The general response by inside-the-beltway types is to remind people that Americans spend a $17 billion a year on pet food and $2.4 billion on iPhone applications. A billion dollars, by comparison, is not a lot to spend on electing the nation’s leader.
Why is it then that we bemoan the amount of money in politics? Part of it is the source of the money. Your average middle-class American does not have $2000 to donate to a campaign. In 2010, only .26 % of Americans donated more than $200 to a political campaign, and yet that .26 percent funded 67% of all political campaigns in America.
You would probably have to go to the top-hat market to find another industry so entirely dependent on the idle rich. And yet, might we be persuaded that instead of an exercise in plutocracy, campaign financing is actually a somewhat healthy form of wealth redistribution?
Consider the 2012 election. Mitt Romney has raised $59 million from high dollar donors, which accounts for 90% of his total funds. Barack Obama has raised $74 million from high dollar donors, accounting for 55% of his total. Political candidates have thus far raised more than $900 million in 2012-- most of which would have otherwise lain dormant in an offshore trust fund collecting interest. This money, given by the 1%, is then plowed back into the domestic economy in the form of bumper stickers, caterers, hotel rooms, live elephant/donkey rentals and campaign salaries. The Iowa economy earns more than $100 million during the caucus.
The other fact worth remembering is that most of these donors do not want much in return. There are certainly a few bad apples who are bucking for a pardon, but the vast majority of donors and bundlers only want prestige—and what is more, that is about all they can hope for. $2500 might have gotten you dinner at the White House in 1930, but today it will not even get you a personal thank-you note. The most naked and objectionable form of simony seems to occur when a successful bundler is appointed ambassador to Belgium. But this arrangement, in the grand scheme of things, seems like a pretty benign exchange for financing a campaign and, at the same time, “spreading the wealth around.”
As the Supreme Court continues to dismantle much of the campaign finance reform of the last 30 years, we could of course curse the darkness. Maybe the republic is for sale. But, as the spending increases, and the war chests get bigger, it’s more likely that the only thing for sale is an autographed picture by a losing candidate.
Smith, a former Republican staffer and writer for The Onion, is currently in law school.