>Can You Really Buy An Election?

>I’ve been pondering all of the corporate money flooding this election: the direct donations from outfits like Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp to the Republican Governor’s Assn., the corporate donations to groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, the corporate PACs, and the bazillionaire self-financed candidates. And then there are the ads from liberal groups: the Democratic campaign committees, unions, and the like. Most of the donations are going to Republican candidates, and while Democratic groups are certainly spending money — and asking for it, lord God almighty how they are asking — the GOP has been outspending Democrats significantly.

I have a couple of thoughts on this. For one thing, I have to wonder if these corporate donations are the best use of those millions. Is it really worthwhile, spending all of that money trying to get Republicans elected? Funneling all that cash to the GOP via PAC donations and Chamber donations and “grants” to corporate front groups like the American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation? Really? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just deal with whatever regulation it is the Democrats supposedly want, or increase the fuel economy on the car you’re manufacturing (and which the American public wants too, I might add)? Is it really a good return on investment to spend tens of millions every two years trying to swing an election?

The general assumption is that they wouldn’t be spending this kind of money if they didn’t think it worthwhile, but let’s face it: American corporations do all sorts of crazy, stupid shit. New Gap logo, anyone?

(And here’s another thought: if the majority of Americans really believed in Free Market Fairies and the tyranny of Big Government and the dangers of the deficit, would they really need to spend so much money selling us these ideas?)

Maybe it was a smart expenditure before the good ol’ days of Citizens United, when we weren’t talking about so many zeroes on every campaign donation and every Karl Rove and Karl Rove wannabe didn’t have his or her hand out demanding money for this or that organization, PAC, think tank, foundation, etc. I mean, seriously. Wouldn’t you people rather be expanding your factories and hiring people with that money or something? Or giving yourselves fat bonuses?

Just wondering.

Here’s something else. It’s looking like $2 billion will be spent on campaigns this election, a record for a midterm election. We’ve all been griping about the money coming from foreign sources but nobody ever finishes the sentence: no one stops to think where this money is going. The vast majority of it is going to buy television air time.

Elections are a media cash cow, from the ad agencies making the buys to the cable, network and local television stations cashing the checks. Where is all of this Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads money going? Straight to Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, CBS, ABC, NBC and the rest.

Well no wonder campaign finance reform and public financing of elections never got off the ground. No wonder our news information sucks. Who stands to benefit from an undecided voting public, an electoral horse race in every district, hotly contested primaries orchestrated by a media-created Tea Party “movement”? I mean, think about it.

Since I started writing this post this morning I have received seven solicitations for political donations and one phone call. Swear to God. Here’s one from the DCCC:

There are just hours left before our most critical deadline of the election. The amount of money in the bank tonight determines tomorrow’s television spending — this is the FINAL time we can make adjustments to our ad buy for the final week.

Enough already, people. I have just one question for the DCCC, Organizing For America, the Chamber of Commerce, and everyone else with skin in this game: do TV ads even work anymore? Other than getting a candidate’s name and image out there, of course, but does anyone think they will sway a voter’s opinion on a candidate?

For years we’ve been hearing that product marketers are getting away from traditional ad buys to things like “guerilla marketing” and “branding.” Consumers have been assaulted with advertising for decades and I think we’re all savvy enough to assume the information in a television ad is going to be bullshit. Just because Tide says its detergent is the most fabulous thing out there doesn’t mean anyone believes it. Why would anyone think we believe political campaign ads?

Here’s what’s interesting to me: there are thousands of people who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim of Kenyan birth. I don’t recall seeing one television ad telling people that information, yet somehow it managed to spread around the country anyway.


I’m not the only one questioning the dubious effectiveness of all this campaign advertising. As I was wondering these things I happened across this post over at Gin And Tacos which pretty much articulates my own thoughts on the subject. Ed writes:

Accordingly, asking whether money matters is essentially asking if advertising matters. Much like money, advertising has a threshold beyond which its marginal effects are indistinguishable from zero. There are different schools of thought on this issue, but my personal bias favors the argument that the threshold is very, very low. Advertising is good for name recognition and not much else. As you sit through the barrage of TV commercials for this year’s candidates, ask yourself who is actually persuaded by any of this crap. Individuals’ own preferences and partisan predispositions are an effective screen; in other words, any message from the opposite party is heavily discounted if not ignored altogether. If you’re a Republican, you’re going to tell yourself that anything in the Democrats’ commercials is untrue and untrustworthy anyway.

