Mad PACS: Money Road

“The road to the White House is not just any road. It is longer than you’d think and a special fuel must be burned to ride it. The bones of those who ran out of fuel are scattered along it. What do they call it? They call it ‘money road.’ Only the mad ride that road. The mad or the rich.”

-Mad PACs

While some countries have limited campaign seasons and restrictions on political spending, the United States follows its usual exceptionalism. That is, the campaign seasons are exceptionally long and exceptional sums of money are required to properly engage in such campaigning.  The presidential campaign, not surprisingly, is both the longest and the most costly. The time and money requirements put rather severe restrictions on who can run a viable campaign for the office of President.

While the 2016 Presidential election takes place in November of that year, as of the May of 2015 a sizable number of candidates have declared that they are running. Campaigning for President is a full-time job and this means that person who is running must either have no job (or other comparable restrictions on her time) or have a job that permits her to campaign full time.

It is not uncommon for candidates to have no actual job. For example, Mitt Romney did not have a job when he ran in 2012. Hilary Clinton also does not seem to have a job in 2015, aside from running for President. Not having a job does, obviously, provide a person with considerable time in which to run for office. Those people who do have full-time jobs and cannot leave them cannot, obviously enough, make an effective run for President. This certainly restricts who can make an effective run for President.

It is very common for candidates to have a job in politics (such as being in Congress, being a mayor or being a governor) or in punditry. Unlike most jobs, these jobs apparently give a person considerable freedom to run for President. Someone more cynical than I might suspect that such jobs do not require much effort or that the person running is showing he is willing to shirk his responsibilities.

On the face of it, it seems that only those who do not have actual jobs or do not have jobs involving serious time commitments can effectively run for President. Those who have such jobs would have to make a choice—leave the job or not run. If a person did decide to leave her job to run would need to have some means of support for the duration of the campaign—which runs over a year. Those who are not independent of job income, such as Mitt Romney or Hilary Clinton, would have a rather hard time doing this—a year is a long time to go without pay.

As such, the length of the campaign places very clear restrictions on who can make an effective bid for the Presidency. As such, it is hardly surprising that only the wealthy and professional politicians (who are usually also wealthy) can run for office. A shorter campaign period, such as the six weeks some countries have, would certainly open up the campaign to people of far less wealth and who do not belong to the class of professional politicians. It might be suspected that the very long campaign period is quite intentional: it serves to limit the campaign to certain sorts of people. In addition to time, there is also the matter of money.

While running for President has long been rather expensive, it has been estimated that the 2016 campaign will run in the billions of dollars. Hilary Clinton alone is expected to spend at least $1 billion and perhaps go up to $2 billion. Or even more. The Republicans will, of course, need to spend a comparable amount of money.

While some candidates have, in the past, endeavored to use their own money to run a campaign, the number of billionaires is rather limited (although there are, obviously, some people who could fund their own billion dollar run). Candidates who are not billionaires must, obviously, find outside sources of money. Since money is now speech, candidates can avail themselves of big money donations and can be aided by PACs and SuperPACs. There are also various other clever ways of funneling dark money into the election process.

Since people generally do not hand out large sums of money for nothing, it should be evident that a candidate must be sold, to some degree, to those who are making it rain money. While a candidate can seek small donations from large numbers of people, the reality of modern American politics is that it is big money rather than the small donors that matter. As such, a candidate must be such that the folks with the big money believe that he is worth bankrolling—and this presumably means that they think he will act in their interest if he is elected. This means that these candidates are sold to those who provide the money. This requires a certain sort of person, namely one who will not refuse to accept such money and thus tacitly agree to act in the interests of those providing the money.

It might be claimed that a person can accept this money and still be her own woman—that is, use the big money to get into office and then act in accord with her true principles and contrary to the interests of those who bankrolled her. While not impossible, this seems unlikely. As such, what should be expected is candidates who are willing to accept such money and repay this support once in office.

The high cost of campaigning seems to be no accident. While I certainly do not want to embrace conspiracy theories, the high cost of campaigning does ensure that only certain types of people can run and that they will need to attract backers. As noted above, the wealthy rarely just hand politicians money as free gifts—unless they are fools, they expect a return on that investment.

In light of the above, it seems that Money Road is well designed in terms of its length and the money required to drive it. These two factors serve to ensure that only certain candidates can run—and it is worth considering that these are not the best candidates.

LaBossiere UC 2016Since I have a job and am unwilling to be bought, I obviously cannot run for President. However, I am a declared uncandidate—my failure is assured.

 

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  1. s. wallerstein

    Limiting the campaign period legally does not work all that well.

    In Chile there’s a time-limit, but the campaign begins long before the official campaign period. They get around the legal limit with campaign advertising which does not say “vote for me” or “presidential candidate”, but simply shows a very very doctored photo of the candidate (they all look 30 years younger), a catchy slogan (“A friend you can count on”, etc.) and the candidate’s name. Everyone gets the message and it’s completely legal.

  2. The American system is terrible. The corporate donations are not given out of some misty eyed patriotic altruism. And it’s not simply that they are bribes, which they are, but the money is also used for coercion. If a politician will not do a donors bidding, the donor; or at arms length through a lobbyist, will threaten to fund an attack campaign against them. To put it succinctly; they’re made an offer they can’t refuse.

    This is very bad for the rest of the world. All the really bad stuff in the free trade deals emanates from American corporate bullying. That impoverished African countries are threatened with bankruptcy by agencies like the IMF if they wish to spend more on education and healthcare for their people, but not a peep, when the same countries expend billions on military hardware (no need to say who’s producing this hardware). And though you can’t get away with anything like the scale of racketeering in Europe as the US, but because companies like Goldman Sachs are so politically empowered in the US, they get to dictate terms in Europe; like having their placemen, Goldman Sachs employees, dropped into very high powered political positions.

    The loss of democracy in America has led to a loss of democracy in Europe. And far worse for weaker countries. There are allegations that some CIA drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan were at the behest of corporate interests, and not for reasons of national security. Pesky Afghans agitating for a share of mining profits, from mines on their land.

    It’s not really all that fair to blame American politicians. They’re powerless to change the rules. If they try, not only do the corporations not fund their campaigns, but they convince the American people the same politicians are trying to harm them; take away their “freedom”.

    The only people capable of changing the system are the American people themselves. Through organisations like Wolf PAC, who are campaigning for a constitutional convention. And other similar grass roots movements. An American Spring.

  3. s. wallerstein

    JMRC,

    I don’t know much about Europe in general, although I’ve read of campaign financing scandals in Spain with the Popular Party (rightwing) and Podemos (leftwing), in Italy (with almost everyone, for example, with Berlusconi)and in France with Sarkozy. In Chile we’re currently living a reality show of revelations about illegal campaign financing of just about everyone, from right to left and while all those who comment on the news, claim to be “shocked, simply shocked”, it’s really no surprise, given that in contemporary capitalist society everything is bought and sold (cash nexus, to use Marx’s phrase) and if that is the case, why shouldn’t politicians be up for sale too?

    It seems a bit utopian to imagine that in society where everything and everyone has a price, politicians shouldn’t have theirs too. Now there must be a way out of this, short of the Khmer Rouge, but I’m not all too sure what it is. I think it’s illusory to create a little island, in this case, politics, in the midst of an ocean of commodification and imagine that the waves will not touch it.

  4. Campaign contribution limits and campaign finance regulations have caused campaigns to become longer.

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