Money came from a various of new sources during the 2012 election cycle, and according to the Center for Responsive Politics, $6.3 billion was spent in total—$3.7 billion in congressional races and $2.6 billion on the presidential election. The advent of "dark money," the sources of which are not revealed, makes the effects of these expensive campaigns harder to trace.
For voters, the most obvious evidence of more money in campaigns is more negative advertising, but for scholars, the more worrying issue is the long-term effect on government and public policy. Evidence of a causal link between contributions and policymakers' behavior hasn't been as easy to pin down, but a recent study at the University of California shows that money talks.
In the study, members of the group CREDO Action tried to schedule meetings between its members and high-level officials in 191 congressional districts. Sometimes the CREDO members revealed that they were donors when trying to schedule a meeting, and sometimes they didn't. The researchers wrote: "Only 2.4 percent of offices arranged meetings with a member of Congress or chief of staff when they were told the attendees were merely constituents, but 12.5 percent did so when the attendees were revealed to be donors. In addition, 18.8 percent of the groups revealed to be donors met with any senior staffer, whereas only 5.5 percent of the groups described as constituents gained access to a senior staffer." (Read more)
The Washington Post's Bob Woodward observed that the news media should take a greater interest in money in politics. "It is important that the next president be able, unfettered and unbought, to find and move the country to the next stage of good," he writes.