Guest Host: Susan Page

A billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, and you’ve got a record presidential election. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United has unleashed a flood of big money in the 2012 campaign from wealthy individuals and others. The new breed of Super PACs played a major role in the Republican primary fight. Now, in the general election, they are helping to finance the most intensive early barrage of TV advertising in history — and the most negative one. For the first time, an incumbent president and his allies might be outspent by his challenger. We explore the battle for bucks in the contest between President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Who’s spending what — and whether it makes a difference.

Guests

  • Jan Baran head of the election law group at Wiley Rein LLP; former general counsel to the Republican National Committee; author, "The Election Law Primer for Corporations."
  • Margie Omero president and founder, Momentum Analysis, a Democratic public opinion research firm.
  • Reid Wilson editor-in-chief of National Journal Hotline.

Transcript

  • 10:06:56

    MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's off today. Presidential campaigns are about policy issues, political visions and cold, hard cash. This year, unprecedented amounts of money are being raised and spent by President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney and by the super PACs that are reshaping the election landscape.

  • 10:07:20

    MS. SUSAN PAGEIn this hour, we'll talk about what the campaigns and super PACs are raising, where the money is being spent and how it's likely to affect the outcome. Joining me in the studio: Reid Wilson of National Journal Hotline, Republican election law expert, Jan Baran, and Democratic strategist Margie Omero. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:07:39

    MR. JAN BARANGood morning.

  • 10:07:39

    MR. REID WILSONGood morning.

  • 10:07:39

    MS. MARGIE OMEROThank you.

  • 10:07:40

    PAGEWe're going to invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850, send us an email to drshow@wamu.org, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Reid, do we know how much money is going to be spent on this presidential election this year?

  • 10:08:02

    WILSONI think we have a pretty good estimate. Those who pay close attention to this stuff have suggested that it'll be somewhere between seven and $8 billion on all campaigns altogether -- I should say all federal races, that is the presidential, the battle for the Senate, the battle for the House of Representatives. The presidential alone, we could be approaching $2.5 billion both the presidential campaigns.

  • 10:08:26

    WILSONWe've talked about them raising up to $1 billion themselves. And then, now, we're contending with these outside super PACs where people can write unlimited amounts of -- unlimited checks that could add up another several hundred million dollars.

  • 10:08:40

    PAGE$2.5 billion under presidential campaign, is that a record?

  • 10:08:44

    WILSONIt will be a record by far. The 2008 campaign cost -- all total, all federal candidates spent somewhere between five and $6 billion on politics. So now, this one is going to rewrite the record books significantly.

  • 10:09:02

    PAGESo, Jan Baran, you've been involved in a lot of campaigns over the year. How different is this in terms of the kind of the finances of the presidential campaigns?

  • 10:09:11

    BARANWell, you know, I took a look at some of the statistics before coming on today and find Reid's predictions somewhat interesting because, according to the Federal Election Commission, the total amount spent in the 2008 election was $5.2 billion. Now, that includes not just the presidential campaigns and political parties, but also political action committees, independent spending. It's reported to the commission and so on. So their total for 2008 is $5.2 billion. This year, in the presidential race, it's not generally recognized.

  • 10:09:53

    BARANThe amount of money that's being raised is less than what was raised in 2008. President Obama, of course, broke all records in 2008. In his campaign, he raised $750 million, but, of course, he had a -- an extended primary election against Sen. Clinton. And this year, there's no competition for the Democratic primary. There was competition for the Republican primary. And even in the Republican primary, Mitt Romney, who ran in 2008, raised less money this year than he did in 2008.

  • 10:10:27

    BARANAnd all the money raised by the Republican candidates in the primary election this year is less than what president -- now President Obama has raised, so I'm not really convinced that unprecedented amounts of money are going to be raised this year. It remains to be seen. We're still three to four months before the election, and that's the time when the most money gets raised and spent. But, in general, we're kind of behind where we were in 2008.

  • 10:10:55

    PAGEWell, the campaigns are behind. Does that take into account these super PACs?

  • 10:10:59

    BARANWhen you add all the money from super PACs and independent spending, because the difference in the total amount raised by the candidates is so great, I mean, it's a couple of hundred million dollars less than what was raised in 2008. The total amount raised, thus far, is about the same as in 2008. Now, where the money is being raised and where it's being spent differs.

  • 10:11:23

    BARANThere's less money being raised and spent in the presidential race. There's more money, so far, in the super PACs and independent spending. But, again, we don't know how it's all going to shake out by the time we have the November election.

  • 10:11:37

    PAGEReid.

  • 10:11:37

    WILSONA part of the lower spending or the lower rate -- amount raised by the campaigns themselves is largely due to the economic recession we've gone through. The economy was a lot better in 2007 and 2008 when the candidates were raising money last time around. What we're seeing more of this time, though, is money being raised in the congressional races, races for the House and Senate. That is making up for a little bit of this -- of that disparity, which is why I think, by the way, we get to seven or $8 billion by the time everything is all is said and done.

