Washington Watch: The 2012 big winner revealed

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.

Romney and Ryan 370 (photo credit: reuters)
Romney and Ryan 370
(photo credit: reuters)
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 money.”
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, and 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 stretch.
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.
The biggest 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.
The 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 deep-pocket donors.
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.
Campaigns 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 contributors.
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 6.
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.
Even better, 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 interests.
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.
But 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.