“The amount of money being spent this year on political campaign ads by candidates, political parties, and outside groups poses a real threat to the fairness of our elections and the ability of Congress to get results on our most important issues.” (my emphasis)
Three quarters of Americans agree with this statement. People are not happy with the way political campaigns are funded. They are right to be concerned but perhaps their concern is misplaced.
I do not think that it is a problem that there is a lot of money spent on political campaigns. Let me clarify that. I don’t think the overall amount being spent is a problem. After all, political campaigns are important, why shouldn’t they be well funded? Do we really want political campaigns that can’t afford ads and meetings?
It is, though, a severe judgement on political campaigns and political parties that most people (especially people on low and middle incomes) give no money and do not feel moved to directly participate in these campaigns.
I don’t think making it harder for rich people to give money will fix these problems.
You see pressure groups like Fair Elections Now are pushing for a cap on donations and for some element of public funding for campaigns. This might well have the effect of reducing the amount of money spent on political campaigns but it would not, by itself, create a situation where a larger number of people (especially people on low and middle incomes) give money or feel that the political system is responsive to their concerns.
THE CURRENT POLITICAL SYSTEM IS OFTEN UNRESPONSIVE TO THE CONCERNS OF LOW INCOME FAMILIES
Currently the political system is not responsive to the concerns of low incomes families. Larry Bartels found that representatives from both political parties are far more responsive to their wealthier rather than their poorer constituents. Here is a chart he produced to show this.
POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS ARE ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY FUNDED BY WEALTHY INDIVIDUALS, CORPORATIONS AND UNIONS
Some would say that Bartels’ findings can be explained by the fact that political campaigns are funded by contributions from high income households. A recent article in Bloomberg lays out the stats;
Only 0.26 percent of Americans give more than $200 to congressional campaigns. Only 0.05 percent give the maximum amount to any congressional candidate. Only 0.01 percent — 1 percent of 1 percent — give more than $10,000 in an election cycle. And in the current presidential election, 0.000063 percent of Americans — fewer than 200 of the country’s 310 million residents — have contributed 80 percent of all super-PAC donations.
So, very few Americans give to political campaigns. In 2008, 60% of total donations were accounted for by less than 0.1 percent of the population.
But would reducing the amount that these people can give change anything?
MOST AMERICANS DO NOT GIVE TO POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS
The reason I think it wouldn’t is that Americans by and large have never been keen to donate to political campaigns in any significant numbers.
Here is a chart showing the number of people who said they donated during a presidential campaign over the last 50 or so years.
Here is a similar chart showing that the vast majority of Americans do not go to political meetings during elections.
Why would people who do not currently donate to campaigns start to do so just because rich people are giving less money than before? In fact, is it not a possibility that capping donations might just make campaigns cheaper to run and achieve little else?
For me, a more important question is;
What do people in political parties have to do differently to win the trust and support (financial and otherwise) of low and middle income households?