," giving candidates constitutional protection to spend without limit.
That model of political redemption rests on an untested but credible hypothesis: that in their alienated hearts, nonvoters— disproportionately less affluent Americans—will seek "progressive" remedies for their distress and therefore favor the more progressive party. I believed in that model ... that is, until I caught up with Walter Dean Burnham's test of it.