As USA Today reports, eight of the 10 biggest contributors to SuperPACs this election cycle have been backers of conservative causes or candidates.
And those are only the contributions that have become public record.
American Crossroads Super PAC, headed by Karl Rove, reports that it had raised $99.8 million by the end of March, but thanks to the Citizens United decision and other vagaries of federal law, it is not required to disclose who contributed that money. We know only that it has received 24 donations of a million dollars or more, and two donations of $10 million or more, and together those large donations account for 87 percent of its contributions.
In stark contrast, The New York Times reported Saturday that the Obama campaign is struggling a bit to tap big-money contributors, “with sharp dropoffs in donations from nearly every major industry forcing it to rely more than ever on small contributions and a relative handful of major donors….”
“From Wall Street to Hollywood, from doctors and lawyers, the traditional big sources of campaign cash are not delivering for the Obama campaign as they did four years ago,” the Times reports.
The numbers are stark. As the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute reports, 44 percent of the money raised by the Obama campaign so far has come in contributions of $200 or less. In contrast, small donors account for just 9 percent of the cash raised so far by Mitt Romney. As of late March, he had raised less from small donors than either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, the guys and gals on Wall Street are also placing their bets.
“… so far this election, Mr. Romney is taking in far more money from financial firms than the president. By the end of March, the Romney camp had collected more than $12 million from bankers and other financial professionals, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
By contrast, Mr. Obama’s campaign took in at least $4.2 million from people in those industries in the same period, according to the same tally.”
The inflow of cash is also affecting congressional races. As the New York Times reports:
“The conservative groups that helped Republicans win the House in 2010 are pouring money this year into an aggressive campaign to capture the Senate, a goal that they consider just as vital as winning the White House.
Already, they have committed at least $17 million to television commercials in more than a dozen states from Florida to Hawaii, in most cases dwarfing what their Democratic opponents have spent. Their plans call for an effort that will exceed $100 million by Election Day, strategists for these groups said, far surpassing their efforts in 2010, a high-water mark for outside money in politics….
The Chamber of Commerce, which, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, spent more than $30 million on congressional races in 2010, said it will commit “measurably more” this year to House and Senate campaigns in what officials called the most significant political effort in its 100-year history.”
The defense industrial complex is making a play as well. As Politico reports, the defense industry is backing Republican candidates much more heavily than in recent cycles, with 60 percent of its contributions going to GOP candidates.
Now, there’s no need to shed tears for the poor, underfunded Obama campaign. Overall, it continues to do quite well in its fundraising, although nobody really knows how much money will come pouring into the conservative Super PACs run by Rove and others as the race really begins to heat up.
On the other hand, things may be considerably tougher for Democrats lower on the ballot. If individual candidates are targeted for defeat by deep-pocket GOP Super PACs, they may not have the financial resources they would need to respond.
This imbalance is, I think, the most important political story of this campaign cycle. It tells you a lot about the true nature of the race, the forces that are at work behind the scenes and what’s really at stake in this year’s outcome.
If the big-money investment pays off and the GOP ends up with control of both the White House and Congress, you will see a significant impact on the policies and priorities coming out of Washington. Tax law, environmental rules, labor relations, entitlements — we’re likely to see a repeat on the national level of what Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin attempted to do at the state level in 2011. It will make the Bush years seem tame by comparison.
On the other hand, if Obama wins despite the big-money contributions arrayed against him, he may start his second and final term feeling somewhat liberated from Wall Street and other big-money interests. Oh, he’ll still owe them. But what he owes them they may not like.
– Jay Bookman