In 1895, Senator Mark Hanna of Ohio was quoted as saying, ”There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money and I can’t remember what the second one is.” Money has been called the mother’s milk of politics. Despite all kinds of rules, regulations and reforms, the American political system is awash in money and has been since even before the United States was established as a country.
For example, George Washington “the father of our country” is said to have spent a small fortune of his own money during his campaign for a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1757. Of course political campaigns were a bit different back then (his biggest expense was buying and distributing more than a quart and a half of rum, wine, beer, and hard cider for every voter). Money has also been called “a necessary evil” in politics. Simply put, it takes a whole lot of money to win elections.
Even politicians with the most wholesome of intentions must raise a tremendous amount of money to have a shot at winning an election. Whether it is for a seat in Congress or for the presidency, the amount of money needed to win a national election these days is enormous. According to OpenSecrets.org, campaigns for Republicans, Democrats and other political parties spent nearly $6.5 billion during the 2016 Presidential and Congressional elections.
But why so much and where does the money go? It takes money to pay a campaign staff and buy materials. It takes money for a campaign to be taken seriously by the press. It even takes money to raise more money.
And perhaps more than anything, it takes an awful lot of money to buy television, radio and social media advertisements which are virtually mandatory for any national political campaign and for many local and statewide ones as well. As candidates and political parties battle to win elections, they are forced to raise ever-greater sums of money. According to FiveThirtyEight.com the candidate that had raised and spent the most money won roughly 90% of the 2016 election races. Members of Congress and the President also must spend a lot of time and energy and money raising funds for their next election.
In 1986, when he ran for the U.S. Senate from Colorado, Congressman Timothy Wirth asked his campaign staff to keep track of how he spent his time. The answer shocked Wirth, even though he had been a member of the House for six terms. He spent 85 percent of his time raising money.
With all the money being dumped into campaigns it is easy to see why the average citizen can become discouraged about getting involved in political issues today. So often, it seems hopeless to fight the big money and powerful corporate interests that are so prevalent in today’s political scene. However, I believe money is far from everything when it comes to politics.
Remember, the whole reason that politicians raise and spend money is to get votes to put them or keep them in office. Ultimately in political campaigns it is the voters that mean everything. Campaign money is so important because it provides ways for politicians to get their name and their message in front of voters.
I believe active, attentive and persistent voters can beat political money especially with the emergence of social media platforms. A few winning campaigns in 2016 showed this to be true. The United States is a democracy and as former Congressman Walter H. Judd noted, “People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote – a very different thing.”