SOLOMON: News That Went Unreported: Dollars Per Vote
By now, many news reports have analyzed the election results in great detail. On television and in print, we've seen lots of charts and graphs showing the breakdown of votes by gender, race, age, income and a whole lot more. But an important aspect of the election has escaped press attention: the cost of each vote."Dollars Per Vote" could be a useful category for putting various campaigns into clearer focus. We ought to know how much the candidates spent for every vote they received.After the election, I searched for media coverage of Dollars Per Vote. And searched. And searched. No luck.So, I did the math myself. Here's what I discovered:In the general election campaign, the Dollars Per Vote varied widely among the seven presidential candidates who ran nationwide.Bill Clinton's campaign spent $61.8 million of taxpayer money to win 45.6 million votes. So, the "DPV" for Clinton was $1.36.The Bob Dole campaign, which adhered to the same spending limit, garnered 37.9 million votes. That amounted to a DPV of $1.63.How about Ross Perot? Well, this time around, the pseudo- populist billionaire accepted federal funds with a ceiling of $29 million and captured just under 8 million votes. His DPV: $3.67.The man who finished fourth in the presidential balloting, Ralph Nader, opted to cap his campaign expenditures at $5,000. On Election Day, about 581,000 voters chose him. So for Nader -- alone among the seven candidates -- the spending per vote can't be expressed in dollars. He spent about a penny for each vote. In DPV terms, that's $0.01.In fifth place, Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne got 471,000 votes. Available reports put his campaign outlays at roughly $3 million. If so, his DPV was $6.37.The campaigns for the candidates who brought up the rear -- the Taxpayers Party's Howard Phillips and the Natural Law Party's John Hagelin -- each reportedly spent in the neighborhood of $2 million. For Phillips, who denounces the Republican Party as too liberal, his 179,000 votes cost $11.17 a piece. For Hagelin, who netted 110,000 votes, the DPV was $18.18.These DPV figures are ballpark measurements that understate the resources behind the major-party candidates. Well-heeled "issue advocacy" groups and unaffiliated boosters were able to skirt the spending limits. In effect, the Clinton and Dole forces expended several dollars for each vote. Meanwhile, the financial gaps were only part of the imbalance. Let's not forget that Clinton and his GOP rival -- as well as, to some extent, Ross Perot -- enjoyed enormous advantages in the form of profuse media coverage.No matter how you slice it, the contrast with Ralph Nader is striking. Even if you include all the money that independent committees paid to promote Nader's candidacy -- no more than $200,000 -- the spending per vote on his behalf totaled, at most, one-third of a dollar.The evident lack of media curiosity about Dollars Per Vote also extends to thousands of other political races -- and state ballot initiatives.The New York Times published a prominent post-election story under a sweeping headline: "From California to Maine, Voters Agreed With the Corporate View on Issues." The news article declared that the latest voting on ballot measures "suggests that Americans' on-again, off-again flirtation with anti-business causes is off again."The article barely mentioned that victorious industries -- ranging from high-tech firms to timber companies to health-care conglomerates -- had poured huge amounts of money into winning at the ballot box. Instead, the Times emphasized the outlooks of analysts like Brookings Institution savant Thomas Mann. "The public is less angry and less willing to identify with populism," he proclaimed, adding that "there's a certain sobriety out there -- a new understanding that we need a strong private sector."Most voters may be sober, but the businesses ponying up millions to get their way at the polls are quite inebriated with their high-rolling power. In state after state, big-money ad campaigns beat back under-funded efforts to protect consumers, medical patients and the environment. A media spotlight on Dollars Per Vote would illuminate the corruption of the initiative process.As long as news outlets don't provide us with such information, we're going to have to figure it out for ourselves.