Election 2012: Campaign Spending Not Always a Precursor to a Win

By Monica Kucera
The Red Line Project

Posted: Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012

Money obviously plays a role in any political campaign, but it doesn't always determine a winner in presidential campaigns,  DePaul Political Science Professor Zachary Cook said Wednesday.

Cook talked about campaign finance, Super PACs and ad spending during one of several weekly talks by DePaul professors about the upcoming election.

The first question Cook addressed was “why care?” -- and that some people think money may grant an unfair advantage by one candidate over another. 

However, money doesn’t necessarily buy candidates a win. In 2004, Democratic candidate John Kerry ran more ads than George W. Bush but still lost. Barack Obama bought more advertising than John McCain in 2008, but that doesn’t imply it was the reason he won the election, Cook said.

“It might have won him a couple of states, but I’m not convinced the ad advantage was the difference” he said.

Cook explained that voters who are still undecided are mainly reached through TV advertising, which is the most effective way to get people’s attention.

“Media [are] the single biggest expense for a presidential election campaign” Cook said.

He showed his audience Mitt Romney’s spending to display just how much money is used in advertising. Romney’s spending in media and production is nearly $18.4 million. His direct mail consulting, print and postage is about $12 million and travel expenses are about $4.5 million.

 “You have to pay in order to communicate” Cook explained.

The second question surrounding money spent in the election was: “Where does it come from?”

Cook’s initial answer to that was, “wealthy donors with more money than Croesus.” After the audience chuckled, he explained that the most talked-about donor is Sheldon Adelson, someone listed in one edition of Forbes as the eighth wealthiest American. In addition to personal donations, big corporations (through political action committees and Super PACs) and labor unions are the next biggest donors.

Campaign finance rules pose the question: “What is constitutional to do with campaign money?” The Watergate scandal in the 1970s spurred a desire to regulate campaign spending. 

The Federal Election Commission is a group in charge of monitoring donations. Donors can give limited contributions to candidates. However, a person can give unlimited money to another group to spend on the candidate’s behalf.  For example, big corporations do this to avoid having their name listed at the bottom of a television ad.

Cook explained the emergence of Super PACs are new in 2012. Super PACs are agencies a single person or corporation can contribute to. That money is then distributed to candidates and causes. Federal laws prohibit corporations from contributing directly to candidates.

“Super PACs are clearly constitutional,” Cook said, “because they disclose earnings.”

However, there are groups Cook coined as “dark money groups” because they don’t disclose earnings or who’s donating to them.

A popular Super PAC for Mitt Romney is “Restore Our Future” and Obama’s is “Priorities USA.”

“You cannot alone win this right now with money” Cook said. “Romney cannot win the fundamental of 2012 based on money advantages alone. He needs a game changer – a media gaffe by Obama, scandal or a foreign relation flare up.” 

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