Naturally, Republican ads are discounted by Democratic voters, and please show me the independent/undecided voter who is actually swayed by a campaign ad featuring the Scary Voiced Announcer Dude and Soaring Chorus when Candidate X appears on screen?

The only people campaign advertising makes a difference to is the people selling the air time. And it makes a huge difference to them. It will continue to make a difference to them until the candidates and campaigns themselves decide TV advertising isn’t effective. When that happens, the local and national networks will have a huge sad. Maybe as big of a sad as the one we’ll see by the RSCC, RCCC, DSCC, DCCC, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and every other group with their hand out seeking donations for ad buys that we could all do without.

Then and only then will this highway robbery come to an end and maybe we can have some sane political campaigns.


Filed under advertising, campaign finance, media, midterm elections

23 responses to “>Can You Really Buy An Election?

  1. >Every election year, I give people the same advice: If you see regular ads on television for a candidate, you can be sure that candidate will not represent you, so never vote for that candidate. Of course, that means never voting for a Republican or a Democrat – probably the best outcome we could hope for.

  2. >Well, they've already given themselves big bonuses, and there are piles of cash left over – and no, they do not intend to ever expand factories or hire people. Exporting jobs is part of the mechanism to keep people poor, and establish the new multinational corporate version of feudalism.They are spending vast sums of money to that end. We'll see if it works.God, I hope not. The 14th century is not a time I would like to revisit.WASF,JzB

  3. >Republicans are outspending Democrats because they're at a political advantage this election cycle. Simple as that.If you don't like it go help Dems raise more money.

  4. >I think Anonymous never read the post. I'm not complaining that Republicans are outspending Democrats. I'm complaining that there's too much money being spent, period. And suggesting the game is rigged.

  5. >Debates. Bring me ad-free political debates. Send out emails and snail mails (one, each), maybe a text or something, telling me when the debates are aired, where, and when they'll be repeated. And NO analysis. None.Do that, and I'll LIKE you on FB or whatever blows your little networky skirt up. I'll watch another show on your channel. I'll tell my friends. I'll check out your Nissan Leaf commercial. Try me.

  6. >And NO analysis. None.That's unrealistic. How can you have a debate and not have Tweety weigh in on it, and that great sage, Luke Russert, tell us what it all means? 🙂

  7. >I like Nance's idea, but what the hell would the media and political pundits on both sides of the aisle do?They'd all be out of a job.

  8. >Sounds like a win to me….

  9. >I don't turn on the TV often, but sometimes I do to see the hometown (D.C.) football team when they're on here in Ohio.I couldn't believe how many ads there were for Steve Stivers (former bank lobbyist and protege of John Boehner) running against Mary Jo Kilroy, my awesome House Rep.That's network TV, expensive even here in Columbus.~

  10. >You're forgetting one of the big reasons for all that spending, which is to raise the price of participation to the point that third parties, independent candidates, and candidates without official Democratic or Republican party sanction cannot afford to compete. The first dollars buy name recognition; the rest are intended to keep unwanted competitors out of the race.

  11. >…to raise the price of participation to the point that third parties, independent candidates, and candidates without official Democratic or Republican party sanction cannot afford to compete. Good point. Tea Party is a great example … it's really just an arm of the GOP, as evidenced by all of the Koch Industries money, Fox News promotion, etc.I think as people communicate in different ways and the media gatekeepers fall that may change somewhat. But yeah, third parties have rarely ever been viable. The best thing is to transform the party you're most closely aligned with.

  12. >It certainly does have that result, doesn't it? Which goes to show that the end result of unregulated things (markets, politics and bar fights) is one or two big players and no little players. All that corporate money has deprived us of our options.Amusing too, since for the last century, the economy has done better under Democrats but the rich seem to like Republicans anyway. The very rich may be different, but not smarter, it seems.

