Money Is Still the Name of the Game

For years certain pundits and political scientists have insisted that money is not all that important in winning elections. Large sums expended on campaigns glean only an extra percentage point or two in votes, we are told, and often the candidate who spends the most ends up losing anyway.

“Other Variables”

In 2010 Republican candidate, Meg Whitman, smothered the California gubernatorial contest with $142 million of her own money but still lost to Jerry Brown who spent a mere $24 million, along with another $27 million or so put up by independent groups. Such results are seized upon by those who argue that money does not guarantee victory. They insist that other variables — such as party affiliation, incumbency, candidate’s image, and key issues — may be the deciding factors.

True, but we should remember that these “other variables”, themselves, are most likely to gather form and substance within a well-financed campaign. Feeding on large sums, a candidate can promote his image in a highly favorable light and advertise (or bury) the issues as best suit him, all the while casting mean shadows upon his financially weaker opponent.

Getting back to California’s Meg and Jerry show: candidates who win while spending less than their opponents, as Jerry Brown did, still usually have to spend quite a lot, about $50 million in his case. While never a surefire guarantor of victory, a large war chest — even if not the largest — is usually a necessary condition. In sum, money may not guarantee victory, but a serious lack of it almost always guarantees defeat.

No Money, No Game

Without large sums, there is rarely much of a campaign, as poorly funded “minor” candidates have repeatedly discovered. A candidate needs money for public relations consultants, pollsters, campaign travel, meals, canvassers, poll watchers, office space, telephones, computers, faxes, mailings, and, most of all, media advertisements.

Indeed what makes someone a “minor” candidate is the lack of a sufficient war chest — which leads to the lack of sufficient campaign visibility. Conversely, someone with a huge war chest is likely to be treated by the media as a “major” candidate. So money not only influences who wins, but who runs and who is taken seriously when running. Rich candidates sometimes are backed by party leaders explicitly because they have personal wealth and can use it to wage an effective campaign.

One of my favorite examples is Steve Forbes who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000. Of lackluster personality and fuzzy program, Forbes had never held public office in his life and had no close links to Republican Party regulars. But being able to spend $30 million of his personal fortune (back when $30 million was still an exceptional amount for a presidential primary), Forbes was immediately treated by the media as a serious contender. He even won Republican primaries in two states.

Money Primary, Media Primary, and Voting Primary

In all, there are three primaries not one. There is the voting primary, the one we all know about and sometimes participate in. But before that is the media primary and before that the money primary.

Decades ago, candidates used to play down how much money the private interests were pouring into their coffers. It was understood that a heavily financed candidate would owe a lot of favors to a lot of fat cats and could hardly promote himself  as a champion of the ordinary voters.

Today candidates openly flaunt the size of their war chests at the early stages of a primary in the hope of taking on an appearance of invincibility, thereby discouraging other candidates. This triumphalist imaging, in turn, attracts backing from still other big contributors.

During the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, George W. Bush won the money primary by raising $50 million four months before the first voting primary in New Hampshire. That sum came from just a small number of super rich donors. Several other GOP primary opponents dropped out after they discovered that most of the fat cats had already fed their checkbooks to Bush.

By the time Bush won his party’s nomination in July 2000, he had already spent over $97 million — and the campaign against his Democratic opponent had yet to begin.  Thus, well before the actual election, a handful of super rich contributors winnow the field, predetermining who will run in the primaries at what level of strength and with what plausibility. Only the very rich get to “vote” in the money primary.

The candidates who lose the money primary swiftly lose the media primary also. This is especially true if they have progressive politics. Consider the valiant campaign waged in 2008 by Representative Dennis Kucinich for the Democratic presidential nomination. His advocacy of progressive reforms left him with little access to big money. As a poorly funded candidate he was immediately labeled in the media primary as a “minor” candidate.

The media label was self-fulfilling. Defined as a minor candidate, Kucinich was accorded hardly any serious media exposure. Having lost the money primary, he would now lose the media primary. One scarcely knew he was participating in debates with “major” candidates. Deprived of media exposure, Kucinich achieved near invisibility and consequently was unable to reach many voters who otherwise might have been interested in what he had to say.

Big Spenders = Big Winners

Let’s face it, candidates who are the bigger spenders may not always win but they usually do, as has been the case over the last fifteen years in more than 80 percent of House and Senate contests. Even in “open races,” with no incumbent running, better-funded candidates won 75 percent of the time.

According to a Public Citizen report on the 2010 mid-term elections, in 58 of the 74 contests in which power changed hands, the winning candidates rode enormous waves of cash, outspending their opponents with funds from “shadowy front groups, giant corporations and the super rich.”

This does not establish a simple one-to-one causal relationship between money and victory. But given the central role money plays in launching a campaign and defining who is and who isn’t a “serious” candidate, how can we say it is without decisive impact?

