Osburn: Money mattersWritten by Ben Osburn | | firstname.lastname@example.org
To win a political campaign, arguably the most essential resource a candidate must have is money. Time, staff and volunteer support are also key, but none of these would be possible without campaign cash. Money provides the essentials candidates need to win, such as voter communication tools like television ads, or travel. Bluntly put, the more money a candidate has, the more likely he or she is to win. Given the recent changes in campaign finance laws, money will be circulating around the presidential race more than ever.
In January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case that would change federal elections forever. Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) was a lawsuit involving a dispute as to whether the nonprofit Citizens United could air a campaign ad referring to then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The ad was to air within 30 days of the 2008 Democratic primaries, in violation of the McCain-Feingold Act. The Supreme Court not only struck down that provision, but went on to rule that corporations and unions were permitted to give money to produce “electioneering communication,” material. A similar case, Speechnow.org v. FEC, ruled that money coming from these entities could be unlimited. However, they still are not permitted to give directly to a candidate’s campaign.
What does this mean for candidates? The most recognizable result of both court cases are Super PAC. These political action committees raise money on behalf of candidates and often produce media ads in direct support of them or in opposition to their competition. They are required to list their donors to the FEC, but are not required to list whether or not they explicitly support a candidate. All major party candidates in the 2012 election are connected to Super PAC.
President Barack Obama, although initially against the Citizens United ruling, has recently said that he will allow Super PAC to raise money on his behalf. Although back-tracking on its word, the administration has no other choice but to accept the money in order to compete. Obama’s campaign is facing nearly $500 million worth of contributions aimed at defeating him. Obama’s chief Super PAC is called Priorities USA Action, a progressive organization committed to his re-election. By the end of the 2011 calendar year, the organization raised nearly $4.5 million. Thus far, the Obama campaign has raised approximately $125 million, with its biggest donor group being the retired. Obama has raised the most money out of all the major party candidates.
The Mitt Romney campaign has raised $56 million, according to end of 2011 numbers. While this may be little in comparison to Obama, Romney has excelled at raising money from Super PAC. Albeit a checkered past, Romney’s PAC, Restore Our Future, has raised just more than $30 million. The PAC’s goals are to bring down the national debt, stop reckless spending and spur job creation. Romney’s biggest donor group is the securities and investment sector, shortly followed by the retired. More than 90 percent of Romney’s donations have come from large individual contributions.
The Newt Gingrich campaign has not raised anything substantial compared to Romney and Obama. At year’s end, the campaign had raised just more than $12 million. The retired, again, have been the most hospitable contributors to his campaign. Winning Our Future, Gingrich’s Super PAC, spawned from a prior pro-Gingrich PAC called American Solutions for Winning the Future. The new PAC was created by Becky Burkett, who chaired the former PAC. Winning Our Future had some difficulty raising funds initially, but recently received a $10 million boost from casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife. Adelson has supported Gingrich in the past and favors his pro-Israeli stance. Gingrich will need the money to compete with Santorum and Romney going into Super Tuesday. Santorum’s caucus wins in Minnesota and Colorado have provided a groundswell of support for him in terms of fundraising.
Although at the end of 2011 his campaign had only raised just more than $2 million, that number is rising. He raised $250,000 the night of his victories. Rick Santorum’s PAC, the Red White and Blue Fund, was founded by Nick Ryan, a political consultant who was involved in previous PAC activity during the 2010 midterms. The PAC supports Santorum because he is anti-abortion and committed to reducing government spending. While the PAC has raised far less than both Romney and Gingrich — around $700,000 — people like Foster Friess are out to change that. Friess is a millionaire investment banker who gives to Christian and conservative causes. He has donated to Santorum’s senate campaign in the past and this cycle has provided almost half of the PAC’s operating funds. Friess and other supporters will need to keep giving so Santorum can remain close to Romney in the polls.
Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul has around $25 million in his campaign chest. The money has come from a mix of large and small individual contributions. Paul has received the largest amount of donations from veterans, perhaps due to his isolationist approach to foreign policy. Paul’s Super PAC activity has been limited and almost all donations from it have been on behalf of individuals. His biggest PAC, Endorse Liberty, has raised just over $1 million. The campaign will need to appeal to more Super PAC donors if it is to go any further in the primaries.
Ben Osburn is a graduate student in political science at the University of Toledo. Email him at letters@toledo freepress.com.