If you’ve ever given your name and email address to the Democratic Party or the Barack Obama campaign for re-election, there has probably come a time in the last few months when you’ve regretted it.
And more after that. So many, so plaintive in their appeals, that the whole thing has becomes a big joke. Finally, you wonder to yourself: Whatever happened to that young senator I found so inspiring four years ago? Why is he constantly, constantly hassling me for money?
I’m here to tell you it’s not the president’s fault—at least, not entirely. Let’s put the blame on the Supreme Court, instead. They opened the floodgates; the president is trying not to drown in a Republican tide. Those constant emails you get? They’re the cries of a man begging for a life preserver.
Or maybe I’ve stretched this metaphor too far.
Here’s what happened: Presidential campaigns have always been getting more expensive. The Watergate scandal back in the early 1970s prompted a series of laws to rein in campaign fundraising, but it’s not clear they really slowed down spending. Democrats and Republicans spent $67 million on the 1976 election; that number rose nearly 50 percent in 1980. Spending doubled between 2000 and 2004, then nearly doubled again when President Obama defeated John McCain four years ago: It was the first election that featured more than $1 billion in campaign spending.
So the system was bad, and then-Senator Obama was a willing participant in the race for cash. But the Supreme Court made everything much, much worse.
How? With its ruling in Citizens United that opened up the floodgates to spending by corporations, unions, and other third parties in the presidential election. And those groups really are trying to raise and contribute lots of money, but what happened next was mostly unexpected: Old billionaires decided to try to buy the elections, too.
Our presidential election, it turns out, has become a plaything for Randolph and Mortimer Duke. And the Dukes (no surprise here) are Republicans. ProPublica reports that two conservative “dark money” groups—Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity—have spent more than $60 million on campaign ads already, more than every so-called “SuperPAC” combined.
The Obama campaign, to keep up, is spending way more money than it’s bringing in. Only it may not be able to keep up.
The result? A constant stream of fund-raising emails to your inbox.
Now, the Supreme Court ruled to loosen campaign finance rules, it said, because the Constitution is pretty clear that there should be no restrictions on free speech—and money is speech. You may or may not agree with this. It does not matter at this point: Billionaire money is buying a whole ton of speech for Barack Obama’s opponents.
This is what the system has led to: The president of the United States—the most powerful man on earth, the leader of the free world—reduced to constant, undignified, abject, annoying begging.
How ignoble. What a drain on the president’s limited time and resources. And how ripe, really, for abuse.
There’s got to be a better way. Presidential campaigns should be battles of ideas and policy proposals, not exercises in which candidate is most successful in drumming up wads of cash from supporters who might want something in return.
What’s the answer? Public financing? A new Supreme Court? Who knows? Until we figure it out, though, you can bet on one thing: Even more emails from Barack Obama, pleading for even more money. And it will never be enough.