Game Theory, Individual v. Collective, Live and Learn

Who is Tired of Political Ad Wars & Campaign Spending?

It cost Barack Obama $513,557,218 to be elected president. John McCain spent $346,666,422 to place second. Accessibility to the highest office is at an all-time low. Peruse the following expense summary for the 2008 Presidential election:

The massive costs of campaigns

Is anyone else bothered by this? These costs will surely increase in 2012, as they more than doubled between 2000 and 2008. Some estimates have President Obama raising as much as $1 billion for 2012. Wouldn’t we all be better off if people kept these funds and started a business, invested, saved, or even consumed? As we frantically look around for leadership and answers, our democracy delivers us the political elite; those who already have at least some power and influence on the political stage. What also results, as it does with clusters of intellectuals, is group think.

We all should come to terms with the fact we have a one-party system. As Andrew Napolitano so rightly stated:

I don’t think we have a two-party system in this country, I think we have one party, which is the Big Government party. There’s a Democratic wing that likes welfare and taxes and assaulting our commercial liberties. There’s a Republican wing that likes war and deficits and assaulting our civil liberties.

The general direction of the country doesn’t change as the House and the Presidency oscillate from one party to another; only the speed and magnitude changes as we chart the same course. With the current state of our system, it has proven to be a misnomer that booting out incumbents will create the positive change necessary.

Group think, political expediency, and a one-party system have either created or prolonged our major problems e.g. health care costs and access, over-extended housing, social security, etc.

We need a system that delivers representative candidates. To bring more candidates and voices into the political realm (not only for president but for Congress, Senate, and city government), it may be time to enact a financial cap on campaigns. We may need to stop allowing campaign ad wars which attack the opponent and/or mislead the public. Most of us have full-time jobs and lives. The mere time commitment to run for office is enough of a deterrent, let alone the political culture itself. Now we’re being priced out of the political market. Well, actually, we’ve been priced out for some time. I would love an election cycle which only featured robust televised debates with accessibility for many to participate, no marketing propaganda, and a detailed website for each camp. A pretty simple dream. This would of course require some sort of reform on Political Action Committees (PAC). These private organizations become “political committees” by receiving contributions or making expenditures in excess of $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a federal election. PACs are often the form that unions, interest groups, and corporations take to sway elections.

Presidential campaigns set into overdrive about a year and a half before the actual primaries. But with the need to raise tens or hundreds of millions of dollars just to give your campaign a legitimate chance, fundraising starts even earlier. Couple this timeline with 24 hour cable news and it results in a bombardment of media and marketing noise.

The good news is that grassroots campaigns over the Internet have given a glimmer of hope to outsiders of the political elite, as well as the less connected or wealthy among us. Not only can the Internet get you and your ideas known, you can quickly and easily collect micro donations; some as small as a few dollars, and of course ranging up to the $2,300-per-person federal limit. According to a study by The Campaign Finance Institute (CFI), Barack Obama’s campaign was able to raise $5.77 million in donations of less than $200 each in the first quarter of 2007, when initial fundraising was ramping up. On November 5th, 2007, Ron Paul was able to capitalize on his grassroots support by collecting $4.2 million of Internet donations in one day. This record-setting day was put into motion by a moneybomb event that spread virally through YouTube, Facebook, etc. The Internet is the great wildcard which serves as a check on the power of mainstream media and the political establishment. Raising significant sums of money isn’t a completely lost cause, but as the CFI study points out, micro donations of $200 and under only accounted for 13.6% of total contributions to all candidates in Q1 2007. Only a portion of these were raised over the Internet.

Make the marketing man stop

In closing, wouldn’t it be nice not to be bombarded with attack ads and creepy posters? The 2012 political ad wars are just around the corner, so we have that to look forward to. A quick synopsis: all of the ways Barack Obama has heroically saved our economy from the next Great Depression and a counter of all of the ways he has prolonged and deepened the recession. I can’t wait. Our democracy should allow anyone who has good ideas and leadership qualities to have a shot at implementing them, if for no other reason, because that’s what we’re running short on.


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