Campaigns & Elections' Politics - February 2008 - (Page 50)
Dick Morris Money is Losing its Mojo The intensity of free media dwarfs what candidates can hope to achieve by ﬂooding the market with TV spots. T h Iowa caucuses and some of the subhe I d f th b sequent primaries show that money, especially funding from special interests and wealthy donors, is losing its power to win elections. On both sides of the ledger—fundraising and spending—it is becoming clear that the classical fundraising matchmakers who represent donors to candidates and candidates to donors (e.g., Terry McAuliffe) are losing their central role in the process. Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign shows that funds can be raised more easily, quickly, inexpensively and cleanly online than they can through the traditional gatherings of big donors. By eliminating the transaction costs involved in direct mailing and phone solicitation, it’s clear that online fundraising produces bigger bottom lines more rapidly than any other method of campaign ﬁnancing. And by giving the campaign an easily and cheaply accessible group of online donors, online fundraising permits rapid re-solicitation as events unfold. Obama’s ability to parlay his early primary win into funding for the Florida primary and Super Tuesday illustrates how effective an online list can be. Obama’s sudden inﬂux of money gathered online offers solid evidence that campaign ﬁnance legislation is obsolete and basically redundant. The technology of online fundraising will increasingly leave the power brokers— whom campaign reformers fear—in the dustbin of history. They still have power for Senate, congressional and gubernatorial races, but more and more they will yield to the power of online solicitation. But a candidate doesn’t just develop an online fundraising base by amassing a list of e-mail addresses. She must also work the list between pitches for funds to build a base of support and a cadre of eager volunteers whom she can tap as needed to generate funds. The more exciting development, however, is on the other side of the ledger. Money itself, whether raised online or through fat cats and PACs, is losing its central importance in political campaigns. A byproduct of decreased network television viewing, advertising is no longer the sine qua ii d ti i i l th i non of American politics. The combination of decreased ratings for all network shows and the increasing viewership of the echo chamber of cable news channels makes ads less potent. Candidates who have a message—think Mike Huckabee in Iowa—and who come across well on television can build a national constituency without lots of money. When Huckabee beat Mitt Romney in Iowa, however the rest of the process unfolds, he deﬁed a massively funded campaign and beat it with a popgun. Similarly, Sen. John McCain (while not as impoverished as Huckabee) could hardly compete with Romney in spending but still managed to get his message heard. One-third of American voters (almost all of those who vote in primaries and a goodly proportion of the general election turnout) report that they regularly watch cable TV news. The 24/7 coverage it affords politics drowns out advertising. The frequency of TV debates, whose total audience comes to about half of the primary turnout, gives voters a chance to get to know candidates in depth. Talk radio on the right and National Public Radio on the left discuss politics all day, every day. And the Internet, particularly YouTube, gives politicians a way to get out their spots and their message without paying for airtime. This intensity of free media coverage dwarfs what even the best-endowed candidate can hope to achieve by ﬂooding the market with 30-second TV spots. What about races below the presidential level? Money matters more there because the intensity of media coverage is nowhere near as great as in presidential contests. But as fewer people watch network television, as races for governor and Congress attract national attention, and as the Internet pushes aside the television screen, the same trends that are now evident nationally will make themselves felt locally. Money is on its way out. Dick Morris is an author and political commentator. To get his columns for free by e-mail several times each week, sign up at DickMorris.com. 50 Politics February 2008
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Campaigns & Elections' Politics - February 2008
Campaigns & Elections' Politics - February 2008
What Happens When a Radio Station Opens Its Microphones to Everyone Running For President?
They're Baaaaack: Return of the '06 Ballot Measures
She's Got Their Vote: Ann Romney Has a Winning Message of Her Own
Movers & Shakers: Anita Dunn
What It's Like to Be: Robert Traynham
I Was a Political Hitman
Which Party Will Hispanics Call Home?
Reds & Blues: States in the Spotlight
High Road/Campaign Doc
Coming & Going: Who's Where
Quips & Slips
Campaigns & Elections' Politics - February 2008