With Mitt Romney now the presumptive Republican nominee, the campaign donations will start rolling in for the general election, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. President Obama has collected almost $350 million since the “start” of his campaign last year, including over $53 million in March alone. By the end of the election, billions of dollars combined will be spent on this presidential campaign. This is the sad, absurd reality of the American election campaign, a swollen, unnecessary process which wastes money and hinders the democratic foundations of American politics.
There is absolutely no reason that presidential campaigns should require this amount of funds for either candidate. There is no reason the primaries should last this long. Some might argue a long campaign process is necessary to vet potential nominees, to expose flaws or reaffirm virtues. This is nonsense. It took less than a month for the media to expose Sarah Palin as an idiot after she was picked by the McCain campaign, or to expose Herman Cain’s sexual harassment incidents after he was leading Republican polls. What about John Edwards, you ask? It took two election cycles for anyone to expose him as the [enormous amount of expletives that I can’t use on this site but wish I could] that he is. I don’t see anyone suggesting we increase the length of the campaign as a result of that, though.
The fact is that campaigns in American politics, specifically the primaries and the general election, have become bloated to unnecessary proportions. How many times must we hear politicians preach the same positions before we realize that what they say in the first month of the race is going to be the same thing as what they say at the end of the race? I’m not saying we should scrap the various aspects of campaigns; debates and speeches are important. But, let's just condense them. Britain’s campaign generally lasts around a month, and somehow they manage to discern between candidates in this short period of time. The longest Canadian election campaign in history lasted 74 days. Candidates for president generally have to declare their intentions two years before the election concludes.
And what are the consequences of such a lengthy election season? Their campaigns, related PACs (and now Super PACs), and respective national committees donate massive amounts of money they wouldn’t otherwise require. Citizens donate that money which they otherwise would not feel obligated to give up. Billions of dollars are essentially wasted. The media is driven to follow these election cycles and devote a disproportionate amount of attention towards repetitive speeches, magnify relatively insignificant gaffes, and manufacture caricatures to more easily define candidates and their positions. All at the expense of more significant political, military, and social concerns, which are pushed to the back burner.
Worst of all, candidates are becoming more and more obligated to the entities which donate the most money, destroying the notion of what makes a democratic election a democratic election. Corporations and affluent individuals possess an undue amount of influence in campaigns currently, and thanks to rulings like Citizens United, things aren’t looking up. Politicians ought to be responsible for the entirety of their electorate, but obligated to none of them; now they’re obligated in a manner that has the potential to run counterintuitive to that responsibility.
Shortening election campaigns has the potential to mitigate that detrimental influence. It could reduce what amounts to gross financial waste, and improve the efficiency of political media. Unfortunately, it seems that the entities that can change the process are those that benefit from the situation in the first place.