Americans and Democrats in particular are facing a somewhat new phenomenon in electoral politics. Everyone knows money is a huge factor in any election and there is much consternation about how much money is too much money. But what about apparently unlimited money? People regularly grouse about the undue influence of money in elections and there are recurring efforts to control campaign money. Now comes Billionaire Michael Bloomberg willing to spend however much it takes to win. He has already spent about $500 million and is literally prepared to spend BILLIONS of his own money! Can Bloomberg actually personally buy a presidential election?
Bloomberg’s electoral largesse may seem obscene, but the reality is it takes money to get elected. It’s impossible to knock on every door, so the challenge is reaching the voters. Voters care, but sadly the average voter is typically not engaged until the last few weeks before any election. Only a small fraction investigate the candidates and watch all the debates; the masses find all the election drama boring and tedious. So any candidate must have ample money to reach the voters through aggressive pervasive advertising in the weeks prior to the vote. That’s why the air waves are flooded with radio ads, TV is filled with back to back ads, and your mailbox is overflowing with mailers. Candidates are trying to get your attention and that takes a pile of money, so whoever can afford to get their message out is likely to win.
It would seem then that whoever spends the most money would always win, so it would seem limiting campaign money would alleviate this problem. The issue though is money equals speech; it allows candidates to reach voters. And if people like what they hear, they can exercise their free speech by donating to get more of their candidate’s message to more people. But if campaign expenditures are limited, then many voters may never learn about the candidates they like or dislike. Limiting campaign money is not the answer, but there should be full transparency so voters know who is paying to talk to them.
Fox News Anchor Tucker Carlson asked is it possible that Bloomberg could overwhelm the electorate with a slick ubiquitous advertising campaign? Carlson noted that Bloomberg is not really advancing any particular policies. He is just saturating media with platitudes; he just says he will make the economy, health care, climate, or whatever better. His ads just say Mike is a good guy, a nice guy, a competent guy, and “Mike will get it done.” Get what done exactly? And of course he stresses he is not Trump.
Sophisticated advertising is extremely powerful. It entices us to buy shammys, sheets, supplements, and sugar free treats. Like vulnerable consumers, could unwitting voters be swayed by super cool advertising to vote for Bloomberg? He can certainly afford to buy the very best. How do we protect the voter?
We don’t. In self-government, a free people must protect themselves and think for themselves. The solution is informed and engaged voters. Voters may procrastinate until elections day, but they are generally conscientious about how they cast their ballot. Voters may not always compare and contrast every candidate or scrutinize every policy position, but they will generally make a thoughtful decision. It may be just a gut feeling, but they will choose who they think can do the job and mostly who they believe they can trust.
For the record, the candidate who spends the most does not always win. Hillary Clinton outspent President Trump to no avail. Bloomberg is definitely getting his share of media and voter attention, but is he convincing anyone? Some Democrats are drawn to him as the best chance to beat Trump, but many Socialist Democrats cannot accept a capitalist curmudgeon. They will stay home or vote some third party. And for Trump voters there is no question. Why would Trump supporters trade a flamboyant Billionaire who is getting the job done for an old drab Billionaire making promises? Mike’s mega money will influence the election, but it won’t buy the White House. Americans have too much sense to be bought.
“Choose wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men from among your tribes, and I will make them heads over you.” Deuteronomy 1:13
Pete Riehm is the host of Common Sense Radio heard 8pm every Thursday on FMTalk106.5 or streaming at fmtalk1065.com. Email him at [email protected] or on Twitter @PeteRiehm or visit http://peteriehm.com.