The Washington Post reported that “The political network overseen by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch plans to spend close to $900 million on the 2016 campaign, an unparalleled effort by coordinated outside groups to shape a presidential election that is already on track to be the most expensive in history.” Ouch! That’s a chunk of change.
However, if she gets the Democratic nomination Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the White House too will have lots of dough. She is expected to spend roughly one billion dollars. Her ultimate GOP opponent will spend the same amount.
It’s no surprise that “big money” in politics is of concern to almost anyone watching the 2016 election season roll along. Ever since the Supreme Court in Citizen’s United case there have been virtually no restrictions on political spending.
The concern is that money allows billionaires to “buy” elections and “put future presidents in their pockets.”
I was on her show “The Attitude” (http://www.arniearnesen.org/WP/) in studio last week. I’m on every Thursday, normally on the phone from Ames, Iowa. Then I interviewed her for my free Internet Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the Iowa caucuses.
Arnie argued that money is only a threat when it’s asymmetrical. If one party or candidate has oodles of dough and the other sides do not, money can distort the discussion and outcome of caucuses, primaries, and the general election. That would undermine the democratic political process.
But, argued Arnie, what if every candidate has a millionaire sponsor? Then regardless of how much money is spent the playing field essentially becomes flat. It’s a draw.
Second, Arnie avers that beyond a certain necessary amount MORE money really can’t buy you a political advantage. The reason is that TV time is normally “Sold OUT” so there is no more opportunity for an air war. Hiring more staff, more pollsters, more “consultants” is probably a waste of money.
Third, in the 21st Century “social media” and “social networking” is becoming more important as a political tool. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, blogs, FullCircle, Tumblr, Xanga, and a HUGE number of other tools (For a list of current active sites: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites) are generally free. With active crowd sourcing of supporters and a little bit of what I call “assignmenting,” asking individuals or teams to target specific social media, a candidate with lots of dedicated followers and volunteers can probably compete with the deep pocket contender.
I think Arnie has raised a very compelling and intriguing hypothesis about money and politics.
We will be testing this with the contest between Hillary Clinton, who has lots of money, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who does not accept Super PAC money and is running a grass roots campaign, small contributions, and lots of passionate followers.
As despair about the unspeakable amount of cash has us all concerned, money may not, after all, be the insurmountable and unfair force. With clever use of free media (see Bernie Sanders and his huge rallies) and social media the billionaire influence could be a lot less than expected.
* Steffen Schmidt is University Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University. You can sign up for his free Internet course that starts Sept 1 @ https://www.iowacaucusesmooc.org/