Special interest groups spend a lot of money to influence politics. Case in point: the National Rifle Association. It has a total budget of about $300 million (with membership dues, donations from manufacturers and other interests, and grants each contributing about one third). In the 2012 election cycle, it used $32 million (around 10% of its budget) for political spending. $6 million went to lobbying, and $1 million was given directly to candidates and PACs.
The bulk of the NRA’s political budget was for “outside spending,” on things like television ads and billboards. What kinds of ads? Another $6 million dollars bought positive ads, promoting a candidate or idea, but three times more money, $18 million, bought attack ads or other negative messaging.
Whether you support the NRA’s mission or not, that’s a lot of political advertising. And the NRA is not alone: all kinds of special interest groups are pouring big money into political campaigns. That’s part of why the last election cost $6 billion. They discovered that negativity works, even if it results in vitriol and political gridlock. If we want cooler heads in government to prevail, and politicians to actually represent us, the reign of big money in politics has to end.