FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Following the Money Trail

One of the biggest mistakes a voter can make is to project their own values onto a political candidate. The glittering generalities of the candidates, unfortunately, make such projections extremely common. Voters hear candidates making vague claims in support of the middle class or workers, and assume that those candidates retain a strong commitment to redistributive justice. Barack Obama has perhaps been the most successful in using glittering generalities, with his continued commitment to the “audacity of hope” and “change we can believe in,” as prime examples. Such slogans may make for nice sound bites, but are of little substantive value in identifying Obama’s actual positions on key issues.

Obama’s attempts to appeal to working Americans offer more of the same ambiguity. In one speech from this February, he promised: “as our economy changes, let’s be the generation that ensures our nation’s workers are sharing in our prosperity. Let’s protect the hard-earned benefits their companies have promised. Let’s make it possible for hardworking Americans to save for retirement. And let’s allow our unions and their organizers to lift up this country’s middle-class again.” Such claims, although often cited by conservative media pundits as “proof” of Democratic Party “socialism,” provide little basis for assessing how the party will enact progressive change.

While rhetorical support for American workers and unions is very common amongst Demorats, how does their rhetoric reflect the reality of campaign politics in America today? A review of the major economic forces behind American elections is sobering, if for no other reason than because of the dramatic difference between campaign rhetoric and reality.

Scholars have long identified the increased role of money in the campaign process. The 2008 election has proven no different, as the combined funds raised by all of the candidates running in House, Senate, and Presidential races totals an astounding $1.1 billion, as of January 2008 ­ $347 million raised in the House, $154 million in the Senate, and $583 million for the Presidency. The Democratic, rather than the Republican Party, has proven the most savy in raising massive sums, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama place first and second place in terms of the most money raised (at $116 million and $102 million respectively). Republicans’ funds are less in comparison, with frontrunner John McCain raising a total of $41 million, and Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Huckabee respectively at $88.5 million, $60.9 million, and $9 million.

Democrats often claim that they will fight for American workers, against the special interests of corporate American and white collar elites. Hillary Clinton has proclaimed herself a champion of blue collar interests, although her track record indicates otherwise.

As a member of the Wal-Mart board of directors from 1986-1992, she presided over a company that is notorious for its anti-worker and anti-union initiatives. A recent report from ABC News highlights Clinton’s continued refusal to speak up in favor of worker interests at Wal-Mart board meetings; one former company board members admits he has “no recollection of Clinton defending unions during more than 20 board meetings held in private.”

Democrats’ claims that they are the party of the common worker would seem a lot more plausible if they were not so heavily reliant on corporate sponsorship. As of January, Clinton received 56% of her funds from business groups and individuals, as opposed to only 11% from labor, while only 25% of Obama’s funds came from business, none came from labor. Obama’s relations with labor interests rival those of Republicans, as McCain Romney, Giuliani, Huckabee all similarly accepted between 0-1% of their funds from union members and labor organizations. Out of the seven major candidates in the 2008 Presidential race (Clinton, Obama, Edwards, McCain, Huckabee, Romney, and Giuliani), only Edwards received more money from labor than business (accepting 4% and 52% of his funds from business and labor respectively). It hardly seems coincidental, considering his campaign funding sources, that Edwards was the most populist, critical candidate of corporate America.

While Edwards was promoting a progressive policy platform, other leading Democrats were busy courting major American industries. Hillary Clinton is consistently a top recipient of money from a wide variety of industries, ranking number one amongst both Democrats and Republicans in funds received from computer and Internet companies, commercial banks, health professionals, health services and HMOs, hospitals and nursing homes, lawyers and law firms, hedge funds, miscellaneous health care interests, pharmaceutical and health product producers, real estate groups, securities and investment interests, and television, movie, and music companies. Barack Obama is consistently the second highest recipient of contributions from all these industries, with the exceptions of hedge funds, real estate, and telephone interests.

On a bi-partisan level, business continues to dominate the campaign contribution process. In recent years, the split between business and labor donations has remained rather stable, although extremely lopsided. Business contributions have ranged between 72% and 75% of all contributions received by candidates during the 2000 through 2008 elections, while labor donations accounted for only between 3% and 7% of all donations. In an electoral system more and more reliant on mass amounts of funding, business interests are poised to strengthen their already privileged position. Successful political leaders have learned that they need to court business interests if they are to succeed in Congressional races with increasingly exorbitant entrance prices. While the typical winner in a Senate race raised an average of $5.2 million in 1998, that number had skyrocketed to $9.6 million in 2006 ­ an 85% increase. Similarly, the typical winner in a House race, while raising an average of $650,000 in 1998, needed to raise $1.2 million by 2006 (also an 85% increase).

Scholarly studies of the media identify candidates’ images, personalities, and horse-race politics, rather than exploration of substantive policy issues, as at the heart of the mediated electoral contest. The Wall Street Journal recently conceded this point in time for the “Super Tuesday” primaries, with its headline: “Issues Recede in 2008 Contest As Voters Focus on Character.” In their book Covering Campaigns, Peter Clarke and Susan Evans highlight journalists’ lack of interest in the major issues in their coverage of Congressional elections. Similarly, Political Scientist Thomas Patterson argues that election “coverage is framed within the context of a competitive game rather than being concerned with basic issues of policy.” As election coverage degenerates into a popularity contest between different personalities, more important substantive questions about the role of money in national elections remain unexplored.

Note: all of the statistics in this report are publicly available through the Center for Responsive Politics, at www.opensecrets.org

ANTHONY DIMAGGIO has taught Middle East Politics and American Government at Illinois State University. His book, Mass Media, Mass Propaganda: Understanding the News in the “War on Terror,” is due out in April. He can be reached at: adimag2@uic.edu

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Anthony DiMaggio is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. He holds a PhD in political communication, and is the author of the newly released: The Politics of Persuasion: Economic Policy and Media Bias in the Modern Era (Paperback, 2018), and Selling War, Selling Hope: Presidential Rhetoric, the News Media, and U.S. Foreign Policy After 9/11 (Paperback: 2016). He can be reached at: anthonydimaggio612@gmail.com

November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
Patrick Howlett-Martin
A Note on the Paris Peace Forum
Joseph G. Ramsey
Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?
Weekend Edition
November 09, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing
Andrew Levine
What Now?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Chuck and Nancy’s House of Cards
Brian Cloughley
The Malevolent Hypocrisy of Selective Sanctions
Marc Levy
Welcome, Class of ‘70
David Archuleta Jr.
Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry
Nick Pemberton
When It Comes To Stone Throwing, Democrats Live In A Glass House
Ron Jacobs
Impeach!
Lawrence Davidson
A Tale of Two Massacres
José Tirado
A World Off Balance
Jonah Raskin
Something Has Gone Very Wrong: An Interview With Ecuadoran Author Gabriela Alemán
J.P. Linstroth
Myths on Race and Invasion of the ‘Caravan Horde’
Dean Baker
Good News, the Stock Market is Plunging: Thoughts on Wealth
David Rosen
It’s Time to Decriminalize Sex Work
Dan Glazebrook
US Calls for a Yemen Ceasefire is a Cynical Piece of Political Theatre
Jérôme Duval
Forced Marriage Between Argentina and the IMF Turns into a Fiasco
Jill Richardson
Getting Past Gingrich
Dave Lindorff
Not a Blue Wave, But Perhaps a Foreshock
Martha Rosenberg
Dangerous, Expensive Drugs Aggressively Pushed? You Have These Medical Conflicts of Interest to Thank
Will Solomon
Not Much of a Wave
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Yemeni War Deaths are Five Times Higher Than You’ve Been Led to Believe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail