NEIL RILEY ‘17
The 2016 presidential campaign has brought the issue of campaign financing into the public eye more than any in recent memory. The two populist candidates, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, have facilitated this process.
Time and again, Sanders will pull out his 4,000,000 contributions averaging $27 a piece and wave it around like a wad of singles in the fist of a toothless, overalled gentleman at Club 2K. Donald Trump will drone on about the millions of dollars of his own money that he is spending to compete in the race, just to be able to point to the fact that he is not bought-and-sold by “the big banks.”
For me, the gesture is admirable nonetheless. A mind numbing amount of money is required to run a presidential campaign in the United States. Funding has become an arms race for whoever can string together the most 0’s in their warchest. The suppliers have traditionally been gigantic companies that are interested in buying favors from whoever will be the most powerful person in the country.
In past elections, money has mattered above nearly anything else. According to The Washington Post, 91 percent of American congressional elections are won by the candidate with the most money. That is why the demise of the Jeb Bush campaign has been dumbfounding. Including his Super PAC, Right to Rise, Bush raised over $150 million according to The New York Times, of which he spent almost $130 million. The only other candidate who has attracted more money has been Hillary Clinton with her $188 million.
That $130 million was completely wasted. It represents donations from a grabbag of different companies, community organizations and average citizens that could have spent their money in so many better ways. For example, they could have built two of Elon Musk’s new SpaceX rockets and still could have had a generous amount left to pay for fuel.
Ironically, Bush’s stuffed coffers proved to be a drag on his run. Trump successfully skewered him as the shill candidate of the Republican field.
The subject of campaign financing is obviously very important to American voters. A 2015 Gallup Poll found that 75% of people living in the United States perceive the government to be very corrupt. Presidential candidates transparently receive millions from huge conglomerates and corporations, which deeply disturbs voters.
Before we glance at the headline about Jeb Bush dropping out of the race and declare that money does not matter to the success of a campaign anymore, we need only look at the almost $600 million that had been raised as of Feb. 22. I don’t think that a candidate should be able to speak louder just because they have attracted more money to their campaign (which is the case for every candidate but Trump, who has spent a relatively small $24 million).
Rather, every candidate should be allowed to raise a regulated amount of money to be spent on the necessary campaign expenses to allow the public to understand the main points of their platforms. It would limit the influence of the traditional, large donors and interest groups and further encourage Americans to learn more about each choice. There are flaws with my idea, but I also think that it is worth considering.