Staff Ed: Campaign Money

The Globe discusses campaign finances and the influence of money in a race for political office.

Campaign finances have a lot of influence on how a campaign runs. Art by Ella Cuneo

Ella Cuneo

Campaign finances have a lot of influence on how a campaign runs. Art by Ella Cuneo

By Ella Cuneo and Max Hagemeister

$66,000,000. The cost of about 570 average St. Louis homes. The cost of about 835 Teslas. The cost of about five million meals. That is how much President Donald Trump spent out of his pocket in the 2016 presidential election.
$66 million may seem like a lot, but it is only 15% of the total funding Trump received for the campaign. Hilary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, spent $1.4 million of her own money, only 0.18% of her total campaign. $440 million went into Trump’s victory and $768.5 million went into Clinton’s defeat.
In the 2020 election, numbers have skyrocketed. Michael Bloomberg, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, entered the race in November of 2019. Although his entry was very late, the money that he spent on his campaign helped him become one of the front runners. Bloomberg’s campaign cost $900 million, all of it his own money. While he was one of the only candidates with enough money to buy advertising all over the country, he faced harsh opposition from other candidates and suffered from poor debate performances.
The biggest concern when it comes to funding campaigns is that there is virtually no limit. The amount of money candidates spend rises each year. Between 2000 and 2012, the amount spent by the winning candidate’s campaign nearly quadrupled. This implies that the amount of money spent will only continue to rise, limiting who can run for office to a smaller and smaller margin.

In 1992 the total amount of money spent on all of the major presidential campaigns was $195.6 million which is $360 million adjusted for inflation. 24 years later, presidential candidates poured in $2.4 billion, over 12 times the amount of money spent in 1992.
While these prices are increasing because of staff, advertising, and events, there is still a noticeable increase in the amount of money candidates are spending compared to elections in the past. The massive amounts of money being spent are used to shine lights on specific candidates and look down on others. Because of this, the candidate who usually spends the most money is elected into office.
On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court decided a controversial decision that allowed corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited money on elections. The Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission case allows corporations to give unimaginable amounts of money to a candidate.
The court case has led to so-called dark money- money that comes from an undisclosed donor, which has been controversial because often people do not want to support companies, organizations, or individuals who donate money to things they do not agree with. Such organizations are able to keep their donations a secret and therefore may gain more support as fewer people could be opposed to them.
In addition, The Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission has been criticized for only empowering the very wealthiest of Americans. The wealthy have significantly more power as the money they are donating directly attributes to their endorsed candidate’s success. For example, the top 100 individual donors contributed $768 million in 2016 to the presidential campaigns.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, former State Controller of California Steve Westly said, “Citizens United is enabling small groups of the very wealthy of the right and left to have undue influence over politics.”
Where the candidate gets the money to win can vary greatly. They can spend money out of pocket, they can get individuals to donate, and they can get donations from political action committees (PAC) and super PACs, which pool money from different sources for campaigns for or against candidates, ballot initiatives, and legislation. The difference between the two being that PACs have a limit to the amount of money they can contribute to the campaign, whereas super PACs can donate unlimited amounts. Super PACs allow organizations and businesses to donate large sums of money without directly contributing to the candidate and being able to remain anonymous.
If someone gave you $1,000 as a birthday gift, would you feel more inclined to give them a nicer birthday gift next year?

Yes. The answer should be yes. The point being, if huge corporations donate lots and lots of money to political campaigns, even if it comes through super PACs, the candidate may be biased to support causes that said corporation supports.
One pressing example of this is the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) involvement in politics. Senator Mitch McConnell received approximately 1.3 million dollars from the NRA. He also voted against restrictions on high capacity magazines over ten bullets. Whether or not he was truly influenced by the NRA’s donation, it is evident throughout his political career that he has been strongly against restrictions on guns and aligns his beliefs with those of the NRA.
In a perfect world, anyone could run for president and stand for whatever values they believe in. In our modern campaign system which heavily relies on the amount of money given to you and the amount of money you begin with, that cannot happen.

This story was originally published on The Globe on November 11, 2020.