Another reason we love politics!

Another reason we love politics!

VicesOctober 10, 2012

Elections cost money. A lot of money. But how much and why? Approximately $5.3 billion was spent on the 2008 national election cycle alone. Put in perspective, that’s enough to buy a fully loaded Nimitz Class aircraft carrier, 14 million iPods or 6.6 million hours of quality time with a high-end hooker. The massive amounts of money that are spent on national elections stem from our adversarial two-party political system: one party raises money to broadcast their message nationwide; the opposing party, if it wants to stay competitive, must do the same. The result? Every four years it gets exponentially more expensive to run for president. 

Because most candidates don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars lying around, their main financial lifeline is their political party and its network of power brokers, financial donors, endorsement opportunities and voter outreach programs—and if a candidate isn’t a member of one of the Big Two, their party’s resources are probably pretty thin. Of course, even a candidate in one of the main parties doesn’t get all this support for free. As sure as money is green, deep pockets are rarely clean. Here’s is a breakdown of what the major political parties and their candidates for president will have to do (and who they will have to please) in order to win the White House.

President Obama and the Democrats:

Obama isn’t pulling in as much cash from the small donors who swept him to power in 2008, but that doesn’t mean that checks aren’t getting cut. According to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to researching the money behind politics, many of the top individual contributors (through political action committees) to the Obama campaign have been higher education outlets (Harvard University, the University of California), technology and Internet companies (Microsoft, Google, Comcast, Time Warner), legal and accounting firms (DLA Piper, Deloitte), and large banks (Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs). Delivering for these donors will likely entail the same line Obama has been more or less walking since he took office: more investment in education and technology, as well as maintaining a relatively centrist line toward business and the financial sector in particular.

Additionally, President Obama is going to need to have his donors dig a little deeper due to the declining power of labor interests—which took a significant beating both financially and in perceived influence after their failed bid to oust Minnesota Gov. Scott Walker this year. As labor unions have traditionally been a Democratic stronghold, especially in union heavy states in the Midwest and the Rust Belt, their weakened presence translates into a lighter war chest for the Democrats. Thankfully for Obama’s prospects, the blue collar electorate will still lean Democratic, even if some of them have still have issues with a black President with a foreign-sounding last name. However, in order to maintain their support, Obama is likely going to need to take a harder line on immigration—at risk of alienating the Hispanic vote, which may stay home on Election Day if it sees that neither candidate is working for its larger interests. Obama the Pragmatist will have to work extra hard to satisfy these disparate constituencies, which will be key to winning another four years.

Mitt Romney and the Republicans:

Republican donors have been making it rain this election cycle, fueled in part by a coordinated wave of anti-Obama politicking, a dour economic climate, wariness from the private sector, and the failure of Obama to deliver on all his 2008 campaign promises. Which means the GOP will definitely be carrying a bigger stick going into the general election. But although Republicans have raised more dollars than the Democrats, their donors carry more baggage. Many of the top individual donors to the Romney campaign are large banks and business interests (Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, BOA, Citigroup, GE, Blackstone Group), but Republ ican super PACs have also seen large donations from the Koch family and others with strong social conservative agendas. This sets up a dangerous environment for Romney, forcing him to walk a fine line in order to keep his conservative coalition in tact without turning off independent voters and his more centrist benefactors.

During the primaries, Romney was the red headed stepchild of the GOP, thanks in large part to the rise of the tea party and its drive to shift the Republican platform to the far right. Romney is often seen as lacking true conservative credentials, largely due to his prior support as governor of Massachusetts for three of the cardinal GOP sins: abortion, gun control and socialized health care. Indeed, it was only after each primary candidate either shot themselves in the foot or exposed their extremeness that Romney essentially became the lesser of multiple evils—a status that’s not exactly going to drive people to the polls to vote for him, or, in the case of the average voter, open their wallets to him. Consequentially, Romney will have no choice but to kowtow to conservative principles on abortion, birth control, immigration, and foreign policy—which risks alienating the independent votes he needs to win. This is a distinct dilemma that Obama doesn’t have to face, which means the Democrats will be probably be able to keep pace in spite of their fundraising woes.

—Cameron Mac Pherson