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Campaign Notes: Money matters

By John Barron

If having lots of money were all you need to get elected President of the United States then the likes of Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, Donald Trump, or Jon Huntsman could have been sliding their feet under the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

Happily, that will only happen if they sneak past the Secret Service at a White House dinner — which on recent evidence is not entirely out of the realm of possibility, but would presumably only be for a few short moments of pondering what might have been.

No, money alone will not win you the Presidency, particularly if we are talking about a personal fortune rather than money from a legion of enthusiastic supporters.

Yet money can be both a reflection of a candidate’s support and a means to generate more of that support through spending on campaign activities and advertising.

As Mitt Romney showed during his now all-but-victorious campaign for the Republican Party presidential nomination, having more money than your opponent can turn a potential primary loss into a win.

Time and again since January, Romney wheeled out the big financial guns to bombard his opponents with negative television ads. First Newt Gingrich got the Romney-treatment in Florida after his strong showing in South Carolina, and once Newt was taken down, it was Rick Santorum’s turn.

Mitt Romney may have become the nominee even if he didn’t outspend his rivals by 10 to one or more in some crucial states like Michigan and Wisconsin, but it would surely have taken him a lot longer.

His sealing of the deal has come at a cost.

Financial disclosures for March have been released, and as Romney and President Barack Obama get on their marks and get set for the general election campaign their bank balances are rather unbalanced:

Cash On Hand in April

  • Mitt Romney: $10.1 million.
  • Barack Obama: $104 million.

Yes, there’s a small but significant decimal point on Romney’s bank statement. On those numbers alone it would be “game over,” as now Romney would face being outspent by 10 to one.

But that’s not the whole story. Those numbers don’t take into account the so-called SuperPACs, like former Bush advisor Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, and it’s secretive sibling Crossroads GPS, which have hauled in $99.8 million since last year and aim to spend three times that amount this year.

The SuperPACs and 501(c)4s (which for tax purposes are non-profit social welfare organisations) can take unlimited contributions, and in the case of 501(c)4s like GPS, they never need to disclose where the money is coming from.

We do know that someone penned a $10 million cheque for Crossroads GPS recently — we just can’t ever read their signature.

While that $99.8 million doesn’t belong to Romney’s campaign, it will certainly be spent boosting Republicans and tearing down Democrats — Barack Obama in particular.

Pro-Democratic SuperPACs have been formed as well, but they have struggled. The most closely aligned to President Obama has just $5 million in the bank.

Luckily then for Obama, his financial disclosures reveal he had more than half a million individual donors in March alone — close to 200 000 of whom have never given to his campaign before. While few of those Obama donors may ever be in a position to write a cheque for $10 million, they can all give up to $2500 this election – a potential wad of $1.2 billion.

So whether it’s coming in big bundles of loot from a relatively small number of wealthy donors, or small amounts from hundreds of thousands of less affluent supporters, it’s looking like the contest for money could be pretty close this year.

23 April 2012

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