Money Makes The World Go Round…

Follow the money…

A recent study found that a dozen “mega donors” contributed one in every 13 Dollars raised by political campaigns since 2009. The study was undertaken in an effort to determine whether and how the role of the super rich had grown following the loosening of restrictions on political spending by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a decade ago.

The growing influence of multimillion-dollar megadonors has been accompanied by another, competing trend: a surge of small online donations to politicians of both parties. Those contributions — in $5, $10 and $25 increments — have given Democrats and Republicans an alternate source of money beyond the super rich.

Still, the study found that the top 100 ZIP codes for political giving in the United States, which hold less than 1 percent of the total population, accounted for roughly 20 percent of the $45 billion that federal candidates and political groups raised between January 2009 and December 2020. The study used data from the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles figures from the Federal Election Commission.

The study didn’t include state-level contributions, so the picture that emerged is incomplete, but the overall message is clear enough: money matters disproportionately in American politics.

The amount of money at a candidate’s disposal isn’t necessarily dispositive; as a a friend who used to be a political strategist has always maintained, a good candidate with a good message who raises at least enough money to get that message out can defeat an opponent with a much larger campaign war-chest. But anyone who dismisses the significance of campaign funding is delusional.

That said, trying to get a handle on campaign finance is a fraught exercise, and many seemingly good ideas end up generating unanticipated–and negative–consequences.

Take the reforms that have focused on limiting candidate spending.  It sounds fair, but imposing uniform limits tend to work in favor of incumbents, because most Incumbents begin the election cycle with high name recognition. Challengers need to build that recognition (which is one reason why celebrities with no government experience have a leg up in such contests).  Once a non-famous challenger  spends enough to build that name recognition, campaign spending limits kick in. Typically, that’s the point at which the incumbent is just beginning to spend. In other words, just as a challenger starts to become competitive, spending limits choke off political competition.

So what would effective, workable reform look like? Previous efforts–caps on contribution amounts, reporting requirements and the like–have been circumvented by canny lawyers. The hope that small donations facilitated by the Internet would be a countervailing force has dimmed, as it has become apparent that it is easier for fringe candidates to generate those funds from equally fringe voters (evidently, Marjorie Taylor Greene has taken in very substantial amounts). It would be great if we could set time limits for campaigning, but that would probably help incumbents as well–and in any event, run afoul of  the First Amendment.

Given the rules as they exist, the only counter to the influence of money in American politics is the franchise–and the multitude of civic and political organizations that are working to expand voter turnout. As we approach the 2022 midterms, Republicans are working furiously to counter those efforts, and as I have noted in previous posts, the GOP goes into each election cycle with a number of structural and financial advantages, not to mention a media ecosystem supporting–nay, trumpeting– their messaging. (And no, MSNBC tilts left but is absolutely not a counterweight to Fox, et al. Accusations to the contrary are assertions of a false equivalency.)

Democratic systems are supposed to reflect the will of the people. Political actors who enjoy enough resources and structural advantages can and do ignore and subvert that will. How we even the playing field, how we facilitate “fair fights” and prevent donations from drowning out the voice of  the public is by no means clear.

But at the end of the day, money really does make the political world go around….and we need to figure out a way to lessen its impact.


  1. “Money makes the world go around…”
    I never read those word without thinking of Joel Grey in Cabaret ….In the Kit Kat Klub-
    His portrayal of the creepy club MC singing that song seems a perfect sound track to todays words of from Prof K. Now THAT will be in my head for hours 🙂

  2. Politics have always been compared to boxing!

    Having a pretty good amount of experience with the boxing field, having sparred with both Renaldo Snipes and Jimmy Ingram, a reactive fighter will always lose to a proactive fighter! Reactive is always on the defense, and proactive always on the offense!

    Defense prolongs fights, offense wins them.

    It didn’t take long after John McCain had to basically suspend his campaign because he ran out of money! He did not want to take part in the public funding program, but Obama did! If you remember, corporations couldn’t dump unlimited amounts of money into a campaign, and John McCain just ran out of cash. Barack Obama kept getting donations from regular citizens who had plenty of room to increase their donations and were financially able. It wasn’t long after that, Citizens United appeared, and that blew the whole thing out of the water, never allowing another Obama wave ride ever again.

