And the Media
Political campaigns, particularly at the federal level require a great deal of money to be executed effectively and this can be seen throughout the political history of the United States. Political financing of campaigns has been viewed as a somewhat necessary evil that is a critical factor in ensuring the success of a particular candidate and political donations are considered to be a means through which individuals and organizations can support their chosen candidate in accordance with the democratic system. However, the undue advantage that a candidate may derive from exorbitant contributions from individual entities has been recognized by various institutions throughout the history of the country as well as the recognition of the potentially gratuitous influence that a particular donating entity may be able to exert should their chosen candidate win. In order, to counteract this, institutions, individual legislators and action committees have attempted to institute reforms through a variety of measures such as constitutional amendments and election commission regulations. Most of these measures have proven to be ineffective because of easily exploitable loopholes and or judicial decisions that have served to overrule these attempted reforms.
Therefore, it is assumed that campaign financing is an issue that is integral to the political process and will continue to be decisive for the foreseeable future. This paper, will seek to analyze the various means and mediums employed by campaigners to acquire financing for their respective campaigns, initially assessing the history of campaign finance in the United States, followed by an examination of contemporary social media and there supportive technologies that have caused a campaign financing and political revolution as proven by the recently concluded 2012 Presidential election.
- Early History of American Campaign Finance
America has had a long and conflicted history with the issue of political campaign financing, the country’s history has been riddled with instances, where the various scandals and evidence of the exploitability of loopholes within existing mechanisms has resulted in reactionary attempts to control campaign financing. The concept of campaigning or fundraising for political campaigns was nonexistent in the country upon its inception and for many of its early years. This began to change in 1828, during a Presidential election contested by Andrew Jackson. Jackson enlisted the help of Martin Van Buren one of the pioneers of the modern concept of “political machinery” (Arendt Center) who formulated a consummate campaign that would target the masses and seek to acquire funds from the public to aid their bid, Jackson would subsequently win this election (Arendt Center). The Jackson campaign of 1828 can be considered to be the first example of a political campaign (Bacher). Jackson and Van buren can also be credited with introducing the cynical “spoils system” (Arendt Center) to American politics. The “spoils system” was a way with which to ensure votes and funds for the political campaign by promising government jobs to individuals who would contribute funds and or vote for Jackson (Arendt Center). This landmark campaign can be seen to have triggered an unprecedented degree of competitiveness amongst Presidential candidates during future elections. This increased competitiveness also began to highlight the growing need for campaign financing and on occasion Congress was forced to enact legislation in an attempt to curb the aggressive solicitation of campaigning funds from Navy dockyard workers and Civil Servant (Ross). Additionally, Abraham Lincoln was nearly bankrupted by his Presidential election campaign that exhausted his own personal wealth and contributions from followers (Barker). The need for wealthy individuals to finance Presidential campaigns became more and more apparent and in 1872 Republican party nominee Ulysses Grant was successful in acquiring a vast amount of contributions from a few wealthy individuals such as industrialist Jay Cooke (Barker).
This void was eventually filled by large corporations and industrialists that began to donate hefty amounts to political campaigns and this trend continued until Teddy Roosevelt, who was one of corporate financings biggest benefactors decided to advocate measures preventing corporations from donating directly to individual candidates and limiting donations from individual entities (Bacher), the result of this was the passing of the Tillman Act, which served to legally codify Roosevelt’s proposals (Bacher). Roosevelt’s actions came in the face of growing public criticism over the perceived influence corporations were wielding over politicians (Bacher). This act was nonetheless, still prone to exploitation and in a bid to amend this Congress enacted new laws including the Publicity and the Federal Corrupt Practices Act of 1925. These acts however, did not succeed in dissuading corporations from donating or candidates from accepting funding from corporations. The enactment of the FCPA resulted in the formation of the first known Political Action committees (PAC’s) which assumed responsibility for collecting donations from large corporate donors on behalf of candidates (Bacher).
- American Campaign Finance (1960-2000)
The arrival of broadcast television into the American public domain, permanently altered the way in which election campaigns were conducted and exponentially increased associated costs (Bacher). Television advertisements became essential for any Presidential candidate in order, to reach masses of people, and while these advertisements afforded campaigns the possibility of a larger base of donors they also increased the cost to run a campaign greatly (Bacher). While PAC’s were still primarily responsible for acquiring funding for candidates it had become clear that new regulations would be necessary to bring unchecked spending on media campaigning in control. This was achieved initially by the federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA), which was ratified by President Nixon and attempted to limit the amount of money spent on media advertisements by candidates (Bacher). These limits had a large impact on the Presidential elections of 1972 where candidates, President Nixon and McGovern spent unprecedentedly low amounts on their respective campaigns (Jamieson 291). This election was also subject to acute financial shortages which were faced by the Democratic Party, and 1972 is the first instance of an election where a Presidential candidate appealed to voters for funding during television advertisements (Jamieson 292). The subsequent Watergate scandal and allegations of improprieties with campaign finance forced Nixon to eventually resign and Congress added amendments to FECA, which would attribute to it sweeping powers, with the formulation of an independent regulatory body, known as the Federal Election Commission (Bacher).