The reactionary judicial activists on the Supreme Court do their best to advance the role of  big money in politics. In decisions like the 2009 Citizens United case, the Court’s reactionary majority repeated its arcane contrivance that (1) rich corporations are “persons” with human rights and (2) money is a form of speech. By imposing spending limitations we supposedly are restricting free speech and violating the First Amendment. Some years ago Justice Stevens took issue with this fanciful fabrication, reminding us that “Money is property; it is not speech.”

But money is the kind of property that feeds into and mobilizes all sorts of other power resources. I haven’t mentioned the other influential roles that money plays beyond election campaigns: ownership of print and broadcast media, control of jobs, financing research institutes, recruiting and training conservative activists, bankrolling lobbyists, and the like.

Heed not the system’s apologists who treat a money-driven political process as a matter of no great moment. Truth be told: if you’re not in the money, you’re not much in the game. It’s time we faced up to the plutocracy that masquerades as democracy.

Michael Parenti's recent books include The Face of Imperialism/em> and the forthcoming Waiting for Yesterday: Pages from a Street Kid's Life (a memoir of his early life). Read other articles by Michael, or visit Michael's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 27th, 2010 at 9:17am #

    money appears as a valuable tool-weapon in all aspects of living.
    and thus also in science, inventiveness, schooling, ads, religion, organizing, warring, health, nutrition, etc.

    also in governance; of which getting elected [once vetting of agents is completed] is not of any value, whatever!
    so, does it matter an iota, how much money is spent to let people know one is running for office.

    the same-minds always get selected and elected. nader had not been of that mind; so he got less than 1% of votes.

    most important factor in selectioneering-electioneering is the previously accomplished conditioning of both the candidates and voters
    they have been conditioned starting in childhood to accept that u.s governance [subsumes, cia-fbi-police-army echelons, judges, laws, w.h., constitution] is holy!

    and as long this is evaluated as true [sorry--by Left also] u.s governance wld obtain ca. 99.99% approval on street; in arenas, congress, schooling, media, etc.
    tnx

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 27th, 2010 at 1:51pm #

    What Mr Parenti says is manifestly true, and true to a lesser degree in all the fraudulent ‘capitalist democracies’ (the most completely self-contradicting confabulation ever). He forgets to mention that tiny group whose contributions are so crucial throughout the West, and come with so many strings attached. That is Jewish plutocrats, who control the entire Congress, politics in the UK, have their own man in the Elysee Palace, control Australian politics and so completely control Canadian politics that it is cringe-inducing. Needless to say their policies of religious war against Islam, massive aggression and genocide in the Middle East, the slow and pitiless destruction of the Palestinians and the establishment of Israel as a true gangster state, dominating lucrative drug, human trafficking, blood diamonds, human organ trafficking, arms peddling, electronic surveillance and financial kleptomania rackets, are treated as absolute priorities of the corrupted political elites of the captive states. As Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, head of Shas, said, to the raucous laughter of his acolytes, ‘Goyim were born only to serve us- Without that they have no place in the world-only to serve the people of Israel’.

  3. Deadbeat said on December 27th, 2010 at 5:34pm #

    bozh writes…

    the same-minds always get selected and elected. nader had not been of that mind; so he got less than 1% of votes.

    Actually Mulga response is an excellent adjunct to Perenti and excellent rebuttal to bozh attack on Americans who are victimizes by this system. The problem is systemic and not localized to the U.S. However again, bozh misleads with Nader’s 1% figure.

    Nader achieved 2.74% of the vote in 2000 which scared the establishment. With the 2003 anti-war movement, there was a chance in 2004 of Nader achieving the 5% threshold piggy-backing as the electoral expression of the anti-war movement. This was sabotaged not only by the Democrats, which was only natural, but primarily by the pseudo-Left who supported pro-war John Kerry in a variety of ways.

    What Nader has in similarity to Jerry Brown is a long record of populism and awareness among the electorate. This is why they were able to achieve some measure of success on smaller budgets. But this also reveal the extent of the sabotage by the pseudo-Left to throw up the gadfly David Cobb over the more well-known anti-war candidate in order to stop him.

    Perenti is right about money but that only scratch the surface and fails to provide the WHO behind the dollars and leads reader to believe it is solely “corporations”. Mulga provide the deeper analysis of the role of Zionists and their influence. For example Perenti fails to mention Haim Saban who funds the Democrats at levels greater than many corporations.

    His analysis is thin and continues to advance the “Corporation ™” line. It’s a real disappointment and Perenti can certainly do better than this.

