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The real danger of Big Money in the presidential campaign

Caricature of SteveMany Americans are angered by the amount of money that presidential candidates raise for election campaigns.  Many hopefuls now spend millions to finance their political aspirations.

The most vocal critics argue that the sheer quantity of cash allows rich donors to buy elections.

That’s nonsense but the myth persists.

Yesterday I wrote a spoof implying why no amount of money can buy elections.  Today I’ll take a serious approach.


The Supreme Court decision in Citizens United five years ago unleashed the flow of contributions that previously had been limited.

This resulted in the creation of new entities to fund specific candidates and issues or the clarification of how existing organizations could operate. The principal organizations are Political Action Committees (PACS), Super PACS, and so-called Dark Money Groups [Tax Code section 501(c) or 501 (d)].


PACs can raise money and donate to candidates, candidate committees, political parties and to other PACs. But you are limited in how much you can contribute in a given year to the candidate of your choice. That’s where Super PACS come in.

Super PACs are allowed to collect an unlimited amount of money as long as none goes directly to any specific candidate. Instead the funds are spent on media advertising, hosting political rallies, providing transportation and other activities—all in support of specific issues the Super PAC champions. Furthermore, the donors names must be listed.

The fact that these Super PACs frequently endorse an issue favored by only one candidate often raises charges that these groups are taking advantage of a loophole in the law.  But it is legal.

Dark Money groups are tax exempt social welfare or business organizations that can raise unlimited quantities of money but do not have to disclose the names of donors.

They can’t contribute directly to a candidate, but there is no restriction on how much money they can give to a Super PAC that supports a candidate.

Dark Money groups must pledge that political campaigns are not their primary raison d’etre. And they cannot donate more than 50 percent of the contributions they receive to political activity.

Money can’t buy your vote

No matter how much money any presidential hopeful raises, I don’t get a single penny. No money will cross my palm. There will be no direct deposit in my bank account. The financial inducement for me to vote for a big spender instead of the impoverished candidate is zero, zilch, nada.

So why the outrage? Yes, millions of dollars will allow presidential hopefuls and their supporters to buy hundreds of radio and television commercials.

But I won’t be hypnotized into voting for that candidate because of flashy advertisements.  I’ll just press my remote control and skip through them. And I can always turn off the radio spots by switching to another station.

It won’t make any difference how many times either Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton comes to Iowa to press the flesh or hold “Meet the Candidate” rallies.

–Nobody is paying for my transportation to the gathering.

–No one is going to give me a free camera or cellphone for a selfie with either Hillary or Jeb.

–A few snacks, drinks and free coffee at a rally aren’t going to persuade me to cast my ballot on election day for the richest candidate.

–I can get a ride to vote from either Democrat or Republican party—IF I call them.   But Donald Trump is not going to fly me to my polling station in his helicopter.

No. All the money the candidates collect can’t buy my vote.

The real danger

The more important question, however, is the influence of big money on the actions of the next president. Do you think the next occupant of the White House might be inclined to turn a friendly ear to some donor who has contributed millions of dollars to his or her successful presidential campaign?


The danger is not whether unlimited money will buy elections, but rather how much influence a wealthy supporter will have on presidential policies after the winner walks into the Oval Office.

Too much.   And that you can take to the bank.

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