To the glee of many of his detractors, Karl Rove and the multimillionaires and billionaires who fattened his super PAC and nonprofit political arm had a horrible election night last week.
The return on investment was abysmal, or so the argument went, given that Mitt Romney lost, along with most Senate and House candidates backed by the bloated political action committees and tax-exempt "social welfare" corporations established by Rove and other consultants.
Schadenfreude is powerful. There is pleasure to be gained in reveling in the blunders of others who have such high opinions of themselves.
However, we who care about the political system all suffered wounds at the hands of super PACs, and not just those controlled by Republicans.
The tone of the attack ads coarsened the political discourse. The $6 billion raised and spent to control the White House and Congress had a corrosive impact on the U.S. system of government.
Billionaires assumed their money could buy the election. They failed, thankfully. But the record-shattering spending degraded democracy.
Winning candidates know better than ever that they can become targets of an interest group or super PAC in the next election. To prepare, they must escalate their fund raising, and they will be ever more cautious to avoid angering particular interest groups.
The left must share blame, as those of us in the Central Valley can attest. Ads by Democratic and left-leaning committees homed in on such petty issues as pay received by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, during his years in the Legislature, and battered Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, over campaign contributions he took in the 1990s.
In too many instances, donors hid behind the antiquated tax code that permits contributions of unlimited size to tax-exempt nonprofit corporations that engage in electioneering.
The 113th Congress should redouble efforts to require disclosure of hidden campaign money, although with the Senate controlled by Democrats and the House by Republicans, we hold out little hope for much change.
In California, however, there is opportunity. Now that Democrats hold a two-thirds majority, they can update the California Political Reform Act.
The limits of the 1974 law became clear when Americans for Responsible Leadership, based in Arizona, donated $11 million to defeat Jerry Brown's tax hike measure, Proposition 30, and to pass Proposition 32, to cripple labor's ability to raise campaign money.
The Arizona group fought to delay an audit by the Fair Political Practices Commission until after the election, but settled by disclosing that the donation had been laundered through two other nonprofit entities. Lawmakers should remove whatever doubt there might be that the FPPC can audit donors as it deems necessary.
More broadly, legislators should eliminate the ability of nonprofit organizations to hide the identities of individuals and corporations that give them money. The $6 billion spent on federal elections in 2012 will be eclipsed in 2016, as will the $360 million-plus spent in 2012 on California initiatives.
No act of Congress or of the Legislature will stop the corrosive flow of money into politics. But at least voters ought to know who is trying to sway their opinion as they decide how to vote.