Martin Dyckman: Now we auction our government to the highest bidders

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It can no longer be said that the country is going to hell. We have arrived.

The worst disappointment isn’t the re-election of the kleptocrat Rick Scott, or U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s defeat by a Koch stooge in North Carolina, or even the fact that Ted Cruz is now running amok in a Senate majority.

No, what’s worse is the underlying reason for these outcomes: money, money, money, money, money, money and more money.

The people drafting the Constitution in 1787 could not have imagined this. There isn’t a single reference in James Madison’s notes, or in the Federalist papers, to what it might cost to win an election.

Imagine what Madison would have written had someone proposed this:

“The government will be auctioned every two years to the highest bidders.”

But that’s what we do now, thanks to a diabolical U.S. Supreme Court majority that is faithless to the intent of the Constitution.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the biggest spenders won 94.2 percent of the House races and 81.8 percent of Senate contests.

The Center estimated that the bidding for Congress will end up somewhere above $3.67 billion.

That’s a modest increase over the last mid-term cycle, but what’s shocking about this one, says the Center, is that it may be the one “in which the small donor got left behind.”

Four years ago, shortly after the Citizens United decision, spending by actors other than the candidates totaled $309 million, or some 8.5 percent of the total, according to the Center’s figures.

This year, outside spending hit $480 million, a 66 percent increase. And none of those figures include the “dark money” spent on so-called issue ads more than 60 days before the election.

The big money is coming more and more in enormous chunks.   There are about 19 percent fewer contributors this year than in 2010.

And it’s Florida — is anyone surprised? — that leads this parade of horribles.

As the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times of St. Petersburg reported, Florida’s $345 million in reported spending on state offices and issues was both the state’s costliest and the most expensive in the nation. Huge donors like Sheldon Adelson on the right and George Soros on the left played larger roles than ever before. Lobbies bent on raiding public school funds for charter and for-profit private schools poured in nearly $900,000, nearly all of it to Republicans.

Scott alone spent more of his own money — $12.8 million — than all the candidates for governor spent from all sources in 1970, the first of the three campaign cycles in which spending limits were in effect.

It’s unclear why someone would invest so much personal wealth on seeking an office for which he declines the salary.

Scott would tell you, no doubt, that it’s all about public service — and that the $100 million or so he got from other sources won’t affect his conduct in the slightest.

Look closely, though, and you might see his nose grow longer.

If I were Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, I’d start worrying about where Scott’s enormous ego and craving for power might take him next.

There’s a belief in politics that because the business runs in cycles things sometimes must get worse before they get better, but that they will get better eventually.

But it’s hard to hold that faith given the now-vanished prospect for amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and older rulings that outlawed all state and federal spending limits.

Negative campaigning will certainly get worse. Why? Because it works.

Charlie Crist was comfortably ahead in the polls before Scott turned on the mud machine. Crist had to husband his money and couldn’t afford to reply in kind until it was too late. Slightly more than half the eligible voters apparently decided it didn’t matter which disgusting campaign would win.

But it did matter. Someone had to win. Leaving the governorship vacant wasn’t an option — although, given the result, it might have been preferable.

Voting is the muscle of a democracy. Like any flesh-and-blood muscle, it atrophies if it isn’t used.

The election of a governor, a legislature, or a member of Congress is no less important than the selection of a president, yet only three-fourths as many Floridians turn out for those in an off-year as for the presidency. Local and state elections are the nurseries where little fish become big ones and, sometimes, even sharks.

If you didn’t vote Tuesday, shame. Shame on you. You let someone else vote for you. You have no right to complain how it came out. You gave up your birthright to the oligarchy that runs this state and nation now.

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives near Waynesville, N.C.