Friday, June 22, 2012

The money gods giveth and taketh away--mainly taketh away.

There's been a lot of hand-wringing on the left lately about Romney's fundraising numbers. The Romney campaign outraised the Obama campaign in May, and progressives are baffled. "What happened to the huge money advantage we had in 2008," they ask.

Reality returned, that's what. If you are a progressive party campaigning to rein in corporate power and make the rich pay their fair share, you can't be surprised when corporate power and the rich don't come running to your aid. 

But why did Obama do so well fundraising in 2008? Because everyone, including big business, knew he was going to win. If the Democrat is bound to win, you might as well try to buy them off, so the thinking goes on Wall Street. But if the race is going to be close, then why not back the Republican, who won't just do your bidding but who believes in doing your bidding?

There are two main reasons why progressives should not mourn the latest fundraising numbers:

1)  If the Democratic Party were to consistently outraise the GOP among big business and the rich, then the Democratic Party would cease to be a progressive party. For a progressive, winning by allying with Wall Street is not really winning. It's the way to slowly lose the soul of your party.  (Some would say this ship sailed years ago.)

2)  We don't necessarily need more money than Romney. In the Fall, the airwaves are going to be saturated with political ads.  There comes a point of diminishing returns. How many hundreds of millions of dollars worth of 30-second spots do you really need? The Obama campaign is not going to fail to get its message out. The president has the biggest bully pulpit in the world, and cheap social media and viral campaigning are going to be many times more important in 2012 than they were in 2008.  

Finally, and I haven't done the research to back this up, but I think the fundraising we are seeing now doesn't include as many small donors as it will in later months.  And I suspect that Obama is going to have a big advantage among small donors. 

But my bottom line is that Obama should win this election with the sweat equity of millions of volunteers, with phone banks, voter registration drives, and canvassing. Gobs of money won't hurt, but in the end it won't matter if Romney has bigger gobs. Besides, we need to be careful where our gobs of money come from and how they can change our party.


Becky said...

But we gotta get out there. Remember the lesson of the midterms: When Dave pulls out, the Republicans win.

Nina said...

Do you think a cap on campaign spending would make things a bit fairer/slightly more democratic? And do the parties have to declare the sources of their biggest donations?

Dave said...

Becky, that WAS the lesson!

Nina, I think the best thing would be to have complete public financing of campaigns. Failing that, complete transparency for all donations not just to campaigns but to PACs and other political groups. Make it easy to see who is giving how much to whom.

My understanding is that campaigns and parties do have to disclose the sources of large donations, BUT there are easy ways around that if you are a rich donor who wants to remain anonymous. For example, the Karl Rove-led "Crossroads GPS" is not technically considered a PAC; it's a 501(c)(4), which is the tax code for "Civic Leagues and Social Welfare Organizations," and is not required to disclose its donors.

I think until there is complete public financing of elections, there are always going to be ways for big donors to get around the regulations.