    The GOP was bound and determined to game the system and keep it that way!

    Going on offense might seem barbaric in a way, because offense can be bloody, but, so far it looks like reactive is the definition of democratic Organizing! Until they get wiser, they’ll continuously be outflanked, they’ll win a few battles but lose the war! It really is pathetic when you think about it! How many times are you gonna painfully smash your head with a great big hammer until you realize, you can actually not hit your head with a great big hammer and stop the pain? Masochist thou art a Democrat!

  3. John,

    I think most of Obama’s campaign money came from small, grassroots donors. I could be wrong.

    One doesn’t need to do much more to understand this phenomenon (Thank you, Citizens United v. FEC) than read the news. Corporate/banking donors may be evil, greedy and anti-government (It’s the same for crooks and robbers being anti-police.), but they’re not stupid. They ARE, however, parsimonious. Look at how cheaply Charles Koch got Joe Manchin to do his bidding.

    Look at idiots like Louis Gohmert who thinks the BLM and NFS can change lunar or Earth orbits. THOSE are but two of the studies that explain the politics and total corruption of the United States government.

    Well done, voters. This is what staying home from the polls gets us… and you. Now the very bastards who the few of us elected want to make it ever so much harder to vote so they can “win”. But who are the politicians winning FOR? That’s right. Those who cough of the mere $45 billion dollars from a multi-trillion dollar economy.

    It’s easy math.

  4. The more you grasp the level of corruption from the top-down of our societal systems, campaign contributions are a fraction of its oppressive nature. I mean, how would it rank if we addressed all the levers of corruption?

    In Thomas Jefferson’s letters to Edward Carrington, he wrote about corruption and the need for a free press (papers). He also encouraged us to enlighten the people. Why? Because enlightened people cannot be manipulated by propaganda which is a form of oppression.

    Jefferson wrote:

    “Cherish therefore the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, judges and governors shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions; and experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor.”

  5. Reading Alexander Hamilton’s essay #68 in the Federalist Papers provides an interesting contrast between what he and Madison envisaged as the way candidates would be chosen and what actually happens today. Hamilton’s text indicates that he felt that the “electors” who were chosen by the popular vote would get together and decide who the best candidate would be. Aesop couldn’t have come up with a tale like that.

  6. Oh, and how about the gun violence? Are those purchased legislators the least bit worried about allowing unstable, pissed-off and poverty-ridden morons to have guns? Nah. Why would they want to worry the gun lobbies who pay them?

  7. Vernon, maybe gun violence is tolerated because it allows the police to become militarized? 😉

    Do you really think our rulers care about commoners killing commoners? The rulers live in protected communities surrounded by surveillance equipment and air-conditioned guard shacks.

    I want to see a compare and contrast study on how the populations are changing between the Red and Blue states based on decriminalizing weed and other drugs. I know it’s early in the game, but I can almost predict what’s going to happen, can’t you?

    For instance, a significant percentage of violence in Indy is gang-related. They are just capitalists in prohibition markets competing against one another. What happens if we legalize drugs? What happens to those capitalists/gangs?

    We’ve got so many smart people at the universities — I am sure they have some ideas. 😉

  8. Vernon, those unstable morons are not poverty-ridden. They are generally middle class and they have an extraordinary amount of fire power. You are absolutely correct about the rest of your description. They are unstable, pissed off morons.

  9. The other piece to this money in politics is Dark Money, with Pacs and Super Pacs.

    We see this more and more where a Candidate is pictured in an unflattering photo and then a 30 second or so monologue drones on about the candidate having a big government socialist agenda. The ad appears often. The source is not the opposing candidate, it some Pac, or Super-Pac with some name like Citizens for American Values or some similar B.S.

    By the way Todd, I agree, the 1% could care less if the Proles are killing each other. The amount of gang related violence proves the Steroid Capitalist system is not working: The Risk of prison is weighed against the reward of a criminal life.

  10. Thanks for the comments. Todd is right about the gang violence; it IS a capitalistic/power management enterprise fueled by illegal substances and the violent nature of our culture.

