I read an article after the election that made an effort to reassure people that the money pouring into the 2012 elections wasn’t really that big a deal. Granted, the article was written on Cracked.com so it really isn’t that authoritative but I’ve heard similar ideas elsewhere. Their argument is that compared to the money spent on marketing in other industries, elections spend a small amount. The NY Times estimates total spending on the 2012 election to be around $6 billion with $2 billion of that from the presidential candidates. Just the automotive industry spends around $13 billion a year on advertising and L’Oreal drops over $1 billion a year selling makeup.
Fuck that. Businesses cram part of their profits into marketing from sales to customers in order to gain more customers. In a sense, the company’s success in serving their customers should gain them more customers and more money. Ideally, a political campaign is funded the same way by supporters, voters. The usual spin is that small donors represent this ideal as regular people chip in a bit at a time in order to fund the campaigns that they feel will better serve them. That any modern large-scale campaign can do that is bullshit. Even Obama’s vaunted small donor program pulled in less than half of his funds. Even if small donations represented most of the incoming cash, the ability of a candidate to return some sort of loyalty and service is necessarily pretty nebulous when their constituency is that big. It’s relatively easy to express gratitude to a campaign’s largest donors and PAC funders. When you can put a group of donors into a room that represents more than a fifth of your war chest, it’s not that hard to circulate through the crowd and find out what they want.
So, it’s true that political money is vastly dwarfed by the money spent in most other industries for marketing but that’s grabbing the wrong end of the stick. All the money spent in an election is to reach and hopefully sway a vast audience of voters. All the money donated is essentially to sway the opinion of just one person- the candidate.
Whether a candidate wins or loses, they represent a good investment for any organization looking to push an agenda. Obviously, winning the loyalty of a sitting elected official is the best outcome but support for losing candidate gains points with that person’s party and contacts. Hell, I’ve had Lipton Iced Tea send me free samples of some shitty drink mix based on my status as an “influencer”. Somebody with the pull to gain a major party’s nomination is worth dropping a few bucks on.