This email from my good friend “Barack” came in earlier today:
We’re getting outraised — a first for a sitting president, if this continues. Not just by the super PACs and outside groups that are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into misleading ads, but by our opponent and the Republican Party, which just outraised us for the second month in a row.
We can win a race in which the other side spends more than we do. But not this much more.
So I need your help. If you believe that regular people should decide elections, then please chip in $3 or more today.
This isn’t about me or the outcome of one election.
This election will be a test of the model that got us here. We’ll learn whether it’s still true that a grassroots campaign can elect a president — whether ordinary Americans are in control of our democracy in the face of massive spending.
I believe we can do this. When all of us chip in what we can, when we can, we are the most powerful force in politics.
But today is the day to prove it. Donate now:
Thank you — for everything you’ve done before and everything you’re doing now. It matters.
Note the echo of Abraham Lincoln’s observation that the Civil War was a test of “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” Likewise, this year’s campaign is “a test of…whether ordinary Americans are in control of our democracy in the face of massive spending.” Because, of course, those who contribute to Mitt Romney’s campaign are not “ordinary Americans.”
In 2008, Obama raised far more money than any president in history, and became the first major-party nominee to forgo federal funding. In the climactic weeks of the campaign, he outspent John McCain five to one. He boasted that this year, he would do even better, promising to raise $1 billion for his re-election campaign. However, now that he has met his match, Obama has the temerity to suggest that “massive spending” is a threat to democracy.
But will Obama actually be outspent this year? I’m pretty sure that if you count only money that is voluntarily donated, Romney will outraise him. But, as the Wall Street Journal reported this morning, political spending by unions is billions of dollars greater than has generally been believed:
The usual measure of unions’ clout encompasses chiefly what they spend supporting federal candidates through their political-action committees, which are funded with voluntary contributions, and lobbying Washington, which is a cost borne by the unions’ own coffers. These kinds of spending, which unions report to the Federal Election Commission and to Congress, totaled $1.1 billion from 2005 through 2011, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The unions’ reports to the Labor Department capture an additional $3.3 billion that unions spent over the same period on political activity.
The costs reported to the Labor Department range from polling fees, to money spent persuading union members to vote a certain way, to bratwursts to feed Wisconsin workers protesting at the state capitol last year. Much of this kind of spending comes not from members’ contributions to a PAC but directly from unions’ dues-funded coffers. There is no requirement that unions report all of this kind of spending to the Federal Election Commission, or FEC.
It may well be that when these under-the-radar union contributions are counted, more money will be spent on Obama’s behalf than Romney’s. But if so, it won’t matter. Obama’s problem isn’t financial. His problem is that he can’t defend his record, and no amount of spending will make voters forget the last four years.