Campaign Finance: No, Obama, the Sky is Not Falling

Much has been written and prognosticated about the future of American politics in light of the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s Uniteddecision on January 21, 2010.  Obama laid down the gauntlet with his totally classless act of taking on the Court in his State of the Union Address with several Justices sitting directly in front of him.  We are all familiar with Justice Alito mouthing “not true” as Democratic lawmakers hooted and applauded behind them.  To quote Obama: “With all due deference to the separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests- including foreign corporations- to spend without limit in our elections.  I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, foreign entities.  They should be decided by the American people…”

There are so many erroneous mischaracterizations of this decision in so few words of that address.  The decision, for example, said nothing about foreign corporations or “entities” contributing.  The “American people” are not only those pulling levers in election booths.  They are also, in today’s politics, those who contribute to candidates of their choice.  And an alleged constitutional lawyer like Obama should realize that corporations- and unions- are nothing but a collection of “American people.”

Once again in his relentless populist appeal to the masses, Obama speaks out of turn and his butt.  While he touts his grassroots fundraising, there is no mistake that he and his campaign took their fair share of money from special interests.  I urge anyone to consult the decidedly liberal opensecrets.org website to see who contributed to Obama and McCain in 2008.  And all of this after Obama broke his campaign pledge to use public funding.  What incentive did he have to follow through on that promise?  The money was flowing in from the special interests and what he defines as the “American people.”

This philosophy is based upon some assumption that the more money spent by the candidate (and thus, most money raised) automatically translates into votes at the ballot box.  If that were true, then lets just forego Election Day and see who can raise the most money.  I looked at the close Senate races this year as defined by the website RealClearPolitics.com and by what the Cook Political Report classify as toss-up races.  Then, using information from opensecrets.org regarding funds raised thus far, I compared these war chests of the opponents to the recent polling data in these states.  If we base the elections simply on fundraising thus far, we get the following results:

Bennett (D) wins in Colorado; Crist (I) wins in Florida; Kirk (R) in Illinois; Blunt (R) in Missouri; Reid (D) in Nevada; Portman (R) in Ohio; Toomey (R) in Pennsylvania; Murray (D) in Washington; Ellsworth (D) in Indiana; Boxer (D) in California; Feingold (D) in Wisconsin; Paul (R) in Kentucky; Hodes (D) in New Hampshire; Burr (R) in North Carolina, and; Lincoln (D) in Arkansas.

Compared against recent polling data, in 9 of these 15 races, the person with the most money leads in the polls.  But this means very little because one has to look at how much one trails in the polls and the level of discrepancy between fundraising.  For example, in the Colorado race, Michael Bennett, the incumbent Democrat has out-raised the Republican frontrunner, Jane Norton 3-1, yet leads by only 2 points in the polls, well within the margin of error.  In Nevada, Harry Reid has $17.9 million to Sharron Angle’s approximate $1.5 million, yet depending on which poll one looks at, Angle is either up by three points or trails by 4 points (again, striking distance).  In Washington, Patty Murray leads Dino Rossi in fundraising $9.8 million to about $1 million, but only leads by 4 points.  In Indiana, Ellsworth, the Democrat, has outraised Dan Coats $1.1 million to $455,000 thus far but trails by 14 points.

In nine of the 15 races cited, the person with the most money leads in 10 of those races.  The exceptions are Missouri where the Republican Blunt has a slight fundraising lead of $400,000 yet is tied, possibly the Nevada race, the Indiana race mentioned above, New Hampshire where the Democrats have outraised the Republican 3-2 yet Kelly Ayotte leads by 9 points, and Arkansas where Lincoln has outraised Boozman 11-1, yet trails in the polls by 16 points.  Another 4 races are within the 4-point margin of error: Colorado, Florida, Missouri, and Ohio.  That makes 9 out 15 races highly competetive despite being outfundraised by the opponent independent of party.

Of course, the general election campaigns have not begun in earnest in many states and those trailing in fundraising may catch up. Likewise, there is no reason to believe that this will necessarily translate into increasing their standing in the polls.

The major conclusion thus far is that fundraising and political success at the ballot box does not necessarily translate into one and the same.  Another conclusion one can gather from the fundraising data is that Democrats who decry the influence of corporate money, or special interest money, in the electoral process are basically hypocrites.  Thus far, for example, in 2010, business interests (that is, corporate America) has contributed $376.6 million to Democratic candidates or committees versus $301.6 million for Republicans, a 55-45 split.  Unions, on the other hand, have contributed $33.4 million to Democrats versus $2.5 million to Republicans, a 93-7% split.  Idealogical groups?  $36.9 million to Democrats versus $18.8 million to Republicans (or a 2-1 edge).

Among the top five industry groups- lawyers, securities & investments, health professionals, real estate concerns, and the insurance industry- all have invested more in Democratic candidates than Republican candidates.  Of the top 20 funders of candidates by category, ten are for Democrats, 8 tend to split their funds and only two support Republicans.

And those vaunted 527 groups?  Six of the top 10 contributers are liberal or Democratic or, as they like to call themselves, “progressive.”  Of the other four, one is state-specific: Carly for California.  That makes, on the national stage, only three of the top 10 527’s conservative or Republican.

In the practical sense, nowhere is Obama’s dire prediction of the “floodgates of special interest” money more repudiated than in Arkansas.  There, liberal groups essentially funded the campaign of Bill Halter in the Democratic primary against incumbent Blanche Lincoln.  The AFL-CIO committed $4 million of funding to Halter to essentially teach Lincoln a lesson.  It would appear her “crime” in the eyes of this special interest group- unions- was that she is not an avid supporter of Card Check legislation, nor did she support certain aspects of Obamacare.  The unions- AFL-CIO and SEIU- pored money into the Arkansas primary and eventual run-off.  The result?  Lincoln prevailed despite all the out of state special interest money and advertising.  Another case in point is the backing by special interests of Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania only to result in a primary loss.  At best, one can conclude that the influence of money may or may not make any difference depending on the particulars of the race.  In many instances, the fundraising trailer can use their disadvantage in money to their public relations advantage by highlighting the special interest money bankrolling the opponent.  That would seem like a winning strategy given today’s angry political environment.

What Obama and the knee-jerk liberals do not seem to understand is that those who vote often have brains and can think independent of political advertising.  Living in New Jersey, I am privy to Philadelphia stations.  In the lead up to the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, I would estimate that Arlen Specter out-advertised his opponent Joe Sestak about 15-1 in any given prime time hour.  Yet is is universally agreed that that one Sestak commercial did more than Specter’s 15 to earn him a primary victory.  Incidentally, whoever came up with that commercial needs to be in the Political Advertising Hall of Fame.  And the same is true of the voters in Arkansas who saw through the hypocrisy of the union-backed commercials in support of Halter.  In fact, in most local newspapers one will read the comments of how the citizens will be happy when the election is over and all the advertising stops.  Simply put, all the money in the world will not necessarily win elections if the beliefs of the candidate run counter to those of the voters.  Can you imagine any candidate latching onto an advertisement paid for by BP or Goldman-Sachs? 

Not only in the theoretical world in which Obama seems to live and thrive do his dire predictions of special interest money deciding elections not make sense, but even in the very real practical world, the world where Obama lacks any experience other than community organizer, the dire predictions are not coming to pass.  So in reality, it would appear that the two words mouthed by a Supreme Court Justice ring more true than the 64 words spoken by Obama in his State of the Union address.  That is because Obama, like all liberals, underestimates the abilities and intelligence of the American voting public- even those Bible-thumping and gun clingers out there.