Are Super PACs a Bad Influence on Political Campaigns?
by Madeline Barnes on Friday, October 2nd, 2015
As the second term of Barack Obama’s presidency comes to a close, the 2016 presidential election has started to dominate mainstream media. In this age of social media, it is nearly impossible to ignore the hype of various presidential campaigns. Most recently, the Republican debates have attracted many viewers, some of whom do not yet support or closely follow a specific candidate.
Because the general public only sees and hears the end products, including polished speeches and perfected debate techniques, most of us forget about the hard work, blood (well- hopefully not blood), sweat, and tears that go into running a campaign. We forget about the planning, organization and overall diligence required of the candidates and their teams. Perhaps more importantly, we forget about the financial support that is so essential to a campaign’s success.
According to The New York Times, the Super PAC, an independent Political Action Committee that donates large sums to various campaigns, has given close to 388 million dollars to presidential campaigns since June of 2015. In addition, nybooks.com confirms that Ted Cruz has the backing of a New York hedge fund; Scott Walker has the support of the Koch brothers; Hillary Clinton has the support of Hollywood billionaires; and Marco Rubio has the support of a Miami billionaire car dealer. Undoubtedly, each candidate receives some sort of financial support from private donors, but the question remains: are these contributions good or bad?
I believe campaign contributions from institutions and wealthy individuals are necessary for any candidate to run an effective campaign. Many may object to this practice, arguing that self-interest inspires the rich to donate to a political campaign, but in reality, money cannot elect a candidate. It is the general public, a mass of smaller donors, which elects candidates.
Running an effective campaign comes with a high price-tag. Some analysts believe President Obama raised and spent $750 million for his 2008 campaign and nearly $1 billion for his 2012 campaign. According to MSNBC, campaign costs in the 2012 election totaled 6.3 billion dollars, one billion dollars more than what was spent during the election in 2008.
While Super PACs and private funding play a key role in presidential campaigns, candidates do not change their political views because of such companies and organizations. Nor do they do so in order to receive funding. According to CNN, PACs expand the pool of candidates because they enable candidates with less name recognition to enter the race where they might otherwise not even qualify for the primary contest.
In my opinion, the average citizen can best support a political candidate despite only being able to contribute with small donations. An activist will talk to his friends and neighbors, post on Facebook, and volunteer at campaign rallies. In effect, an ordinary voter can make all the difference to a campaign in which large corporations and new, fancy campaign videos cannot.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign to win the Democratic nomination has been supported solely by the contributions of the average person. According to the Wall Street Journal, 99% of donations are $250 or less, and more than one million individual donations have been made to date. Sanders’ aversion to Super PACs has led to more money raised by this point in the campaign than Obama raised in either ‘08 or ‘12.
In terms of money, according to Politico, $356 million were raised from approximately 5 million ordinary citizens giving $200 or less for political campaigning for all candidates. It is much easier for such citizens to decide to donate $10 than for a large company to decide to invest millions in a candidate.
Don’t believe me yet? Let’s say that, in the end, the activists and large company raise the same total amount. Where is the voting power? Is it with the general public who have all chosen to support a particular candidate or with a single company or institution? Smaller donations have value because they represent the larger vote. Big money will always be present in politics, and while major donors will continue to play a critical role in managing a successful campaign, they cannot buy a candidate’s success when it comes time to vote, as Bernie Sanders’ growing success continues to show.
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