Former U.S. Senator Robert Morgan tells the story of his first campaign for the state legislature. He drove his car across his big district, stopping at country stores, local newspapers, courthouses and homes. He received a total of $10 in campaign contributions, for gasoline.
The times have changed and are changing even more this year. In 2010, an estimated $4 billion was spent on federal elections.
The biggest change in 2012 is the debut of Super PACs. They are political action committees that have tax-exempt status like their predecessors, the 527 and 501-(c) organizations. Super PACs can take unlimited amounts of contributions from individuals and corporations.
Witness the race between two Republicans running for the 13th Congressional District. Republican George Holding, from a wealthy banking family, won the nomination. He was helped by a Super PAC that spent about $900,000 to defeat Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble. Combined, Holding’s Super PAC plus his own campaign outspent Coble about 6 to 1. Money makes a difference.
There is a myth that Republicans and Democrats are about even in raising big dollars. The truth is that Republicans have access to many more wealthy organizations and people.
President Gorge W. Bush raised more money than Democrats Al Gore ($279.6 million to $266.6 million) and John Kerry ($441.6 million to $402.6 million). That doesn’t count 527 groups’ spending such as the Swift Boat gang.
But President Obama raised $771 million in 2008 compared to John McCain’s $239 million. The money stayed home for Senator McCain.
The 2012 campaign will be different. Mr. Obama has raised $197 million for the 2012 election to date and Mitt Romney about $100 million much of which was spent on primary elections. Romney is just now consolidating Republican donors and his fundraising last month almost equaled President Obama’s, $40 million to $43 million.
To see what’s coming, look at figures compiled by OpenSecrets.org in the 2012 campaign:
•Of the top 10 contributors, seven gave to Republicans or conservative Super PACs.
•Of the top 100 contributors, 64 gave mostly t o Republicans.
•But here’s the myth-breaker: Of the top 10 contributors, $60.4 million went to Republicans/conservatives; $7.6 million to Democrats/liberals. That’s an 8-1 edge. It’s about the same for the top 100.
That’s the difference that most observers don’t detail. The money. Follow the money.
It’s why Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza, who does follow the money, says, “Add it all up—and throw in a pledge from the leading conservative Super PAC to spend better than $200 million—and it becomes possible that Obama, the single greatest fundraiser in…American politics, might get outraised (and outspent) between now and Nov. 6.”