Big Money Is Still Driving the Campaign

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  • Scott Swenson, Dale Eisman
Statement by Common Cause President Miles Rapoport

Gov. Bush certainly is not the first – and won’t be the last – candidate to lose an election despite raising and spending more money than his opponents. But suggestions that his withdrawal demonstrates that money doesn’t matter in our politics are ludicrous. Here are four reasons why:

  • Admission to today’s campaigns requires a cover charge; if you can’t pay it, you can’t compete. Without the big dollar donors who pumped more than $100 million into his super PAC, Gov. Bush wouldn’t even have gotten to South Carolina.
  • Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina and Lindsey Graham had varying degrees of success in raising money but their inability to keep pace with better-funded rivals was an important factor in their early departures from the campaign.
  • Donald Trump’s personal wealth made him a national figure before he became a candidate; his high profile, plus his willingness to use his billions to finance his campaign made him a credible contender when he declared. Similarly, Michael Bloomberg is at least potentially viable as an independent candidate only because he also is a billionaire.
  • The astronomical sums that a handful of major donors are pouring into the campaign are investments in ready access to the candidates and outsized influence over policy. Just 158 families have provided roughly half the money spent in the presidential race. The winners of the presidential and congressional elections will have a powerful incentive to keep a door open and an ear tuned to these plutocrats, either out of gratitude for their past support or a desire for their help in the next election.

Americans understand that the power of big money has thrown our political system out of balance. The good news is that we can still fix it; every poll shows that overwhelming majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independent voters favor tougher disclosure requirements and political spending limits, plus campaign financing systems that empower small dollar donors by matching their contributions with public funds. There’s a deep reservoir of support waiting to be tapped by candidates who lay out a specific plan to attack big money and a tight timeline for implementing it once they’re in office.