The Washington Post explodes a perception!


Buddy, can you spare a dime: We’ll admit that we were surprised by yesterday’s Washington Post.

On the front page, Dan Eggen reported about the state of campaign fund-raising. Perhaps we’ve been watching too much cable. But this took us by surprise:
EGGEN (3/13/12): 2012 GOP contest shaping up to be cheapest race in years

Lost amid all the talk about millionaires influencing the 2012 election is a striking fact: The Republican primaries are shaping up as the cheapest and most financially depressed presidential nominating contests in years.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and the other Republicans...have raised and spent about half as much money as the GOP field did four years ago, campaign disclosure data show. The trend doesn’t stop there: Republicans in 2000 and Democrats in 2004 posted stronger financial numbers than this year’s crop of GOP challengers have.

Even adding this year’s spending by super PACs...the Republican contenders spent more cash in 2008 all on their own.
Say what? As Eggen suggests, the buzz has been all about the obscene amounts of cash in this post-Citizens United era. But according to Eggen: “While many voters may feel overrun with negative ads, every primary season since the 1990s has featured more spending than the current contest, records show.”

We’re not real sure how that’s being computed. But friend, how bad is this year’s fund-raising? Before long, Eggen uses some numbers.

The fund-raising seems to be bad:
EGGEN: In 2008, the combined Republican field...had raised nearly $310 million and spent $278 million of that through the early January contests, according to data from Malbin’s research. The figures include $42 million in money that Romney poured into the race from his personal bank account.

Those numbers have been halved in 2012, with $146 million raised and $133 million spent by GOP presidential candidates through Jan. 31, the data show. Romney has not contributed his own money this time around.

This year’s crop of hopefuls does have a new financial weapon in the form of super PACs, which are technically separate from the campaigns but can raise unlimited amounts of money on their behalf...

Nonetheless, even the monied super PACs haven’t closed the gap in spending compared with 2008. The top six GOP super PACs spent about $37 million on behalf of their favored presidential candidates through January, according to Federal Election Commission data.
Let’s attempt to do the math, adding the super PACs into the stew:
2008 GOP spending through early January: $278 million
2012 GOP spending through the end of January: $170 million
By our calculations, $170 million is less than the previous figure!

On the Republican side, Eggen cites standard explanations: Extremely lousy candidates, plus the bad economy. But uh-oh! “Even Obama, who does not have to fight a primary opponent, has begun to lag behind the pace he set in 2008, when he became the most successful fundraiser in U.S. political history.”

Eggen says the dough will explode once we get a Republican nominee. But who says we’ll ever get one of them? And on cable, we constantly hear about all the obscene wads of dough.

Have we perhaps been listening wrong? Inquiring minds want to know.


  1. Great pickup, Bob. Also, there's a second falsehood in the conventional narrative, namely that the Citizen's United decision is responsible for the huge super PACs. In fact, a lot of the super PAC money comes from wealthy individuals. E.g., Gingrich's campaign has been substantially funded by someone named Sheldon Adelson. Individual contributions were not affected by the CU decision. They were permitted all along.

    IMHO the media has adopted both of these misleading narratives, because they don't like the CU decision. When non-media organizations spend more, the media's influence is reduced. So, the media slant their coverage in order to make the CU decision into a boogieman.

    1. David in Cal is right. CU really hasn't changed anything. Romney still has to battle against the liberal media. The other Republicans really have to struggle too. Nothing has changed. Who has the power of the airwaves? It's not the CU funded people.

    2. The Real AnonymousMarch 14, 2012 at 8:56 PM

      The author of this article Mr. Somerby cites is spinning like a top. While its true overall spending was down through January by Republican candidates compared to 2008 even if outside (super pac) spending was included, overall spending by super pacs was over 4X what it was by outside groups in 2008 in Florida alone.

      "WASHINGTON – Spending by the presidential contenders in this year's wildly unpredictable Republican primary has fallen sharply from 2008 levels, but the money flowing from outside groups, including new super PACs, has soared dramatically, new figures show.

      Last-minute spending by super PACs to influence the White House battle topped $44 million through Monday morning, eclipsing the $10.6 million that outside groups had spent at this point in the 2008 presidential campaign, according to federal data tallied by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics."

      Keep in mind this is the first presidential cycle to ever allow unlimited spending by individuals, corporations and unions.

  2. "Individual contributions were not affected by the CU decision."

    Wow. The level of ignorance in this comment is off the charts.

    Of course individual contributions to a candidate or party were always permitted but they were and still are limited.

    Currently an individual may contribute $2500 to a candidate per year. That's it!! An individual may give around $30,000 to a party.

    What CU did was allow individuals to give any amount to a super pac that theoretically can't coordinate its spending with a candidate's campaign.

    Consequently you're seeing $10,000,000 contributions for the first time in history.

