The money in politics this year is getting ridiculous, and we haven’t even gotten to the general election. Frankly, I’m a little nervous, since I live in PA and the robocalls and assault ads will be starting soon, I fear.
After yesterday’s primary in Illinois, where turnout was reported to be very low, The New American reported that the Romney campaign spent $1,117,704 and the Romney Super PAC spent $2,556,353 in Illinois, for a total of $3,674,057. I got to wondering, what is that on a per vote, per delegate, earned basis?
Since Romney’s vote total was 428,434, simple math tells us he spent $8.575 per vote in Illinois. He won 43 delegates, a per delegate amount of $85,443.186. By comparison, Rick Santorum’s campaign spent $219,961 and his Super PAC spent $312,150. Rick got 321,079 votes, giving him a per vote expenditure of $1.657 and he earned 10 delegates, spending $53,211.10 per delegate.
Let’s compare to an earlier, and perhaps equally, if not more important race.
Let’s look at the cash spent in Florida. Figures differ depending on what report you read, and I am being lazy here by not going directly to the Federal Election Commission reports but relying on various reports including the New York Times. While there are conflicting reports, having the Romney campaign spending at least $5.6 million and his Super PAC spending $10.7 million, net figures report a total of $15,340,000, so we’ll use that figure. Romney got 775,014 votes, and won 50 delegates. That’s a per vote amount of $19.79, and a per delegate amount of $306,800, enough to put each delegate in the 1% if the money had gone directly to them personally. All the other candidates won zero delegates in this winner take all race, so their spending gained zero delegates. On a cost per vote basis, the $5.5 million spent by Gingrich yielded 533,117 votes, a $10.32 per vote spend.
I wish I could opt to just have candidates send checks to the house and bypass all this media spending and annoying phone calls that will be forthcoming. The amount of money being spent would go to much better use, if given to schools, local charities, or even in the hand of individuals. You could take all the money a candidate is intending to spend, convert it into $5 bills, and hand it out at the polling place- it seems like at least for Romney, that would be cheaper than his current barrage of ads and probably would make people happier in the long run.
We don’t like to talk about people buying elections. It sounds tawdry and even downright illegal. But isn’t that essentially what’s happening? Is that what we’ve come to in this “democracy”?
It’s starting to look more and more like a third world country, where votes are for sale, and patronage rules the day. After all, you have to ask yourself- why would someone like Mitt Romney, a successful business man, “invest” so much in getting a job that pays $400,000 a year- less than many people, including himself, make in the private sector. Of course, the benefits are great, and you can make probably 5 times that much a year afterwards on the speaking circuit alone, not to mention book sales.
What about all the people giving him money? I’m sure they not only believe in his views, but are also looking for influence, pay back, and benefits to flow back in their direction. There’s a quid pro quo in here somewhere. Otherwise, why would rational people give so much money that is being spent on essentially nothing tangible in the long run? After all the bumper stickers and poster and billboards are gone, what will we have to show for it? As Molly Ivins was so found of saying, “You got to dance with them that brung you.” And if we don’t bother to ask the question, we deserve what we get.
To that end, I’ll close out this post with a few priceless quotes from Molly Ivins that are as relevant now as when she wrote them:
What stuns me most about contemporary politics is not even that the system has been so badly corrupted by money. It is that so few people get the connection between their lives and what the bozos do in Washington and our state capitols.
There’s never been a law yet that didn’t have a ridiculous consequence in some unusual situation; there’s probably never been a government program that didn’t accidentally benefit someone it wasn’t intended to. Most people who work in government understand that what you do about it is fix the problem — you don’t just attack the whole government.
One function of the income gap is that the people at the top of the heap have a hard time even seeing those at the bottom. They practically need a telescope. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt probably didn’t waste a lot of time thinking about the people who built their pyramids, either. OK, so it’s not that bad yet — but it’s getting that bad.
In the real world, there are only two ways to deal with corporate misbehavior: One is through government regulation and the other is by taking them to court. What has happened over 20 years of free-market proselytizing is that we have dangerously weakened both forms of restraint, first through the craze for “deregulation” and second through endless rounds of “tort reform,” all of which have the effect of cutting off citizens’ access to the courts. By legally bribing politicians with campaign contributions, the corporations have bought themselves immunity from lawsuits on many levels.
These are things we all need to think about, wherever you are on the political spectrum. How is money changing politics and what are the lasting effects going to be for the majority who don’t have the same access the big contributors do? Because in the end, we all live in the same country, and turning it into an aristocracy isn’t what our Founding Fathers were after- in fact, just the opposite.