- Methods of Acquiring Funds
Throughout American history supporters and political action committees supporting specific candidates have attempted to use a variety of methods in order to secure funds for their chosen candidates. A traditional and highly successful method of achieving this is the conventional fundraising event. These events are targeted towards a particular community that may be susceptible to the candidate’s agenda and have financially supported similar ideological positions in the past. Republican’s have traditionally attempted to target Wall Street based bankers and stockbrokers as well as Texas based oil industrialists, whereas Democrats are said to have a steady donor base in Hollywood, where A-list actors such as Warren Beattie and Madonna have been involved in not only donating funds but also organizing fundraising activities (Polsby 55). Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis employed this strategy with respect to the Greek community, which he belonged to in 1988, by appealing to ethnicity, he managed to raise $ 8.1 million (Polsby 56). Similarly, President Bill Clinton managed to raise $3.5 million from his home constituency of Arkansas by concentrating fundraising efforts in the state (Polsby 56).
One of the traditional mediums that have been employed in order, solicit donations from mass audiences that cannot be reached using fundraising events is direct mailing lists. These lists are generated through computers, which produce a list of individuals that have contributed in the past or may be willing to contribute in the future, these individuals are then directly mailed with requests for donations. This system was conceptualized by Republican National committee chairman William Brock in the 1970’s (Polsby 56) and by the end of the decade close to 805 of donations to Republican Party campaigns were acquired through direct mailing lists (Polsby et al., 56). Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis was able to raise $3.2 million through mailing lists. Right wing demagogue Pat Buchanan, ran an extensive direct mailing list campaign which successfully garnered 44million in donations for his candidacy for the Republican party nomination (Polsby 56). Other usage of traditional media includes newspapers. For example Paul Tsongas placed an ad taking up half of the back page of the Boston Globe, asking for donations. This ad successfully raised $1.8 million in donations (Polsby 56). Another popular method of fundraising has involved the usage of phone-ins, whereby supporters call toll free numbers to make promises of financial donations. This method was employed by Jerry Brown and he publicized his usage of phone-ins through the Howard Stern Radio show, a move which proved to be increasingly fruitful (Polsby 56).
- Internet Social Media & Campaign Fundraising
The successful usage of the internet as a means to acquire funds for a political campaign earnestly began during the 2004 elections (McNamara 161), when Howard Dean managed to raise $150,000 per day through his website in his bid to achieve the Democratic party nomination for the 2004 elections (Polsby 56). Similarly, John Kerry the man who won the Democratic party nomination and went on to challenge George W Bush in the 2004 elections managed to raise 482 million online, a significant portion of total campaign financing (Polsby 57).
The contemporary environment with regards to political fundraising has largely been colored by the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In line with previous rulings, the court once again equated corporate donations with freedom of speech (Greenfield). This ruling served to remove many of the restrictions on the corporate financing of candidates and lifted many of the limits that candidates and corporations were previously subject to (Greenfield). The dissenting judge in this ruling was Justice Stevens who felt that the institutions that formed the pillars of democracy had been undermined by this ruling (Supreme Court).
Prior to the Citizens United Ruling, Democratic Party nominee Barack Obama had already managed to significantly alter the political campaigning financing scenario during his presidential campaign of 2008. It is estimated that Obama’s election campaign of 2008 had successfully raised 4750 million in funds from donors (McNamara 162), where a majority of the funds were acquired online (McNamara 162). Obama’s campaigning team recognized the importance of the internet and social media very early in the campaign and made an attempt to reach out to the widest proportion of possible voters and donors through this medium, and the amount of supporters that were garnered was unprecedented where over two million individuals became members of Obama’s personalized social network, five million individuals supported Obama over fifteen social networks and Barack Obama was active on over 19 different social networks (McNamara 162). The Obama campaign understood that a large amount of voters were reliant on the internet for news and information about the elections and anticipated the increasing importance of the medium in forming opinions and targeting the relevant demographic (McNamara 162). This campaign was conducted in concordance with other traditional fundraising techniques such as fundraising dinners and television ads, which garnered such a large sum for the campaign (Aaker and Chang). The remarkable fact about the bama campaign was not in the amount, which was acquired as this amount was largely matched by Republican candidate John Mc Cain but it was the amount of total individual donations (McNamara 161). While the McCain campaign had to largely rely on PAC’s and large corporate donations Obama’s campaign focused on individual donations. According to Barry fifty eight percent of donations were under one thousand dollars and thirty percent of these amounted to less than 200 dollars each. Furthermore, over 6 million dollars worth of donations were made by 3 million different donors (Barry).
American political financing history indicates that new and creative ways of soliciting funds must be sought by politicians, in order to keep abreast of voter needs. The internet has proven to be a valuable method of campaign fundraising as overhead costs are almost non-existent while the potential to reach millions of potential voters and donors can be enjoyed.
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