We all know that the 2012 election campaign will be the most expensive ever, costing billions.
Already each presidential candidate and their national party committees have raised about $500 million since April 2011, when the president announced he was running for re-election.
So far this year, President Obama has raised about $277 million while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has taken in about $100 million less. Romney got a lot of headlines when he outraised the president by $17 million in May, the first month in which that’s happened.
And then there are SuperPACs, independent groups that can now raise unlimited amounts and don’t have to disclose their donors under the Supreme Court’s notorious 2010 Citizens United decision. They’ve already raised over $200 million, according to opensecrets.org.
Here, Romney will certainly have the advantage as Wall Street tycoons and conservative billionaires line up to contribute. One billionaire, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, was reportedly ready to make “limitless” contributions, more than $100 million, to Romney to defeat the president.
Meanwhile wealthy Democratic donors are sitting on their hands in principled opposition to SuperPACs. Typical, isn’t it?
Where does that money go? Overwhelmingly into local television ads in a handful of swing states where the election will be decided.
Here’s how Joshua Green puts it in an excellent Bloomberg BusinessWeek profile of the president’s campaign manager, Jim Messina:
November will be a contest between two different visions of government but also between competing ideas about how to reach voters. Romney’s campaign will take a traditional approach, heavy on television advertising and backed by a massive war chest…
Romney and his allies are certain to hold the financial upper hand, not least because the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 allowed for a flood of corporate cash. The unspoken hope in Chicago is that superior strategy and a shrewd use of technology can make up for Obama’s diminished stature and more formidable opponent.
What kind of technology? The Web 1.0 technology the campaign used last time, heavy on email lists and contacts, plus the Web 2.0 explosion we’ve seen since then, primarily mobile communications and Facebook. According to Green, Messina spent a lot of time consulting with tech heavyweights like the late Steve Jobs and Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt to craft a strategy.
The strategy appears to be in line with technology trends that have only accelerated in the recession: cutting the cable TV cord, migrating to Internet video and Netflix, abandoning land lines for cell phones, as well as emerging technologies, of the kind DirecTV is testing, that will allow viewers to zap more ads. All these things would prevent many traditional TV political ads from reaching potential voters.
As The Huffington Post reported:
Fewer people are kicking back on the couch to watch live TV, a long-term trend that shows no signs of reversing itself. Even as record amounts of money are being shoveled at local network affiliates lucky enough to have media markets in swing states, a new generation of consultants has its eye on the post-television era.
This is hard to track, but I would guess it won’t be enough to overcome the flood of billionaires’ cash this cycle, which is why this election will be so close. But ultimately, maybe starting in 2016, it could offer a free market solution to the disaster Citizens United has created.