Feature

2008

Putting a price tag on the presidency

That loud smashing noise you hear, said Anne Kornblut in The Washington Post, is the sound of political fund-raising records being shattered. With the first presidential primaries still 10 months away, the leading candidates are already amassing incredible sums of money. Sen. Hillary Clinton announced this week that she's raised $26 million in the first three months of this year—almost triple what any politician 'œhas previously raised at this point in a presidential election.' Her main competitor, Barack Obama, raised an estimated $20 million. Two leading Republicans, Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani, have announced totals of $23 million and $15 million, respectively. 'œForget campaigning,' said Adam Nagourney in The New York Times. To reach their goal of $75 million by the first primary, all candidates are now attending a fund-raiser—sometimes more than one—virtually every day, and spending long hours phoning big-bucks donors with pleas for checks. All told, the presidential candidates will, over the next two years, spend a combined total of $1 billion.

Most folks talk like that's a bad thing, said Jonah Goldberg in National Review Online. But Americans spend $36 billion annually on pet care and $10 billion on porn. If candidates spend $1 billion communicating with the electorate, why is that a waste? 'œMore money means more communication, more debate, more education. In other words, more democracy.' If liberals want to complain, they can blame campaign finance 'œreform.' The McCain-Feingold law, passed in 2002, was meant to make elections fairer by keeping major donors and advocacy groups from pouring millions into attack ads and other political commercials. But as the billion-dollar campaign demonstrates, McCain-Feingold hasn't kept money out of politics. It's diverted most of it to the big-name candidates, and made 'œit harder for rookies and amateurs' to get anyone's attention.

Don't be so sure, said Walter Shapiro in Salon.com. One of McCain-Feingold's virtues is that it has produced an exponential increase in the number of individual citizens willing to contribute $2,300—the maximum—to the candidate who most excites them. Look at Obama, who is keeping pace with Clinton even though he lacks her connections. One of Obama's fund-raisers says that by putting limits on the influence of big-bucks donors, McCain-Feingold has created a new, 'œmiddle-class activism.' Besides, said Mark Schmitt in The New Republic Online, no one candidate will be able to buy this election. 'œThe political graveyard is filled' with presidential candidates such as Steve Forbes and Phil Gramm who outspent their rivals but lost anyway. To win the presidency, a lot of money is necessary—but it's not sufficient.

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