YOU CAN ASK ME -- I DON'T BITE: Do you have a question about politics? Sure you do. Everybody does. Why not ask me? Come on -- don't live your life not knowing. I'll do my best, though I make no guarantees you'll love the answer.
Just email me: bkirby816 AT yahoo DOT com
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Dear Spencerian Editors:
The Supreme Court just struck down a law that will now allow companies and unions to spend as much as they want in advertising for or against a political candidate. They still can not contribute directly to the campaigns.
Question: What percentage of a candidate's campaign funds go towards advertising? This question becomes relevant because if private companies and unions pay for all the advertising, it frees up all the remainder of the candidate's funds for all other expenses, which makes the argument about "not being able to contribute directly to the candidate" moot. Right?
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What an awesome first question for the first We Answer Your Political Questions of 2010. Thank you, David.
First, let me say that rarely will you find good resources and good entertainment all on one subject on one blog. In this case, you will find both -- in spades -- at my friend Kevin's Ghost in the Machine. Read Lo, Here Comes the Flood for analysis and links to reactions from around the web. Then check out his next post, in which he chronicles his epic online battle of words with smug Glenn Greenwald. It is an investment of your time, and you have my guarantee that it is worth every minute. (And for the record, I echo Kevin's position on this issue.)
A few more resources before I weigh in on your question.
If you have any interest at all in campaign finance (or even just politics generally), I strongly encourage you to visit OpenSecrets.org, a website of the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Your next stop is the National Institute on Money in State Politics, also non-partisan and non-profit. David, we're going to especially want to check out their nifty interactive "industry influece" chart tool.
There are a lot of bloggers that write about politics (this blogger included, obviously), but few cover it quite as succinctly or quite as well as The Campaign Manager, who has had some great posts on campaign advertising.
Of course, you'll want to bookmark the Federal Election Commission's reporting page.
If you're in Florida (like me), you can check out the contribution and spending history of your local and state-wide candidates at the Florida Department of State's Division of Election's website.
Okay, on to your question: "What percentage of a candidate's campaign funds go towards advertising?" Well, of course it depends on the candidate, and it depends on the office for which they are running.
According to Fast Company, in 2008, Obama spent something like $124,391,585.64 for "media/ad services" and McCain spent $49,528,063.66. This money went to ad firms to produce TV, radio and I suppose print advertising as well.
But don't be fooled -- that's actually a very narrow definition of "advertising". What about bumper stickers? Yard signs? Billboards? And the now all-important online advertising?
You add all that up, and according to FactCheck.org, Obama outspent McCain on "advertising" by nearly 3 to 1. Their answer to this question, with respect to Obama and McCain, is pretty good:
According to figures supplied by the campaign Media Analysis Group of TNS Media Intelligence, Obama has spent an estimated $280 million on TV advertising since Jan. 1 of last year through Nov. 1.
McCain has spent less than half as much, just under $134 million, according to CMAG, which tracks advertising in the top TV markets.
During the 60 days ending Nov. 1, Obama has outspent McCain on television by better than 2.5-to-1. And in the most recent week, Obama has spent $23.6 million to McCain's $4.8 million, a spending advantage of nearly 5-to-1.
That's some serious cash.
David, there are so many offices on the federal and state level in so many different markets, that it would take me all day to answer. For example, a candidate for State Representative in the Tampa Bay area will probably have to spend a lot more on advertising that a candidate for State Representative in a more rural county. The Senate race here in Florida between Kendrick Meek and whoever wins the Crist/Rubio cage match is going to cost millions in advertising dollars.
Let's get to the second part of your question. "...if private compaines and unions pay for all the advertising, it frees up all the remainder of the candidate's funds for all other expenses..."
You've made an assumption that doesn't hold up, I'm afraid. The point of the Supreme Court decision is not about contributing directly to a candidate or not, it's about the limits on corporate spending in campaigns, and how corporations are defined in the context of political campaigns.
Let's just say that you or I like Candidate Bill Jones. We like him for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is he's an environmentalist and he is pro cap-and-trade. He's running against Candidate Frank Smith, who is vehemently opposed to cap-and-trade as bad for business.
As individuals, you or I can contribute to Candidate Jones. And so we do. This contribution -- let's say we gave him twenty-five bucks -- as defined by the Court, is speech, the same as if we sent a letter to the editor of our local paper, stood on a street corner with a sign, spoke at our local VFW, or offered a prayer in our church.
While you're pondering that, Candidate Frank Smith is talking to the government affairs team at Exxon/Mobil. Exxon/Mobil is not much of a fan of cap-and-trade.
But Exxon/Mobil, the Court has said, is in essence a person -- just like you, just like me. So, as a person, Exxon/Mobil produces a short but vicious biographical film on Bill Jones and plans to air it in our media market for two months leading up to the election. They also front the cost for several newspaper advertisements critical of Bill Jones. They buy radio time. They produce a website and blog that are updated regularly which are harshly critical of Bill Jones. A team of videographers now follows Bill Jones around. Three weeks before Election Day, crowds begin to show up at Bill Jones rallies with t-shirts, flags, banners and signs that say "Down with Bill Jones!"
It's paid for with money... er, I mean it's speech, as "spoken" by the limitless "voice" of the person named Exxon/Mobil.
Hey, everyone's equal under the Constitution, right? And just as we gave twenty-five bucks to our guy, Exxon/Mobil can give money to support their own guy... and tear ours down.
You might say that Candidate Bill Jones just needs to make friends with his own corporations -- and now that we have the Supreme Court's decision, he will. But do we really want the candidates who get elected to be the ones with the best corporate connections?
The second part of your question assumes that folks like you and I will still give twenty-five bucks to candidates knowing that they can just as easily get half a million dollars (or whatever -- it's limitless) from any corporation whose interests they promise to support. Who do you think our fictional anti-environment candidate Frank Smith will be more beholden to were he to get elected? His own twenty-five dollar donors or the boys down at Exxon/Mobil who engineerd his victory via the destruction of his opponet?
I recently talked to a friend about this whole issue, and his position is like that of many Americans, I think. He doesn't necessarily see the difference between what the Supremes have said and the way things have been in the past. Corporations, political action committees, unions, and other special interests have always had undue influence in politics -- this Supreme Court ruling, my friend says, just validates all of that. And if anything, makes it all a bit more transparent.
All of this is to say, no, being able to utilize corporate money -- "speech" -- in a political campaign does not "free up" other campaign money for "all other expenses". It only makes candidates more beholden to corporate interests, not the interests of their constituents or potential constituents.
Let's remember how all of this came about -- Hillary: The Movie (loving the ominous, dark clouds behind her! Is shame really that dead? Apparently...) This "movie" was produced by a guy named David Bossie who is president of Citizen's United -- thus the name of the Court case -- and who makes you want to take a shower just looking at him. The movie was partially produced with corporate funds, thus the legal challenges.
But please make no mistake, David. This movie had nothing to do with "freeing up funds" for Senator Clinton's primary challengers or would-be Republican challengers. It has everything to do with attempting to destroy a politician, and having corporations assist in doing so. The Supreme Court merely abetted this philiosophy.
What does this mean for the future? I'd look for a lot more "Hillary: The Movie"-type things out there, on a lot of different levels. Which is to say, unless you're a millionaire movie producer, David, look forward to having your already diminished voice in the democratic process further diminished.
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SHOW ME THE POLITICAL QUESTIONS: Ask whatever political question you want. Just remember that I'm not as smart as I look.
Just email me: bkirby816 AT yahoo DOT com