Can Money Buy You Love On The Campaign Trail?

by: | Jan 14, 2016

Next week marks the 6th year anniversary of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision which unleashed a huge wave of money into political campaigns. As the sums spent on campaigns grow each cycle, so have the concerns that we are electing representatives who are more beholden to the donors who help get them elected than to us, the people who actually voted for them. This is a problem because we could end up with laws that benefit special interests over common interest. If donors didn’t play such an important role in getting politicians elected, perhaps we’d have seen a raise in the federal minimum wage or an expansion of background checks for gun sales this past year, in line with public opinion.

Some pundits estimate the 2016 presidential race could cost $5 billion in total, nearly double the $2.6 billion that was spent by candidates and groups supporting them in 2012. What is all of that money for? It turns out, a majority of it is spent on ads. Fortunately, I’m a California resident: a State that votes late in the primaries, and votes consistently for democratic candidates in the general election so I am usually spared from the presidential campaign ads. I do feel sorry for Iowans right now.

One of the crazy things about this is that ads don’t even seem to work anymore. If you look at the current Republican front-runners, Trump and Carson, they have spent very little on advertising instead relying on the free media coverage they get for the many insane things they say. In a nifty infographic, NPR highlighted this apparent contradiction: ad spend does not seem to increase poll numbers. In other words, presidential candidates and the groups supporting them could waste $3 billion on ads in this election cycle — half the cost of getting 4 people to Mars! I’d rather we spend the money on space exploration…

All joking aside, this is a great opportunity for campaigns to try new things. In a campaign, there are few incentives to raise and spend less money since candidates only get one shot at winning. That said, if ads prove less effective, candidates will be pushed to experiment with new approaches and strategies, as Obama did in 2008 when he used social media better than his rivals. What are the new ideas, projects and organizations that will help candidates get elected while reducing their reliance on money in 2016 and beyond?

We’re hoping to find out! We are looking to fund the best of these projects via our Open Call for Projects to Fix Our Democracy, hosted in collaboration withthe Pluribus Project. Selected projects will get funding as well as in-kind support from New Media Ventures, the Pluribus Project or both. The deadline to apply is January 25th.

Join us in putting people back at the center of our democracy! Apply now and spread the word.