Thursday, May 16, 2013

Did Some Dollars Count More in 2012 Campaigns?

A fascinating analysis by Tom Edsall for The New York Times Opinionator blog recently looked at the new landscape of campaign finance after the McCain-Feingold reforms and the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United. It seems all the more timely now that campaign finance reform has become embroiled in the IRS scandal. His data shows that, with today's political fundraising, some dollars are worth more than others to candidates, and political parties and candidates are not necessarily aided by the flood of super PAC and 501(c)4 money. Edsall notes that, in the last presidential election, Republicans not only outspent Democrats in total, but pro-Romney super PACs and independent groups doled out over $426 million, compared with the approximately $138 million that PACs and independent groups spent to support Obama. But Obama won. Why didn't dollars tip the scales? The answer isn't simple, but Edsall's figures do highlight one key factor: Dollars did count --if you're talking about the amount of money effectively controlled by each candidate's campaign. The Obama campaign had full control of 61.4% of the $1.11 billion in total Democratic presidential campaign spending (over $683 million) and designed a strategically coherent, micro-targeted, multi-channel campaign with the money. The Romney campaign controlled only 34.8%, or about $433 million, of the GOP team's larger $1.24 billion in spending -- the majority of the dollars were under the aegis of the national party and PAC/independent fundraisers. So the Romney staff actually had direct control of fewer resources at the same time that they faced spending on a contested primary and competition from sometimes inconsistent messaging by well-heeled independent support groups. Edsall predicts candidate-oriented PACs will pop up in coming elections -- further siphoning control from the parties and candidates themselves. For Edsall's detailed analysis of presidential campaign spending, go to

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