  4. bozh said on December 28th, 2010 at 11:41am #

    db,
    for a long time now i stopped blaming lower classes or, say, 70,80, 90, 98% of americans fro anything.

    nader had received less that 1% of votes in ’08. i wld not vote for him i were an american. i’d vote for a governmental party– either communist or socialist.

    i wld not ever vote for movements. no movement i know of had enacted a change for better or any that the cosa nostra did not want to be institutionalized.
    that ‘jews’ control media, entertainment, political scene far in excess of proper proportionality to their numbers, bolsters my constant illation that what u people have is a region, ruled by fiercely interdependent families.

    thus, it does not matter of what ethnicity or cultishness one is— what matters is that s/he’s a cosa nostra gang member.
    the structure of all gangs appear same or similar: a member has to be willing even to kill [let alone steal from] others in order that the gang prospers ad stays strong. a biker, mafia, street, nato gang appear of same structure.

    only gang members run for office in u.s. they are preselected and conditoned by gang members to behave as gang members!

    when have i ever blamed the victims of the largest gang ever– that of one in a region, aka america!

    DB, at least start to run in bigger and bigger circles instead of ever narrowing ones! tnx

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 28th, 2010 at 2:25pm #

    Just after reading a reiteration of the well-known fact that the top 1% of the income distribution in the US now controls as much wealth as the bottom 90%, I read, in Murdoch’s evil and deranged sewer rag ‘The Fundament’ (The Anus of the Nation’) yet another rant demanding further tax cuts. I mean, it was one of the lowest of the local Rightwing blatherers, but she raved on like a well-trained cockatoo, with one of those lunatic market absolutist potty histories of the Depression in the 1930s as her ‘evidence’. As the greed of the parasites is literally insatiable, this fanatic drive must surely end with the top dogs (apologies to canines) controlling 99.9% of everything. Here the plutocrats physically embody extreme avarice. Most are corpulent beyond the dreams of gluttony. They waddle about decrying ‘Big Government’ and singing hosannas to ‘the Market’, that anti-life antithesis of the Holy Spirit. And still the serfs remain quiescent with a few exceptions like the Greeks. The pressure-cooker is bubbling, the forces of evil are perfecting the means of surveillance and control and the ‘externalities’ of ecological collapse and resource depletion cannot be denied away. A crisis is coming but whether a healing catharsis where the diseased tissue is excised before it terminally poisons the host, or the terminal decline towards the surcease of all sorrows, only the next few, unlucky, decades will tell.

  6. Deadbeat said on December 29th, 2010 at 5:49am #

    Bozh,

    The reason why Nader received such a low vote total in 2008 was due to two main factors:

    1. He was terribly damaged by the pseudo Left in 2004. Thus again bozo your arguement regarding Nader misleads readers because you choose to ignore the important context of that campaign’s political timing which I have painstakingly detailed.

    2. The (pseudo) left divided itself in 2008 running two campaigns with two credible candidates — Nader/Gonzales & McKinney/Clemente — instead of running as a united front.

    Therefore with the damage already done the left was NO factor in 2008 and will not be a factor in 2012 and perhaps for many years despite the deteriating conditions. Should the left show some signs of life, the pseudo left is still in position to quash should it once again raise uncomfortable questions.

  7. bozh said on December 29th, 2010 at 10:45am #

    db,
    pseudo-left [whatever that animal or vegetable is to u-- to me it represent an unicorn] may or may have not spurned what nader and his movement proposed to do if nader got elected.
    his main concern had been plight of gazans, healthcare, ending wars, etc. that much i remember.

    so did cynthia/clemente spurn this platform or not? and this being one cause for cynthia to go own way.

    or was it nader who disagreed with cynthia [who may have a larger platform than nader] and split off from the union?

    i am not sure that either nader or cynthia are for creating a much more egalitarian society!?
    neither had asked for changes in u.s constitution. so, in regard to this stance, they do not differ from ? all judges, politicos, priests, columnists, cia-fbi agents, ‘educators’ or even supremacists!

    however it may be, nader as prez cld not have done much if anything at all. and anything he wld try to do wld be declared unconstitutional by judges; resulting in his death or impeachment!

    btw, i hadn’t been insulted by ur label. u have really only insulted self! tnx

  8. hayate said on December 29th, 2010 at 12:56pm #

    Kind of a disappointing piece from Parenti. He makes it sound like the money a politician gets is what determines all the other things that factor into american elections. I think the order goes more like this:

    1. The most powerful capitalists (right now, these tend to be zionist) select their quisling.

    2. Their media then begins the promotion of the candidate and demonisation or ignoring of the competition.

    3. The money pours into the candidate’s political campaign from these most powerful capitalists, thereby announcing publicly who has their support. The amount of money needed to run in an american election guarantees that those who have oligarch backing will win. If that fails, there is always diebold (election rigging is as american as apple pie).

    This all happens before the political race officially begins. Both dems and repugs are supported this way with the same small group of capitalists usually supporting both in the same race. Candidates independent of these ziofascists/fascists are sidelined by the Jewish run corporate media and are either demonised or ignored. Even if an independent, such as Nader, raised huge sums, the media would still make sure they would not get the necessary and correct media coverage to actually win an election. The money wouldn’t help them. What does help independents is grassroots organising and getting word out about them through alternative, non-zionist information networks.