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William O’Brochta

Center 9

Mrs. Brown and Mr. Dreyer

May 11, 2009

Campaign Spending: There is “So Damn Much Money!” (“Robert G. Kaiser”)

When George Washington ran for the Virginia House of Burgesses so many years

ago, he gave the delegates twenty-eight cases of rum, thirty-four of wine, and forty-six of

beer (Constitution). This example demonstrates that campaign spending to influence

people to vote a certain way is nothing new. Money is said to be the deciding factor in

many elections. It is used for advertising, campaigning, and getting more money. To

investigate thoroughly, campaign spending requires a description of the current system,

personal contributions, special interests, the money/vote analysis, and ideas for reform.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is the main regulatory body in the world

of campaign spending and political campaigns. The commission set strict laws in the

1970’s placing limits on contributions. The system allows for individuals to contribute

one thousand dollars per person per candidate per election. There is a maximum of

twenty thousand dollars in total per election (Constitution). Special interest groups may

contribute up to five thousand dollars per candidate per election (Archer 31). According

to Constitution, candidates have no limit set on the amount of their own money they can

contribute to their own campaign. Therefore, these laws are extremely controversial. The

Supreme Court struck down half of the original legislation, the part that regulated self-

funding. Now, anyone who has money to fund their campaign can, without many

restrictions. On the other hand, a few people, like some special interest groups, believe  
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that these laws have helped to curb spending. “It is better now than under the Johnson

White House, when people walked in with fifteen to twenty thousand dollars in cash and

that was never reported,” states Bill Moyers, CBS News. “The system is not better or

worse than Johnson, (it is) just perceived that way because it is known,” stated Abner

Mikva, United States Court of Appeals. Some people think that this butchered legislation

is worse than it was before the law existed. “There are other campaign requirements

(such as age and citizenship), why not limit money?” queried Representative Barney

Frank, Massachusetts. The “1st amendment provides people freedom from government,

not a good government,” mused Floyd Abrams, Attorney. Certain political followers

believe that disclosure has made the system better; while others say that the rich are

favored. This premise is hard to argue. It seems like people can win elections without any

support from citizens, which is unfair to people who are working hard to collect money.

However, most citizens and Congressmen agree that the intention of campaign finance

reform is good, although not perfect; there is a foundation to build on.

Despite campaign spending requirements, the glaring reality of a campaign is that

it must be financed from a variety of sources. The money can come either from donors or

from the candidate him or herself, and unless the candidate is independently wealthy,

he/she will need to solicit for donations. According to Constitution, the candidate will

peruse at lists of people who have contributed large amounts of money either to the

candidate or to the party before and target them first. He/she may spend most of his/her

days meeting and talking to potential big donors; before accepting the contribution,

however, he/she will check the contributor’s background to see if there are any potential

sources of conflict. Contributors who have been in jail or who espouse radical beliefs
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may not paint the appropriate image on the candidate. Recently, New Mexico Governor

Bill Richardson had to withdraw his Commerce Secretary nomination because he had a

donor who created a conflict of interest. People thought that this was a sad loss because

Richardson is extremely talented and he was not able to become Secretary due to a

problem unrelated to his credentials. Furthermore, many candidates also approach big

corporations for donations. If the candidate is affiliated with a political party, the party

may donate some funds, if asked (DeLaney 53). Some candidates are independently

wealthy and can fund their own campaigns; there is no limit on how much money the

candidate can contribute to his/her own campaign. H. Ross Perot is the most famous

example of a self-funding campaign (Boller 387). He spent millions from his own coffers

to run for the presidency in 1992. Most of the money went to television infomercials

(Boller 390). This money proved effective because Perot captured nineteen percent of the

vote in 1992 (Boller 387). Moreover, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg funded his

campaign. Many speculated that he might enter the 2008 presidential contest. If he had

decided to, he could have easily spent one billion dollars of his own money to fund fully

the campaign. Constitution states that a number of politicians and citizens are calling for

reform in the campaign finance system because individuals can easily fund themselves.

However, some believe that “spending your own money is exercising free speech,” as

Honorable Justice Potter Stewart said. Individuals who contribute money to a political

campaign are interested in some sort of reward (DeLaney 52). They want a specific type

of legislation passed or something repealed and feel that a candidate will listen to

someone who gives a generous amount of money (Constitution). Certain folks want to

pick the winners, or still others select the long shots so that they can keep giving later on
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(DeLaney 52). Generally, contributors do so for three specific reasons. Party backers

contribute to every candidate from a certain party regardless of their specific views

(DeLaney 55-56) Ideological givers contribute based on a candidate’s stance on a

particular issue like a gun law or a set of issues like firearm control (DeLaney 56).

