Following the Money

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Photograph by Peter Hapak for TIME

Money in politics is not inherently bad--or good. It's all in how it's used. If the billions of dollars that will be raised this year were spent on public-service announcements explaining the limited powers of the three branches of government, you'd probably say that was a good thing. But of course we know that's not the case. The lion's share of money in the 2012 presidential campaign will be spent on negative ads, which are effective though not edifying. And the fact that a new legal landscape has given the green light to more undisclosed money than ever before is not making our elections more transparent or enlightening.

This week we wanted to explore what is likely to be the most expensive political campaign in U.S. history--and perhaps the most negative. To get to the bottom of the way money is influencing this election, we sent senior correspondent Michael Crowley to see Karl Rove, the former Bush White House strategist, who has reinvented himself as the mastermind of the new Republican cash machine. Mike goes inside the operation and explains how Rove still hopes to achieve a durable Republican majority. Meanwhile, White House correspondent Michael Scherer went to Chicago to observe the Obama campaign's fundraising strategy. His story explains how the Obama folks are prepared to be outspent by the Republicans, an idea that was almost inconceivable a couple of years ago.

If you live in a swing state, you won't be able to avoid the ads. My advice is not to pay too much attention to them and to focus instead on which candidate has a better vision for the future.

Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR