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Perpetual National Elections Make the Top 1% Richer

The presidential campaign season keeps getting longer, and more expensive, allowing the uber-rich to effectively control our democracy.

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Similarly, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the media-anointed Republican nominee of this electoral cycle, has in fact been running for president since at least 2006.  It's been his only real “job” since leaving the governorship in 2008.  In his life, he is now the embodiment of the perpetual candidate, and yet even those who make him the butt of endless TV jokes don’t find that fact strange or particularly worthy of comment.

Everywhere you care to look, the expansion of the presidential race is evident.  In the fall of 1948, in an election he was supposed to lose, Democratic President Harry (“give ‘em hell”) Truman barnstormed the nation by train, decrying a “do-nothing Congress.”  By comparison, President Obama has been out this fall -- the equivalent of 1947 -- on what is clearly the campaign trail denouncing his own version of a do-nothing Congress.  And that’s only a start when it comes to turning election “year” into Election Life.

On money, the sky’s the limit.  In 2000, the total federal election season cost $3 billion; in 2008, more than $5 billion, of which an estimated $2.4 billion went into the presidential campaign.  With the Supreme Court having made it easier for outside money to pour in, thanks to its Citizens United decision, funding for campaign 2012 is expected to pass $6 billion and could even top $7 billion.  The Obama campaign, which raised $760 million in 2008, is expected to pass the billion-dollar mark this time around (with money already pouring in from the financial and banking sector on which candidate Mitt Romney is also heavily reliant).

TV advertising alone, which topped $2.1 billion in 2008, is expected to reach or exceed $3 billion this time around.  These are, of course, staggering sums.  Already the attack ads, mostly on the president, mostly from the sort of Super PACs that Citizens United let loose in the land, are zinging away far in advance of any previous presidential campaign season.  According to the Washington Post, $23 million worth of attack ads have come and gone, half of that from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.  And as one analyst quoted by the New York Times put it, “These dollar figures we’re talking about now are going to seem quaint in a few months.  And they’ll seem really quaint in eight or nine months.”

For comparison’s sake, back in 1976, in the era when pundits were first beginning to write about presidential elections as perpetual campaigns, the total spending of presidential candidates Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter was $66.9 million.

This inundation of money has also meant an inundation of lobbyists.  President Obama officially refuses to take campaign contributions from lobbyists. The New York Times recently reported, however, that 15 of his top “bundlers,” who give their own money and solicit that of others for the campaign -- none registered as federal lobbyists -- are “involved in lobbying for Washington consulting shops or private companies,” and they are raising millions for him.  A June report from the Center for Public Integrity concluded: “President Obama granted plum jobs and appointments to almost 200 people who raised large sums for his [2008] presidential campaign, and his top fundraisers have won millions of dollars in federal contracts.”

And the 2012 Republican field of presidential contestants puts Obama in the shade.  They seem determined to campaign cheek to jowl with as many lobbyists as they can corral.  More than 100 federal lobbyists have already contributed to Mitt Romney’s campaign, while Rick Perry has evidently risen to candidate status on the shoulders of Mike Toomey, a former gubernatorial chief of staff, friend, and money-raising lobbyist whose clients “have won $2 billion in [Texas] state government contracts since 2008.”  And that’s only scratching the surface.

 
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