Follow the Money – It Could Sink Obama

My UMB colleagues Tom Ferguson and Jie Chen and their collaborator Paul Jorgensen of University of Texas, Pan American have a troubling article out concerning the capacity of big – no, unfathomably huge – Republican money to dominate the last days of an election. In Massive Surge of Republican Money in Last Ditch Effort to Sink Obama at AlterNet they recount how big money cost Al Gore in 2000, and how it might happen again in 2012.

The three scholars, citing work by Richard Johnston, Michael G. Hagen, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, The 2000 Presidential Election and the Foundations of Party Politics write that

where free media and Gore’s own ads were not overwhelmed by the last minute GOP avalanche, the Vice President preserved his momentum, eventually winning the popular vote. By contrast, in battleground states where the Bush campaign vastly outspent him and the Democrats, Gore’s comeback stalled out. “Where ad volumes – Al Gore’s ad volumes in particular at this point – were mounting, the Democratic candidate held his own for the rest of the month…Where advertising – now overwhelmingly by Bush – was heavy, there was no recovery; indeed in the last week Gore’s share in these places dropped two to three points.”

Another important point:

Big Money’s most significant impact on politics is certainly not to deliver elections to the highest bidders. Instead it is to cement parties, candidates, and campaigns into the narrow range of issues that are acceptable to big donors. The basis of the “Golden Rule” in politics derives from the simple fact that running for major office in the U.S. is fabulously expensive. In the absence of large scale social movements, only political positions that can be financed can be presented to voters. On issues on which all major investors agree (think of the now famous 1 percent), no party competition at all takes place, even if everyone knows that heavy majorities of voters want something else.

As I’ve written here before, this is why America has a far right party and a center right party on finance. Finance controls the money spigot. The economic center right includes many Democratic members of Congress and leading economic figures of the Obama administration. At least so far it does not include Elizabeth Warren, which is why I described her as an outlier in her own party in the Boston Sunday Globe of November 4, 2012.

For those reading the predictions of Nate Silver and others of the large probability of an Obama victory, take heed:

Since October 17, the big GOP Superpacs appear to be outspending Priorities USA on media by at least three to one – perhaps a higher ratio than when Bush buried Gore. Those funds are almost certainly being concentrated on battleground states, even, possibly, on a handful of counties within each.

Ferguson, Jorgensen and Chen have significantly advanced the forensic scholarship of following the money and conclude that “the true influence that large donors wield in American elections is chronically underestimated.”

It is important work and deserves wide circulation.

About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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