The Buying Of A U.S. President

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - July 18, 2007

The second quarter presidential fund-raising reports came out this week - July 15, to be exact. But the candidates, particularly those eager to let media and the country know how folks are rallying to them with their dollars, have already revealed their ability to raise money.

Hawaii-born and Punahou-educated Barack Obama’s good at it. In the first quarter of 2007 he trailed Hillary Clinton, ringing up $25.7 million in receipts to the New York senator’s $36 million. In the second quarter, Obama’s taken the lead: he’s brought in $32.5 million, Clinton $27 million.

Not bad for an African-American, first-term United States senator from Illinois. Not bad at all.

The Republican front-runners aren’t doing as well. Massachusetts ex-governor Mitt Romney raised $23.5 million in the first quarter, $14 million in the second; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani did $16.6 and $17.

The biggest dollars-and-cents disappointment has been Arizona Sen. John McCain; he raised $13 million in the first quarter, $11.2 in the second. Last week he began laying off campaign staffers.

“It’s early - doesn’t mean anything,” say the barstool handicappers. “First primary is six months away. The election that counts is 15 months away.”

To be sure. But like oracle bones, the numbers can be read and lessons pondered.

The first and most obvious is that the moneyed folks are betting on the Democrats in 2008 - at this point by roughly $175 million to $112 million.

It’s easy to understand why. In last year’s general election, the Republicans lost control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, largely because of the war in Iraq. Just prior to the November 2006 congressional elections, the USA Today/Gallup poll showed President George W.

Bush with an anemic 33 percent approval rating; Newsweek had him at 31 percent; CBS at 34.

In the eight months since then, Bush has dropped four points in the USA Today poll, five in Newsweek‘s, and seven in CBS’s - 29, 26 and 27 percent respectively.

Those numbers are so dismal - and Bush remains so oblivious to the country’s mood - that even 15 months out, the usual Republican contributors are holding tight to their bill-folds and bank vaults. No one bets on a horse that shows lame right coming out of the stable.

The second lesson is to be found in Obama’s numbers. The Illinois senator lacks experience; he comes from a minority group that makes up a little more than a tenth of nation’s population. Prior to the 2004 Democratic national convention, nobody knew Obama’s name.

Still, the money pours in. Why? Unlike Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Obama opposed the invasion of Iraq from the start. That’s important. Iraq dominated the 2006 elections, and it dominates the thinking of Democrats, Independents and centrist Republicans even more so today.

Don’t believe that? Every other day for the past two weeks another Republican senator has abandoned the president on the war. John McCain hasn’t been among them. He’s clung to Bush on the issue, and his poll numbers have plummeted with his president’s.

Lesson No. 3 deals with history. He - or this year she - who raises the most money will probably win the presidency. In 2004, Bush brought in $367,228,801 for his re-election campaign, challenger John Kerry $328,457,245. Bush won - as he did in 2000 (with a lot of help from five members of the United States Supreme Court), when he raised $193,088,650 to Al Gore’s $132,804,039.

Which brings us to lesson No. 4, the most unnerving of the list: Our presidential politics have become those of a plutocracy, not a democracy. It’s estimated that by the time all the money’s counted following election year 2008, well over $1 billion will have been raised and spent by the presidential candidates.

Don’t believe it? Look at the record. In 1992, presidential candidates spent $331 million; in ‘96, $426 million; in 2000, $529 million; in 2004, $880.5 million.

The people who put up that money want something from the man, or woman, they support: tax breaks, favorable legislation sponsored or unfavorable legislation vetoed, federal regulations relaxed or stiffened.

This year’s fund-raising reports should be seen for what they really are: our quadrennial buying of an American president.

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