Whether you are a Republican, Democrat or
Independent, you’ve probably been inundated with a flood of emails, phone calls,
tweets and assorted solicitations saying something like: “The survival of the
republic is threatened and my opponents will sell us out to the forces of evil.”
And if you’re Jewish, they’ll add: “My opponent poses a clear and present danger
to Israel’s security and survival.”
What they’re really saying is: “Send
If you’ve already contributed, you are guaranteed to be hearing
from the campaigns again and again: “Send more.”
Where does all this
money go? To television stations, mostly. TV ads are typically the largest
single expenditure of a presidential campaign, reports The Washington Post
three out of four are negative.
Newspaper advertising and circulation
across the country have been falling for years, including at the Post, but this
year its parent company reported doing well thanks to a surge in political
advertising on its cable television stations.
Advertising Age quotes a
study by the research firm Borrell Associates saying election spending at all
levels this year could approach $10 billion, up from about $7b. four years ago.
Nearly half will be spent by the Super PACs.
The increased revenues for
cable, broadcast and electronic media are nationwide but greatest in the
battleground states, and it will only intensify as we move into the home
With about 80 days to go, more than half a billion dollars has
already been spent on political advertising alone – more than in the entire 2008
general election. That’s where the unregulated Super PACs are putting their
money, that is coming in from billionaires like the Adelsons, the Koch brothers,
the Waltons, the Marriotts, Haim Saban and George Soros.
contributor to the bloat is the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that
removed all restrictions on personal, corporate and union giving, creating an
enormous imbalance that puts disproportionate power and influence in the hands
of the very rich.
Both presidential campaigns have highly effective
fund-raising operations. Within minutes of Mitt Romney naming Paul Ryan
(R-Wisconsin) as his running mate, I was flooded with email pleas for
contributions and I’ll bet you were, too. The Romney campaign said it hauled in
$4 million in the first hours after the announcement. Three days later Ryan made
a pilgrimage to Las Vegas to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson, the casino
billionaire who’s willing to spend $100m. to get rid of Barack Obama.
Democrats exploited the selection of Ryan, a Tea Party favorite, focusing on his
very conservative record as an advocate of Draconian cuts in programs important
to the party’s base.
That was a major pitch by Democrats to Jewish
supporters as it sought to counter the Republican emphasis on support for
Israel. Polls have consistently shown Jewish voters are more influenced by
domestic issues than Israel policy, but it’s a different story with many
Obama and Romney have mailing lists of hundreds of
thousands of small donors as well. How do you get on that list? Contribute once
and you’ve made a friend for life. Actually many friends.
barter mailing lists with each other. One political maven suggests you can trace
the money trail by sending $5 to each party or each presidential candidate and
spelling your name slightly differently on each donation, and then sitting back
and see how many new friends you’ve got.
The Obama campaign, with some 13
million names on its list, is putting greater emphasis on small donors and its
appeals have a more desperate “we’re being outspent and are in danger” tone,
while the Romney campaign is more laid back in its appeals and aiming at bigger
And what do you get for your money? More appeals for money.
And it won’t end when the election is over. That’s when you’ll begin getting the
pleas to help winners and losers pay off the bills they ran up before November
Facebook’s stock may be dropping among investors but it is rising for
politicians who are increasingly using it to raise money. I got an appeal from
one senator to sign on to her Facebook page and click “like,” but what it really
means is she’d like to send me even more solicitations.
There are some
solutions to the obscenity of multi-billion-dollar political campaigns. Start
by reversing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and level the playing
field by imposing realistic limitations on contributions and mandating full,
speedy disclosure of where it comes from and where it goes.
move to public financing of campaigns.
The cable TV stations and the
consultants and super-rich may not like it, but it campaigns will cost a lot less
than we’re spending now.
Members of Congress complain that they spend
more of their time raising money for their next campaign than legislating. That
can be seen in the little time they spend in Washington and, when they are in
town, the amount of time they spend with lobbyists or the special
Half the Congress doesn’t show up for the annual AIPAC policy
conference for a free kosher meal.
Ask your legislator sometime to see
his or her schedule for the week, and look at how many breakfasts, lunches,
dinners, cocktail parties and other “social” gatherings they attend. It is not
unusual to have several of each some days, and you know what their “hosts” want
to talk to the senators and congressman about. Here’s a hint: it’s not the
weather, the Redskins or last night’s American Idol contestants.
don’t hold your breath waiting for reform.
Politicians may kvetch
incessantly about the money chase but they’re not about to do anything serious
to stop it. They’re already too beholden to the big money folks and too addicted
to their fat donations.