An article in the NY Times yesterday made the argument the advantage gained from money in this presidential campaign has been even between Romney and Obama. The argument is laid out nice and clear but it minimizes an important reality of money in this campaign and its relation to true democracy. The article only briefly mentions anything even related to this element:
But Mr. Obama and the Democrats, buoyed by millions of small donors, have raised a vast majority of his cash directly for his campaign committee, which under federal law is entitled to preferential ad rates over political parties and super PACs.
In all fairness, it was clearly not the intention of the authors to address the point I’m arguing but it warrants a further look. The fact is one candidate has garnered the financial support of a far larger number of people – in awful economic times, no less – than the opposing candidate yet hasn’t translated this larger support to a larger lead in the polls despite shrewd spending, according to the article. This should be acknowledged and recognized for what it means: money is power in political campaigns and it can win elections in a more efficient way than quality of the candidate or issue positions. Anyone arguing this was the intent of the Founding Fathers and what should constitute equality in democracy has a seriously distorted view of the word democracy.
It is difficult to measure the actual effect of money in the presidential campaign at this time but something should certainly be noted. Without the smaller number of wealthy donors giving millions to both the Romney campaign and the super PACs supporting him, the race would not even be close right now. If Romney and Obama’s donors were restricted to giving only capped amounts to their candidate of preference or their super PAC, Obama would be dominating because of the better ground game. For now, as mentioned in the article, they are keeping pace with Romney because of a more strategic use of funds.
But the question that should be asked is “would Romney be even with Obama in the general polls without an overall advantage in money?” The answer is almost assuredly, no. Romney should be given some credit for not making any devastatingly bad mistakes in the eyes of the general public, such as making a costly choice in vice-presidential running mate. But even most on the right would admit he is not the greatest of candidates and in some ways is simply an awful choice to try to rally behind. The right is not really excited about him and recognizes he is just not that great of a presidential candidate. Which brings us to a final point.
If a presidential candidate, supported financially by a small number of people in comparison to his opponent and supported reluctantly by his own party, still has a chance to win the election because of the wealth of his donors, isn’t something seriously wrong with our electoral system? It’s a sad state of affairs but I suppose we are stuck with it for the time being.