Corporations aren’t funding campaigns after all?

When the Supreme Court ruled that the law limiting corporate contributions was an infringement of the right to free speech, the conventional wisdom was–and is–that now big businesses will buy politicians by funding their elections.  But it hasn’t turned out that way.  Corporations aren’t giving much money at all to political candidates.

The ruling allowing unlimited “corporate” giving–”corporate” meaning collective organizations, not just business corporations–is indeed magnifying the reach of  issue-driven organizations, which would be in accord with free political speech.  And wealthy individuals, such as George Soros and the Koch brothers (notice how those who demonize one don’t demonize the other), can throw their weight around with their money.  One might still worry about the influence of campaign contributions.  But the point here is that business corporations are not, on the whole, giving many political contributions.  They have found that giving money to politicians can just alienate some of their customers and that they can get more influence for their buck by hiring lobbyists. [Read more...]

The Democrats’ billionaires

As Democrats demonize the Koch brothers for donating money to conservatives, their own billionaires are getting organized to make the most of their political donations. [Read more...]

Funding weaker opponents

In some creative campaign finance shenanigans, some Democratic candidates have been giving financial and advertising support to Republicans whom they think would be easier to defeat than their primary opponents.  This includes funding attack ads casting doubt on whether the frontrunner is conservative enough, all in a ploy to get the more conservative and easier-to-beat candidate on the ticket. [Read more...]

You can now give to as many candidates as you want

The Supreme Court struck down the limits to the number of candidates a person is allowed to give money to and the total amount you are allowed to give.   Left standing is the limit a person can give to one candidate–$48,600–but the law had limited total giving to $123,200.  That meant that a donor wanting to give the maximum amount could only support nine candidates.

I know that critics of the ruling are claiming that this opens the door to political corruption and gives rich people the opportunity to buy candidates.  But are there any constitutional grounds for objecting to this ruling?  Aren’t limitations of political activity unconstitutional on the face of it? [Read more...]

Setting policies by means of SuperPACS

A case-study in contemporary policy-setting.  The Republicans put off Hispanics, which is arguably demographic suicide.  So how to change the anti-immigration stance associated with the party?  Reason? Discussion?  Debate?  Coming to a consensus?  No.  Start a super PAC that will give money to pro-immigration Republicans and sponsor primary opponents against Republicans who vote the wrong way.

Prominent Republicans are launching a new super PAC they hope will help begin repairing the political damage left by years of anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric that has dominated GOP primaries and alienated crucial Hispanic voters.

The organization, to be called Republicans for Immigration Reform, aims to undermine what organizers call the “extremists” who have pushed party nominees to stake out far-right positions such as opposing a pathway to legalization for millions of illegal workers, students and children.

Even before it raises money and establishes target races for 2014, the group’s organizers told The Washington Post, it will help smooth the way for wavering Republican lawmakers to vote next year for an immigration overhaul. Such a measure suddenly gained momentum last week after GOP leaders watched President Obama’s dominance among Hispanic voters help carry him to an electoral college landslide.

Spearheading the group is Carlos Gutierrez, the Cuban American commerce secretary under President George W. Bush. He is joined by Washington lawyer Charlie Spies, co-founder of the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, which, illustrating the very trend that the new PAC aims to thwart, aired some tough ads during this year’s primaries accusing Romney’s rivals of supporting “amnesty” and being “too liberal on immigration.”

“There’s currently only energy on the anti-immigration reform side, and we want to be able to provide some cover for Republicans that vote in support of an immigration reform approach,” Spies said.

Spies and Gutierrez declined to cite a fundraising goal, but both enjoy close ties to corporate America, which generally favors looser immigration laws. A super PAC can accept unlimited donations. Spies’s pro-Romney group raised $142 million for the 2012 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“This is not small ball,” Gutierrez said. “We’re serious, and we are going to push the debates on immigration reform to a place where I believe the Republican Party should be in the 21st century.”

via New super PAC hopes to give cover to pro-immigration Republicans – The Washington Post.

