Federal Election spending (Presidential and Congressional races) will reach an all time high this year, with reports projecting it to reach 5.8 billion, 7% higher than the 5.4 billon spent in the 2008. However, far more funds than ever before will come from private individuals and the super PACs they create to influence elections.
OpenSecrets.org reports that at this point in 2008, candidates had raised around $1.1 billion (out of $2.4 billion) versus only $608 million (out of $2.2 billion) today. The other approximately $1.5 billion spent this year is “outside spending.” So far this cycle 47 people have contributed more than half (57.1%) of the $230 million raised by Super PACs from individual donors, and just over 1,000 donors giving at least $10,000 have accounted for 94% of the money raised. The authors of a US PIRG and Demos study on Super PAC spending calculate that it would take 321,000 middle-income families, donating an equivalent share of their wealth (0.15%) to equal the total of the single biggest Super PAC contributor, the infamous Adelson family ($36 million).
With Americans ranking government corruption as the second most important issue to them this election cycle, behind only job creation, this spending is indicative of a much larger issue: The major influence that private and corporate resources play in determining the outcome of our elections, and, more fundamentally, the issues debated and pushed in the first place.
But the federal lobbying industry is as strong as ever, on pace to reach over $3 billion dollars in contributions with over 11,000 lobbyists at work. These lobbyists have already made their impression felt in a major way in this year’s presidential race for one side. Seven hundred forty-eight Washington lobbyists and dozens of corporate and lobbying firm PACs have given $1.87 million to benefit the Romney Campaign in addition to the $5.25 million they’ve raised from friends, family, and clients.
According the authors of the US PIRG/Demos study, tackling these titanic problems requires a paradigmatic shift:
Democracy must write the rules for capitalism, not the other way around. The only way to ensure this happens is to have some mechanism for preventing wealthy individuals and institutions from translating their wealth into political power.