Kingmakers give because they want power and think money will bring them influence

and give them an advisorship to the candidate (DeLaney 57-58). The first step in any

campaign is money, and money is the most difficult factor to control in any election,

which is why it is so important to raise an enormous sum. The flow of money is not

guaranteed; a good candidate may not receive any money, while a bad candidate could be

flooded with funds.

Obtaining a couple of dollars from a few thousand contributors in the election

district is helpful, but it is nowhere near the total sum needed to run a campaign. Groups

called special interests give huge amounts of money to and for candidates. Most special

interests are called political action committees or PACs (Constitution). Their purpose is

fairly straightforward: the committee wants to influence decisions made by elected

officials by providing monetary aid (DeLaney 121). Some committees spend money to

fund independent advertising that benefits the candidate. Like campaign spending, special

interests and political action committees are not new. Ulysses Grant’s brother-in-law was

a paid lobbyist for the gold market while Grant was president (Archer 40-50). Many

political committees make contributions to each candidate. Constitution mentions that

Illinois Representative Henry Hyde thinks that this is a good idea. He says, “the more

political action committees there are, the less influence each one has.” These committees

may be culled from large companies, unions, or simply concerned groups. Like personal
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contributions, political action committees are viewed by many citizens as having too

much influence in policy making (Carville and Begala 177). According to Constitution,

in 1980, political action committees surpassed party committees in net contributions to

candidates. The political action committees defend their spending saying that money

“doesn’t buy votes, it buys interest,” a quote by Glenn Watts, AFL-CIO President. Even

some senators defend political action committees. Senator Richard Lugar, Indiana, stated

that the idea that “money is buying votes is absolutely (emphasis added) false.” Political

Action Committees are an important piece of the monetary makeup for every campaign;

some believe, however, that their influence has surpassed appropriate levels and suggest

limiting PACs clout in a campaign.

In addition to PACs, another type of special interest is a lobbyist. Lobbyists try to

convince senators or congressmen to adopt some piece of legislation or theory in return

for services or financial contributions (“Robert G. Kaiser”). These persons usually offer

large sums of money for the legislator’s next reelection campaign. Chicken Processor

Lonnie Pilgrim famously passed out blank checks (literally) to many legislators as a

“campaign contribution” (Archer 50). Boeing also contributed 4.5 million dollars to

Congress, 22,000 dollars to Senator Ted Stevens’ reelection campaign, and held many

fundraising dinners in order to win a Pentagon contract to reconfigure federal Boeing

767’s (Scarborough 159). George W. Bush advisor Ken Lay also gave consistently large

amounts of money to fund Bush’s campaign (Phillips 155). Furthermore, Lay contributed

many thousands of dollars to the Republican National Committee and some money to

Democrats to fund their campaigns (Phillips 155-160). These favors were done in return

for a deregulation bill, lowering government oversight for Lay’s company (Phillips 160).
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These three instances are not unusual or abnormal occurrences, merely examples of

lobbyist contributions to assure that certain laws are passed. Lobbyists are bad influences

on otherwise good laws. They can change the priorities of laws that do not need to be

changed. Between personal contributions, self-funding, special interests, political action

committees, and lobbyists, there are myriad ways for congressional leaders to fund their


After the candidate secures the money for the election, he/she must spend it in a

way that will ascertain enough votes to win the election. This process can be called the

money/vote analysis (DeLaney 19). One of the most popular spending policies consists of

spending to earn more money. The candidate will attend campaign rallies and private

dinners to try to raise support and funds for the campaign (Constitution). Every possible

avenue for attaining money will be explored by the candidate. Bill Clinton is quoted as

saying, “I can’t think. I can’t act…I can’t focus on a thing but the next fund raiser [sic].

Hillary can’t. Al (Gore) can’t-we’re all getting sick and crazy because of it” (Patterson

377). “Money is an indispensable element of democracy,” states Stephen Chapman

(Archer 14). This means that in any democracy money is going to be spent and spent in a

big way. “Electoral politics is in competition with corporate advertising for the attention

of American citizens…limited campaign funds often mean limited campaign activity,

which, in turn, means a poorly informed and apathetic electorate” (Patterson 91).