Let us bracket the issue of immigration reform and whether Republicans need to loosen up on the question and make major efforts to attract Hispanics.  I myself agree that something on this order needs to be done.  So let’s not talk about that.  Let’s discuss this method of forming policy and making laws.

On any issue, we can now expect a SuperPAC to fund one side and probably another SuperPAC to fund the other side.  (I am not disputing their “rights” to do so.  Let’s not talk about that either.)  They work by rewarding, threatening, and punishing lawmakers with money, using campaign contributions–given, withheld, or given to an opponent–as a means of coercing support of a legislative agenda.

Doesn’t this replace democracy with plutocracy, so that money becomes the actual means of governing?  This strike me as a step beyond simply raising money for a campaign.  As we have seen, raising and spending money will not necessarily win you an election.  You get special interests making contributions but that may or may not determine how a lawmaker votes.  This tactic, by contrast, seeks to determine which candidates can run for office in the first place and fixes their position on an issue, which is determined not by the give-and-take of a rational process but by the SuperPAC that has quite literally bought their vote.

Who profits from campaign spending?

The presidential campaign will cost some $4 billion.  We worry about so much spending and what special interests contribute so much money.  But another question, Michael Wolff points out, is who gets all of that money?  The answer:  Television stations, despite the way this flies in the face of modern marketing principles:

Presidential campaigns (and statewide races that ride the national political debate) are expensive in the extreme because they’re tactically focused on convincing the people who are the most difficult and, hence, most expensive to convince. And, arguably, the more money that is spent by both sides trying to convince the undecided helps keep them unconvinced — hence, requiring more resources in this illogical quest. The two main principles of marketing — not spending more than the sale is worth; focusing the most resources on the most susceptible buyers — are thrown out in presidential politics.

Billions are spent not only on the few, but on the diffident, bored, resistant and dumb. (If you haven’t made up your mind by this point, you probably aren’t capable of making up your mind.)

Who most directly benefits? Local television stations, and the large media companies that own them. (Among them is USA TODAY parent Gannett, which owns 23 television stations.) Also benefiting are the consultants who buy this media and whose fees are a reflection of the amount of media they buy. Politics is a large and lucrative business offering a clear payoff to a small set of players, who are almost never singled out in the debate about campaign finance reform.If rich men such as Sheldon Adelson ultimately earn some advantage from backing a winner, theirs is a vastly more indirect and uncertain gain than that of station owners and political operatives.

Curiously, nobody asks the most obvious question. Why do campaigns continue to buy, almost to the exclusion of all other media, local broadcast television? It is more costly and less efficient — that is, less targeted — than cable, digital, or even newspapers, all of which attract scant political dollars.

The answer is probably simple. Broadcast television, with its vast audience and quick reach, is not only the most expensive option (not least because its space is most limited), but its use most efficiently perpetuates a seesaw effect. One candidate’s media buy must be balanced by another candidate’s media buy. The strategic goal becomes about trying to raise more money to spend more money to achieve a minor edge.

The exact people each campaign should be spending less on end up, to the enrichment of media and consultants, getting vastly greater attention and dollars. The cheapening of the debate is an inevitable side-effect. It’s all about, in 1950s mass market advertising, repetition. It’s a beautiful, and old-fashioned (think selling soap in the 1950s), advertising loop — the more repetition, the more market share — benefiting media companies.

via Michael Wolff: Give campaign ads free TV time.

Wolff goes on to propose a solution:  Since television stations are publicly licensed, let’s require them to provide free air time for political campaigns.

What do you think of that?  It seems rather tyrannical to force companies to give away their products for free.  And wouldn’t free ads just continue the dysfunctional marketing strategies?  It would seem that the solution would be for one or perhaps both candidates to refuse to take the bait, to concentrate their spending on targeted advertising, online and elsewhere.