    Yes, Peggy, the 1/6 insurrectionists were primarily middle to upper-middle class, but that description has deteriorated greatly since Reagan. Look at the earnings curves and you’ll see that the middle class is no longer able to achieve wealth. That makes them POOR. It’s the underclass that still populate our inner cities where the white, gated people Todd mentions give not a single shit about.

    I think our democracy is toast. Marx was right. Capitalism without restraint will destroy itself.

  11. If it is possible, might we keep the comments on topic – campaign financing. One thing not mentioned yet, what has been done in some cities: government matching of small donations. That combined with donation limits and complete transparency would go a long way to helping to even the playing field.

    As with many important reforms, likely to be supported by large majorities of both sides of the people, but ignored by pols in DC.

  12. So, to some extent it comes down to the fools who never consider the impact their choice for POTUS may have on SCOTUS, which brought us CU!

  13. If SCOTUS determined that money is free speech then one would think that giving voters standing in line food and drink could also qualify as free speech. I guess SCOTUS decided free speech was money because people say “Put your money where your mouth is.”

    At the very least, we need to find a way to create legislation that ends “dark money”. That, to me, is not an infringement on free speech. We need to know who the big donors are because they have undue influence over representatives and yes, even the president.

    I don’t know how we create campaign finance reform as long as SCOTUS declares that money is free speech. That decision has undermined our democracy.

    The lack of campaign finance reform further undermines our ability to elect leaders who are servant leaders, people who follow an ethical code that is in accord with the democratic principles of the Constitution.

    I do not donate and will not unless I see a strong servant leader as a candidate.

  14. Pascal,

    Neither the Constitution nor the 12th Amendment (which redid the Electoral College) provides that state electors will be selected by the popular vote within the states. Originally most state legislatures chose the electors and it was not until the 1800s that those state legislatures turned that over to voters within those states. So I doubt Hamilton’s Federalist Paper #68 included the assumption by Hamilton that the voters would be choosing the electors. And if you know the mindset of Hamilton including his elitist, anti-democratic views, it is extremely unlikely that Hamilton intended popular election of the electors.

    You are right though that the Founding Fathers thought the electors would operate as a deliberative body and make an independent decision over who would be the best President. The Electoral College has never operated like that. My conservative friends like to say “the Electoral College is operating exactly as intended.” Anyone who knows the Electoral College history knows that is not true.

    By the way, the fact that under our Constitution state legislatures decide how Electors are chosen appears to open the door for legislatures in states like Arizona and Georgia, which have GOP control over the legislature and governor’s office (actually it’s not clear the Governor has any role), to override the popular wishes of the electorate regarding the Presidential vote.

  15. Vernon,
    I’m sure you remember Obama accepting the public funding plan, because corporations couldn’t contribute at that time until after the election when they passed citizens united and erased the discrepancy between public funding and glad-handing the Republicans were doing. When the corporations started getting back involved, it gave the Republicans an upper hand and they never had to look back and worry about running out of cash like John McCain did. Obama just kept tapping his donors list, I remember getting several text messages to re-up $100 several times, and I could have done that a total of 12.

    John McCain didn’t accept the public financing tack, and it didn’t work out well for him. He had to pull his advertising from a lot of states, and he wasn’t left with much except Sarah Palin! And all the right wing pundits could talk about was Sarah Palin’s panty lines ? so we could see what’s important in right-wing politics! I’m telling you, if the Dems don’t use the nuclear option and basically tear this whole system down including suspending habeas corpus and the supreme Court, there’s going to be a sea change in lifestyle and hierarchy in this country that no one would ever imagine a few years ago.

    There’s a cable network called inspire, the whole station is about the old west gunfights and the white man conquering everyone at Great odds against. A lot of John Wayne stuff! They honestly believe that the Hollywood Western culture is the real deal! So, carrying the big guns and shooting your way out of every sort of situation, solves their lifes problems! And let’s not forget, the weak women falling at these big macho men’s feet for protection!

    Just call it the John Wayne syndrome, a guy who rode smaller horses and carried smaller pistols to make himself look larger than everyone else on screen. It was/is all eye wash and optical delusions, lol! Like JoAnn said, the Twilight zone!

  16. Perhaps I am being a bit idealistic, but I think the only solution to the problem is %100 public funding, no private money involved at all. Forums, etc. could be arranged to provide challengers with equal exposure as incumbents.

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