Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney and his Republican Party raked in $106 million to President Obama’s $71 million this June, marking the second consecutive month the president was outraised by the former Massachusetts governor. Troubling as the trend may be for the Obama camp, worse still for us all are the underlying implications for the health of our electoral process.
In the wake of the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision, the influence of money on politics is arguably greater than ever before. The case opened the door for Political Action Committees, or Super PACs, as they are referred to, to more easily circumvent pesky campaign-financing restrictions such as the requirement that they act independently of political candidates. And they often include a branch that is protected under 501(c)(4) of the tax code, effectively negating their obligation to release financial statements. Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that faceless donors have the capability to sway elections with untold amounts of financing.
Romney and the Republican Party have no qualms with allowing big money to take the helm of his ship to the White House. Just this week Romney was thrown a lavish fundraiser in the Hamptons by the billionaire Koch brothers with an asking price of $50,000 per person. The campaign contributions of the Kochs have totaled some $400 million. Even Romney’s foreign policy trips double as lucrative fundraising events. The most telling fact of all is the measly 39% of Romney campaign funding that comes from donations of $1,500 or less from ordinary Americans. By comparison, 79% of Obama's funding comes from such donations.
Yet Obama is no patron saint of pure political campaigning. Despite the usual liberal tendency to demonize Super PACs and their inordinate political influence, Obama has increasingly met big donors with open arms. During its short tenure, Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama Super PAC, has raised over $20 million, with millions more on the way. And of course Obama has held fundraising galas of his own, including the $40,000 per head event held at George Clooney’s estate. Equally concerning is that Obama’s fellow Democrat Elizabeth Warren raised nearly $9 million over the past 3 months – in a bid for a senate seat, not a presidential office.
But all of this money being tossed around wouldn’t amount to much harm if it did not buy votes. It seems silly to ask the question of effectiveness; for why else would they be spending $3 million on attack ads if they had no impact? Nevertheless, the question still stands: Can money manipulate the result of the 2012 election?
The best place to start in answering this question is in past precedent. Excessive campaign financing is nothing new. In the last election, both Obama and McCain drew gargantuan sums from the major banks, who were obviously attempting to sway the presidential candidates in lieu of a bailout. Not only that, but the ratio of funding that Obama received from banks perfectly matched the ratio of overall funding between the two candidates, an alarming indicator that they both relied on the exact same sources of big money.
More striking than the power that banks -- piles of money -- wield over the candidates, regardless of their political preference, is this statistic: 94% of elections are won by the candidate who raises more money. As Dylan Ratigan, New York Times best-selling author, points out, how is this any different than an auction?
One might argue that campaign financing could accurately reflect public interest in a candidate. Yes, could - but only if Super PACs, along with the Koch brothers of the world, were taken out of the equation. When it comes to elections, the 1% reign supreme.
Popular television personality Stephen Colbert successfully encapsulated the absurdity of Super PACs and big money in politics with his Americans For Making A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Super PAC. But the current, sordid state of affairs gives little indication that his satirical effort - or any other - has any chance at making an impact in the fight against greenbacks.
My question is, if the elephant is so glaringly obvious, why is it still in the room?