Thursday, May 2, 2013

How Obama and technology changed the landscape on campaign finance

Juliet Eilperin - writing in the Washington Post - is right. President Obama has abandoned his previous efforts at campaign finance reform. I'd also suggest that so have most other thinking adults. The reason: the entire edifice of campaign finance is changing as we speak. Previous efforts at reform are quickly becoming obsolete in the new arena being created by the dramatic changes that are the result of 2 things:
  1. Obama's two presidential campaigns 
  2. Technological innovations
To demonstrate, it might be helpful to remind everyone that there are basically 3 ways that people can donate to federal political campaigns:
  1. Individuals can donate up to $2,500 to a candidate 
  2. Individuals can donate up to $30,800 to a national party
  3. Individuals and corporations can donate an unlimited amount to SuperPACs
President Obama's two presidential campaigns demonstrated that the possibilities in #1 above had been previously untapped when it comes to small individual donors. He outraised both Clinton in the primary and McCain in the general election primarily on the strength of numbers of donors giving small amounts vs a few who were limited to $2,500. By doing so, he revolutionized campaign finance at the presidential level.

Then along camp Citizens United - which allowed #3. Everyone assumed that would change the landscape and give political campaigns back to the fat cats. 

But what we saw in 2012 was that no matter how much money Karl Rove or Sheldon Adelson raised and/or spent, it didn't accomplish much. That's where technology comes it.

What the fat cats have always relied on when it comes to spending their millions of dollars is television advertising. No matter how much money they have - they still only get one vote. Their job is to use their money to influence other people's votes. That has typically been done through advertising - and mostly on TV. 

Trouble is...people don't watch television ads very much anymore. If you're not watching ad-free paid TV, you're streaming or recording minus the ads. And if you can't afford that - there's always channel-surfing or muting during the ads. So they're pretty much a waste of money.

Beyond that - new media has given everyone with a recorder on their cell phone the ability to both produce/distribute ads or record game-changing moments in a political campaign. Just take a minute to think about the one video that had the most impact on the 2012 presidential election...the one where Romney talked about the 47%. How much money did that one require? Zilch - nada.

The other way the Obama campaign changed things is that they effectively used this new media to revolutionize the whole concept of "ground game." But the bottom line was always person-to-person contact via volunteers. Money can't buy that. 

So we're in a period of HUGE upheaval when it comes to how political campaigns are organized and funded. Both the Obama campaigns and technology have upended the old assumptions about big money and what it can/can't buy. Reformers might find that their time is better spent building on these changes rather than legislating the issues of the past. I think that's exactly what President Obama had/has in mind. 

1 comment:

  1. you are right, smartypants.

    The President and his team have changed the playing field, and folks are just beginning to understand it, and they have no response. The GOP is by nature a TOP-DOWN group..they sneered at the President being a 'Community Organizer'.

    WELL, his community organizing self has beat the crap out of them twice...