Patterson refers to the aforementioned point, that money suppresses some good

candidates and poor candidates win because advertising makes them look good. The

candidate will use all that money to try to get votes. It is stated in Constitution that

advertising is the most popular way to get a candidate’s name out, especially through
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television advertising. There is, however, some free media time available. Many citizens

think it is not enough because the networks make decisions about when the free time can

be used. However, David Burke, Vice-President of ABC News, says that there is no lack

of programs available at no charge. Furthermore, the candidate must be “packaged” in

order to be appealing. David Garth, a political consultant for the Garth Group, advocates

that the candidate must take on some interesting quality because “issues are boring.”

Advertising is so popular that during election season, campaign commercials are

ubiquitous. Terry Dolan, National Conservative Political Action Committee President,

thinks that commercials are a good component in a campaign. Mr. Dolan says, “We don’t

know enough about the candidates because of media caricature and not enough money

being spent. I would be happy if Mr. (Representative Barney) Frank (MA) spent one and

a half or three or five (million dollars) on his campaign.” But many like Representative

Frank disagree. The total coverage of the airwaves with advertisements does a disservice

to the American people by presenting one-sided, often untrue views. An individual

running for office must use his/her money wisely and split it between different media.

Whether a person agrees with the current campaign spending laws or not, most

everyone cites room for improvement. Both Democrats and Republicans perceive this

current system as broken and unhelpful (Carville & Begala 170, Scarborough 173).

However, talking about how the system is bad is not going improve the situation.

Campaigns cost too much, special interests play too big a role, and candidates spend too

much time raising money (DeLaney 249). There are a couple of central ideas in common

with many campaign finance reform theories (Carville & Begala 166, Scarborough 173,

DeLaney 249). Many are promoting public financing as a new alternative. Public
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financing demands that money comes from the taxpayers who check a box on tax returns

to give a dollar to a public campaign finance fund (DeLaney 252). Taxpayers funded 800

million dollars out of 1.6 billion spent in 2004 (Carville & Begala 170). Time limits

should be extended between when a Congressman resigns to when he/she can become

part of a special interest group (Scarborough 174, Carville & Begala 166). This rule can

help limit a Congressman lobbyist’s power to push bills through the Congress. There

needs to be more disclosure of where the money goes and how it is being spent (“Robert

G. Kaiser,” Carville & Begala 166). Again, it is hard to argue that reforms like these are

not needed. In fact, it seems like the only ones promoting the retention of the old laws are

the lobbyists and the individuals who benefit from lobbyists.

In conclusion, contemporary elections mirror what Bob Strauss said: there is “so

damn much money” (“Robert G. Kaiser”). Money is spent in exorbitant sums each year

(Phillips 86). One senate race in North Carolina cost twenty-five million dollars (“Robert

G. Kaiser”). Some spending will always occur no matter what reform measures are taken

(DeLaney 251). The system is not perfect, but there is always room for improvement

(“Robert G. Kaiser”). As additional refinements are made, the system becomes fairer to

poorly funded candidates. Whether speaking about the current system, personal

contributions, special interests, the money/vote analysis, or ideas for reform, campaign

spending will remain a “hot button” issue in politics for the long term.
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Works Cited

Archer, Jules. Special Interests: How Lobbyists Influence Legislation. Brookfield, CT:

The Millbrook Press Inc., 1997.

Boller, Jr., Paul F. Presidential Campaigns. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Carville, James, and Paul Begala. Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future.

New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006.

The Constitution: That Delicate Balance; Campaign Spending: Money and Media. Dir.

Jon Merdin. Perf. Tyrone Brown, Fred Friendly, Floyd Abrams, John Anderson,

David Broder, David Burke, John Dolan, Rev. Robert Drinan, Charles Ferris,

Barney Frank, David Garth, William Green, Meg Greenfield, Henry Hyde, Nancy

Kassebaum, John Lindsay, Richard Lugar, Abner Mikva, Bill Moyers, Hon.

Potter Stewart, Glenn Watts, Eddie Williams. Videocassette. The Annenberg/

CPB Project, 1984.

DeLaney, Ann. Politics for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide Inc.,


Patterson, James T. Restless Giant: The United States From Watergate To Bush V. Gore.

New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Phillips, Kevin. American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the

House of Bush. New York: Viking by the Penguin Group, 2004.

"Robert G. Kaiser." Bill Moyers Journal. Nar. Bill Moyers, Pref. Robert G. Kaiser.

WBRA-PBS 15, Roanoke, VA. 20 Feb. 2009.

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Scarborough, Joe. Rome Wasn't Burnt in a Day: The Real Deal on How Politicians,

Bureaucrats, and Other Washington Barbarians Are Bankrupting America. New

York: Harper Collins, 2004.