The first presidential campaign since the 2010 Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision resulted in the most expensive election season ever. Anonymous and unaccountable donors poured in unprecedented amounts of money. While new media, newspapers and radio collected some of this money, the lion’s share ended up in the bank accounts of television broadcast companies. For months the public was bombarded with a tsunami of ads from political campaigns, Super PACs and other shadowy groups—ads that in many cases were only loosely connected to the truth.
Aside from creating windfall profits for broadcasters in swing states, what impact did dark money have on democratic discourse in the 2012 election at the state and the national level? With so much money in the mix can media really fulfill its role to watchdog politics and separate fact from fiction? Is there evidence that Citizens United needs to be overturned? Have new rules to improve broadcaster transparency and disclosure helped? And are there other reforms that need to be on the table before the next election season?