    Some have even speculated Santorum and Gingrich would not be viable candates without the largess of their sugar daddys and super pacs.

    1. TRA -- Wikipedia says, regarding the CU decision,

      The Supreme Court reversed the lower court, striking down those provisions of BCRA §203 that prohibited corporations, nonprofit corporations, and unions from spending on “electioneering communications"

      This says nothing about individuals.

      Wiki also says,

      Citizens United paved the way for the creation of independent expenditure political action committees, sometimes dubbed Super PACs. These organizations may accept unlimited contributions from individuals, unions, and corporations (both for profit and not-for-profit) for the purpose of making independent expenditures.

      However, it's my understanding that even before the CU decision, an individual was permitted to spend an unlimited amount for ads in favor of a candidate, as long as there was no coordination. Because of the CU decision, a super PAC substantially funded by Sheldon Adelson can run uncoordinated ads supporting Gingrich. However, even without the CU decision, Sheldon Adelson could have paid for uncoordinated ads in favor of Gingrich.

    2. The Real AnonymousMarch 14, 2012 at 6:31 PM


      What Changed in the 2010 Election Cycle....

      As explained in the sections below, federal political committees have long been subject to limits on the funds they raise, although they could spend such funds without limit provided they did so independently of candidates and parties. This year, however, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in v. FEC struck down the federal limits on contributions to federal political committees that make only independent expenditures and do not contribute to candidates or political parties...

      Thus, independent expenditure committees, dubbed “Super PACs,” are now permitted to raise unlimited sums of money from INDIVIDUALS, CORPORATIONS and UNIONS." (The emphasis is mine)

    3. The Real AnonymousMarch 14, 2012 at 7:47 PM

      " Individual contributions were not affected by the CU decision. They were permitted all along."

      Unlimited individual contributions have only been allowed since 2010. This is the first presidential cycle featuring them.

      Previously, they were against the law.

      While it was v. FEC that changed this, it is not inaccurate to refer to this as the "Post Citizens United Era."

  3. Interesting numbers. One thing I would suggest is that the participants have become more effective and efficient in their spending. I would also suggest that with respect to super pacs, a lot of spending occurs in ways that don't show up in the public numbers.

    As a veteran of a couple of political campaigns, I draw analogies between each election year, and the old musical, "Brigadoon". It's as if after each election, we fall asleep, for about six months or so, and then awaken to an entirely different world.

  4. If going by past history is any indicator, usually long before this point in the GOP primaries the money guys have chosen who they want to have as the front-runner and are pouring their resources into that person. An outlier like Paul or Cain might get away with taking an unimportant early primary like Iowa or Maine, but long before the end of the season they've been flushed away on a tide of big donations and attack ads. It looks to me like the big money people aren't convinced that any of the current GOP candidates can win in November (and they are probably right), thus they don't want to throw a lot of money at the problem and the primaries are being allowed to spin on without their influence. If Romney won't even put his own money in, that says something.

    Personally, I expected the kingmakers to coalesce behind Perry. He's got the formula that's worked so reliably for them in the past -- governor of Texas, good hair, stridently Christian, dumb as a sack of hammers. I can only assume there's some fire behind those smoky rumors that he's gay, otherwise he'd be up there.

    But this is just a guess - even if true, there's no way any of the money people would admit it. We can only go by what they do, and since they have more bucks than God and aren't using them, there must be a reason.

  5. To be fair to "the buzz" about "obscene amounts of cash in this post-Citizens United era:"

    1) Pointing to this GOP primary season to show CU isn't having an impact may very well be equivalent to laughing at Al Gore on a snowy day.

    and 2) It should be conceded that the amounts in question remain obscene, even at these lower-than-usual levels.

    Many people were, quite reasonably, concerned about the huge, defining role of money in our electoral processes well before "the post-CU era." I think including you, Bob. No?

  6. I'm not surprised spending is down...fundraising too, for that matter. The period under consideration is through January 31. At this point in 2008, there were six contests. In 2012, there were only 5. If you look at the spending levels both years, campaigns burn through cash as soon as they can raise it. But in 2008, only Clinton and Obama had at least a cushion left at this point. In 2008, Super Tuesday was February 5 (right after the time period ending January 31) and that included Boston, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles that year. Candidates would have already been spending money in those markets. That was not the case this year.

    I think the parties have tactically moved these primaries around so that it is less expensive to keep a campaign going. I know it sounds odd, but I think candidates always have large donors who give when their state comes up for a primary, but won't be giving until they know the candidate is actually going to be around. "Staying in until Super Tuesday" has a different meaning in 2012 than it did in 2008.

    In 2008 also, you had a very strange Guiliani campaign that made Florida more expensive for everyone who actually wanted to win that state.

    I am going to guess that the spending is going to be down in February as well. The only relatively expensive media markets covered in February are DC/VA, Atlanta and Boston. But these major markets weren't heavily contested primaries this time around.