Most Americans would agree that the dramatic increase in projected campaign spending is one of the most disturbing issues in the 2012 elections. In fact, campaign spending has grown exponentially from the days of Abraham Lincoln, when he and his opponent spent under $3 million (in today’s dollars), as compared to nearly $1.3 billion spent in the Obama/McCain contest in 2008. But, the real story may be about the donors and what they expect for their money after the election results are tallied.
This essay will address five critical observations about campaign finance in the 2012 elections.
ONE. The Citizens United decision in January 2010 “ ... Held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.” SCOTUS may have, or may have not, interpreted the true intent of the Founding Fathers with its decision, but they have turned the American election process topsy-turvy and thwarted any chances for campaign reform in the immediate future. The super wealthy, who will buy unprecedented influence over, and access to, government officials, will dominate the country politically.
TWO. Super PACs will spend hundreds of millions of dollars this year attempting to influence voters. Prospectively, these groups will have a huge impact on our electoral process because they are funded with seemingly unlimited amounts of money from the affluent. However, it is unlikely that a donor will dedicate upwards of $1 million or more to a candidate without direct communication with the future president, senator or congressperson, to whom they will surely provide a list of their priorities.
The size of Super PACs has grown significantly since 2010, when these groups spent about $65 million. Already, Super PAC funding has exceeded $200 million; Romney-affiliated Restore Our Future alone has accumulated $52 million through March. Obama’s Priorities USA Action has amassed $9 million through over the same time. Karl Rove, former President Bush’s political guru, has created a PAC named American Crossroads, which has collected nearly $100 million since 2011 for Republican candidates.
Further, Obama set a horrible precedent, as he was the first general election candidate to refuse public funding when he ran against John McCain. This decision has set into motion a money tsunami that will hurt our country for many years to come.
Many colleges, financial institutions, corporations and law firms have jumped on the PAC bandwagon. During the 2008 election, Obama received help from PACs at many large organizations including: University of California, Goldman Sachs, Harvard, Microsoft, Google, JP Morgan, Citicorp, Stanford, National Entertainment, IBM, Morgan Stanley, Latham and Watkins, etc.
THREE. Democrats and Republicans are dependent upon different demographics as they raise money, which portrays the tension between the wealthy and the middle class in the country. Through March 2012, Obama raised $196 million, 53% from donations under $200 and 19% from $2,500 maximum donations. Romney, on the other hand, raised $78 million, 56% from $2,500 maximum donations and 13% from donations under $200.
Some may discount this phenomenon, but I believe it is very important. What it reveals is a form of class warfare, in which the political parties cater to opposite ends of the socioeconomic scale and try to elect candidates sympathetic to their donors. Obama keeps encouraging class warfare by saying the rich are too powerful and not paying their "fair share." Romney is preaching that Obama is hell bent on tearing down the capitalist system to fund his social priorities.
FOUR. Huge donations are being made to both parties making outside influence on the presidency a real issue.
The candidates have even asked for assistance to help pay for their conventions. Obama has solicited unions to pay for the Democratic Convention that begins on September 6 in Charlotte, NC. The AFL-CIO, Teamsters and the United Auto Workers are unions considering the president’s plea for cash to renovate the Bank of America Stadium and to pay for operating expenses. Four years ago, unions donated $8 million to the convention project in Denver.
Republicans have taken a different, albeit equally dangerous, tack to funding their convention in Tampa, Fla. ATT, Microsoft and Coca-Cola have been targeted to pay for the $55 million price tag of the Republican Convention.
Once again, the sources of funding are telling as Democrats go to unions and Republicans go to corporations for money.
Favors at worst, and at least a sympathetic ear, will be the cost of accepting this financial support from outsiders.
FIVE. The 2012 Election will be the most contentious competition in American history. The political parties are going all-in financially to gain the presidency. We should expect vicious TV and radio advertising across the country. There will be ample funding to go to expensive markets serving millions of people to make a point with half-truths and spin.
Some have predicted an $8 billion price tag for this election. One billion dollars would enable each party to go to every market in America, and not have to pick and choose. The parties will also target specific groups, like Hispanics and urban voters. The largest amount will be spent in the 11 battleground states. Note: Obama spent $427 million for broadcast media in 2008.
I believe our political system has reached an all-time low. Our leaders do not give us facts- rather we are inundated with lies and political manipulation. This is particularly intense during election cycles. The 2012 election will be an embarrassment for our country, as we waste billions of dollars enriching the broadcast industry, which is prepared to air anything for cash.
SCOTUS has become a huge contributor to the problems facing our country. An inability to be creative, insightful and wise has resulted in a monstrous money machine that will inspire corruption and waste.
Campaign reform, term limits and more bipartisanship are what we need to change the status quo. I will not hold my breadth waiting for any of these things to happen.