Written by Rachel Levine
It’s all about the money. While that may seem like an utterance from Stern finance majors going through recruiting, it is also the motto of potential presidential candidates. While the role of money in politics is often debated, its presence is not.
Last year’s midterm elections were the most expensive to date, and even surpassed spending in the 2012 presidential campaign. The chatter surrounding campaign finance tends to revolve around the Koch Brothers — conservative Kansas businessmen — and the super political action committees of Republican candidates.
And everyone remembers Stephen Colbert’s demonstration of super-PACs accompanied by creating his own, “Making A Better Tomorrow…Tomorrow.” In a 2014 TIME article, Trevor Potter, The Colbert Report’s on-air lawyer, wrote that “Stephen effectively demonstrated the absurdities and workarounds in our campaign finance system through the creation of several legal entities: a non-connected PAC to raise money to influence elections, a Super PAC to raise unlimited contributions from corporations and labor unions, and a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization used to launder contributions to keep donors anonymous.”
Republicans raise a lot of money during elections from donors and their super-PACs, but so do Democrats. During the 2012 Presidential Cycle, George Clooney hosted a fundraising dinner with plates selling for $40,000 in support of the Obama campaign. While popular opinion holds that most Democratic fundraising comes from grassroots causes, in the 2014 midterm elections Democrats actually outspent their opponents to the tune of $65 million. These public figures do not include “dark money” coming from contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations, as Stephen Colbert famously illustrated.
Even though candidates compete with opponents in other parties politically, they also compete against each other for donor funds. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, was seen as a clear favorite for Republican-backed money. However, with the recent announcement of his decision not to enter the race, candidates are scrambling to appeal to donors with conservative rhetoric and the promise of a win.
Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida and currently the speculated frontrunner, recently quelled the idea that his super PAC, Right to Rise, was aiming to raise $100 million. However, Republicans like to throw dinner parties as well, and Jeb’s March dinner in Bel Air cost $100,000 per couple to attend. Romney’s dropping out of the race prompted many other candidates to start taking their campaigns more seriously. Chris Christie hired a financing manager and Ted Cruz, junior Senator from Texas, officially announced his campaign on March 22 — the first to officially enter the race.
Democrats on the other hand have almost full, unwavering faith in the campaign of Hillary Clinton, now that it has officially begun. Though her campaign may face hiccups due to an email scandal, her websites are up and running, accepting donations while selling merchandise.
One of the largest contributors to Democratic super PACs is Michael Bloomberg, who donated over $20 million dollars during the 2014 midterm elections (for perspective, that’s approximately 2.3 million Chipotle burrito bowls). Interestingly enough, Bloomberg spent five times that amount self-financing his New York City mayoral campaign in 2009.
Rather than accepting donations from individuals, organizations, or political action committees, Bloomberg used his own funds. For his third run at mayor, he spent $108,371,685. By refusing donations from special interest groups, he was not obligated to cater to their political desires.
Winning all three mayoral campaigns, Bloomberg spent a total of over $266.87 million. That’s hardly pocket change for the city’s richest man, but still about a third of the cost of President Obama’s 2008 campaign.
Perhaps the best advice Bloomberg and these other politicians can give potential candidates is before you run for office, become a billionaire. It is, after all, all about the money.