Opinion Asks: Money in Politics

by The Dartmouth Opinion Staff | 2/22/16 6:45pm

In this election cycle, how has money helped or harmed candidates?

The 2016 presidential race has been all about the political outsiders. Indeed, candidates seen as politically connected and backed by their respective party establishments have struggled. After the South Carolina primary, Jeb Bush — the GOP candidate who raised the highest amount of money — dropped out of the 2016 race due to consistently poor results despite high campaign spending. Money raised from super PACs is seen as an indicator of being a part of the establishment, and Bush has raised $124.1 million by PACs alone, the most of any candidate. Hillary Clinton comes in a distant second with $57.5 million from PACs, and she too has had to fight off attacks questioning her trustworthiness and establishment status. Bernie Sanders, her opponent for the Democratic nomination, staunchly opposes corporate super PACs and has surged to seriously challenge Clinton over the past few months. Sanders’ surge reveals how candidates who accept and spend large sums of money from a few donors must overcome voters’ perception of them as corrupt and self-interested establishment candidates. Voters even see billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump as anti-establishment due to him mostly self-funding his campaign and his relatively low campaign expenditures.

- Anmol Ghavri ’18

I think this election cycle has shown that the candidate with the largest war chest no longer automatically becomes the favorite. With candidates getting a lot of publicity through Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms that either were not nearly as large as they are now or did not exist in 2008 — the last time we had an incumbent-free presidential election ­— paid advertising (an area in which Obama spent 65 percent of his campaign funds in 2012) no longer carries the importance it once did. Even though many Democrats seem to have responded to Bernie Sanders’ message that the Citizens United decision undermines American democracy, super PACs ironically appear to be playing an increasingly less important role. Just ask Jeb Bush, who spent $130 million before bowing out of the election after failing to finish higher than fourth place or with more than 11 percent of the vote in the GOP’s first three elections.

- Daniel Fishbein ’19

My first instinct is to comment on the obvious: money has ironically seemed to harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The prevalence of super PAC funding for the Clinton campaign juxtaposes drastically with Bernie Sanders’s lack thereof and, in turn, alienates your average American voter. I don’t know about you, but getting 20 emails a day from someone with a disproportionately large amount of funding doesn’t exactly incite me to contribute.

- Dorothy Qu ’19

While there is no doubt that money influences United States’ elections, campaign expenditures in no way guarantee success. It’s still relatively early, but the 2016 election cycle has made that very clear thus far. Following a poor showing in the South Carolina primary, Republican hopeful Jeb Bush suspended his campaign. According to a Washington Post article, Bush spent a whopping $368 per vote through the South Carolina primary. Donald Trump, on the other hand, spent only $64 per vote and decisively won two of the first three contests. With $114 million already raised by early summer, Bush was seen as being at the forefront of the Republican field. In contrast, Trump has received little outside support, using the self-funded nature of his campaign to promote his candidacy. His campaign has staked its reputation on being an insurgency, a referendum on interest groups and money-fueled politics. As voters, we shouldn’t lose sight of the role that money plays in elections. But, it’s also incumbent upon us to realize that its role may be more complex than we initially thought.

- Sarah Perez ’17, Opinion Editor

In this campaign cycle, money has become an ambiguous force like never before. Once thought to be so critical in order to ensure political success, money has proven to be much more difficult to understand in this campaign cycle. Take for instance Donald Trump, who has spent $17.8 million dollars on his campaign so far. Contrast his campaign spending with that of most recent drop-out from the race, Jeb Bush, who, in total, spent almost $100 million dollars more than Trump on his campaign. What’s fascinating about this is not only that the Trump campaign has garnered more support than a recently ended campaign that spent $130 million, but that one of Trump’s talking points is his personal wealth. He’s a business man. He’s successful. He can’t be bought by Wall Street. The extent of his personal wealth seems to be far more important that the “wealth” of his campaign. You can observe the same increase in complexity on the Democratic front as well. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have the economic resources to run effective, far-reaching campaigns, but the source of their money is far different. Three-fourths of Sander’s campaign funds come from individual small gifts, and one-fourth from individual large gifts, whereas the reverse is true of Clinton. Both go to great lengths to emphasize the sources of their money, trying to dispel the idea that politicians can be bought. Now more than ever, money seems to occupy a complex and intriguing position on the path to becoming president.

- Ben Szuhaj ’19

It seems to me like there is a necessary amount of money campaigns need to be able to get its message out. But I don’t think more money is better. Once the threshold needed for visibility has been crossed, I think that voters care about the actual message and not about any fundraising records and donor groups behind each candidate. So, I do not think money has hurt or helped candidates as long as they were able to gain access to the average voter. And although candidates have criticized one another for the source of their campaign funding, I don’t think these criticisms have changed the game for any candidate.

- Reem Chamseddine ’17