  13. >How can you have a debate and not have Tweety weigh in on it, and that great sage, Luke Russert, tell us what it all means?I seem to remember a debate Al Gore won (with real-time viewers) until the GOP pros in the spin room convinced Our Astute Media otherwise, and the narrative became that Gore lost. Because Shrub was such a likeable fellow. And Gore spent too much time knocking down right-wing talking points…from the moderator.Comparing pundits to "horse-race callers" is an insult. When I go to the track the guy in the tower gets his results right, or gets fired.

  14. >Among my favorite oxymorons — right up there with the mutually exlusive words "reality television" — is "campaign contribution.""Electorate shakedown" is more like it (or was until our odious SCOTUS' recent decision to open the floodgates of mystery money).That endless stream of phone calls soliciting campaign donations you mentioned — I wonder how the average citizen might respond if the same sales tactics of dire warnings and apocalyptic scenarios were used to solicit sales of, say, vacuum cleaners?("If you don't buy a Hoover from me today, the DIRT WINS !")Thus far, I've seen little if any investigative reporting on the true relationship between vast campaign funds and election victories. Is it really true that big campaign warchests mean sure-fire election? What if the candidate's views are nothing but delusional gibberish ?Perhaps when candidates like Christine O'Dumbbell (who used campaign contributions to pay her rent) and Meg Whitman (who's gambled $130 million of her own hard-pilfered money) suffer humiliating defeats this coming Tuesday, it'll spur some intelligent, insightful blogger (hint, hint) to investigate the veracity of the "cash is king" campaign rule.At the very least, maybe it will warn a few wingnut wannabe's that a viable political platform and a basic knowledge of what's in the Constitution are far more vital qualifications for anyone seeking public office.(Reminder to self: get prescription for idealism meds refilled.)

  15. >"If you don't buy a Hoover from me today, the DIRT WINS !")LOL LOL LOL LOL LOLOf course, fear on a far subtler basis is a time-honored advertising tradition. Ladies: you will die a shriveled old spinster unless you buy this lisptick/face cream/hair dye. Men: you will never get laid again unless you buy this car/beer/hair dye/penis pill.Same message, different product.

  16. >Amusing too, since for the last century, the economy has done better under DemocratsReally? I wasn't aware that FDR and Carter were Republicans….And of course the current recession began in 2007. Guess which party has controlled Congress since 2006? Oh yes, the Democrats.

  17. AM

    >heh, businesses vote R not because they don't want to make more efficient cars, but because they want fair and sound economic practices.Such as NOT destroying the rule of law to pay off the unions ahead of guaranteed investors in the GM bankruptcy, or leaving over fifty points of legislation to be "decided by the FTC".The idea that R's turn a blind eye to pollution is simply unfounded. The air got cleaner faster under W than under Clinton. Republicans believe in Conservation, which is wise use of resources. I don't know what D's believe in, but rainbow farting unicorns sounds about right.

  18. >Oh my god. THAT tired old ploy? Please show me something other than a Fox News report — something scientific — to show that George W. Bush was RESPONSIBLE for cleaner air during the years he happened to be president.

  19. >The financial corruption of public servants has been an election year theme all my 56 years. But recently it seems there has been less and less effort to conceal the for profit status of American politics. Elections seem to be little more than the Final Four or the World Series.RJ

  20. >"businesses vote R not because they don't want to make more efficient cars, but because they want fair and sound economic practices."No, dumbass. They want to make money. That's what they do.They vote GOP because the GOP guts regulation, letting them work more "efficiently", and guts labor, letting them pay shit wages and abuse their employees.

  21. >Oh, BTW, "AM":"used the GI Bill to finish college"You're welcome for the taxes we spent to enable you to do that and then to go on to be the Libertarian nozzle you are.

  22. >Southern Beale:I thought you got rid of "Jim". A couple of those comments "anonymous" and AM look suspiciously like his brand of teh stoopid. When the empire's rulers control the flow of information, removing the truth is the first "cost cutting" measure.

  23. >It's not Jim, Demo. His IP shows up as a South Carolina address.