  • 10:12:08

    WILSONThe two candidates are raising money in very different ways though. Mitt Romney's contributions have been much larger on average than President Obama's have been. He's relied on fewer donors who write the maximum amounts of -- the maximum amount allowed under federal election law, whereas President Obama has relied on smaller donors who are getting -- who are giving $10 or $25 or $100 increments. Of course, that allows Obama to go back to those donors later and say, all right, give me another $10 or $25 or $100.

  • 10:12:38

    PAGESo, Margie, you've worked -- advised candidates for various offices. How much difference does it make whether you have the most money or not as much money as your opponent? Does that tend to determine who wins the election?

  • 10:12:51

    OMEROWell, it more like reflects which candidate people perceive as being more viable rather than -- as well as being determined. So those things vary. They move along together. As the race emerges as a competitive race, let's say you have an incumbent, you have a challenger who's really working hard. And the district looks favorable, and they raise good money. They've had some good press breaks. Maybe the incumbent has done something that the -- just had -- got bad coverage back in the District.

  • 10:13:20

    OMEROThen you start to see more money flooding into that race to help it along, from like-minded parties, from the party committees, from interested groups. And so the fact that money arrives then allows that candidate to really continue to get the message across 'cause really what we're not talking about yet is this is all about communication and reaching voters, whether it's on television, direct mail, on the ground during retail politics. That's what really this is all about is reaching voters, making sure they hear the message.

  • 10:13:50

    PAGEAnd for -- in a congressional race where the candidates aren't as well known, of course, campaign fundraising can be really hard. When you look at a presidential contest where, you know, by November, you kind of figure Americans are going to be familiar with these two candidates, does money play a different role?

  • 10:14:05

    OMEROWell, it plays a different role for sure. But it plays a role in sort of the -- how deep the different candidates can go, the two candidates can go in some of these issues and how extensive their targeting can be. And for someone like Mitt Romney, you have to remember that Mitt Romney is still a blank slate to a lot of voters. I mean, here in Washington, we've known Mitt Romney for a while. He's run for office before. People knew he was as governor. He's been -- obviously, he went through a competitive primary.

  • 10:14:32

    OMEROBut for swing voters, they are still learning about him. And what they're seeing is the television ads, I mean, ultimately, that's how they're getting a lot of their information about Mitt Romney. And so it's -- it will take months of campaign advertising from both sides to explain the Mitt Romney record, as well as, you know, be able to talk about what Obama has done in his plans for his next term.

  • 10:14:56

    PAGEJan Baran, President Obama was speaking to contributors or potential contributors on a conference call, and he was complain, which got reported in the paper. I'm sure he wasn't that happy about that. But he said to them that he risked being the first incumbent president who would be outspent by his challenger. Does that sound right to you? And if it's true, how much difference does that make?

  • 10:15:20

    BARANWell, again, I think the jury is out on that. And, of course, I've never known any candidate who goes out and says, look, oh boy, I have got all the money I need for this campaign. You don't need to give any more money. So President Obama going out and basically poor-mouthing his campaign is pretty typical of what candidates do. But in his case, what's particularly ironic is here's a guy who, according to last month's FEC report, was sitting on $120 million in cash in his campaign, and that's not including the cash on hand over at the Democratic National Committee.

  • 10:15:54

    BARANMeanwhile, Mr. Romney went through this very competitive, arduous primary campaign. And while there was a lot of money raised, although less, much less than what the Obama campaign raised, he spent it all. He's only got about 10 or $15 million in the bank. So the president is 10-1 ahead of the Republicans at this stage. And I think that we can expect both campaigns to raise a lot more money in the next four months. But I think it's highly unlikely that he "is going to be outspent by the Republicans."

  • 10:16:25

    OMEROBut Obama has himself imposed limits that Romney campaign doesn't have. I mean, he doesn't take PAC money or lobbyist money. He reports his bundlers. And the Romney campaign doesn't do any of those things. So I think that's part of...

  • 10:16:36

    BARANThat's exactly what he did in 2008. He raised $750 million. He raised $300 million more than John McCain.

  • 10:16:44

    WILSONOne of the things that we've seen, though, is that Jan brings up the point that Romney spent all his money in the first -- the primary season. What the outside groups have sort of created, the system that exists now, is that they are the ones taking up the slack, if you will. In -- just in the last week, President Obama's campaign spent about $15.8 million on television advertising. Mitt Romney only spent $3.1 million on TV ads.

  • 10:17:14

    WILSONThe difference, though, is that American -- sorry, the Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC, came in with a little more than $3 million in ad spending. We've seen a significant amount of outside ad spending sort of finding its way into the system as Romney has been rebuilding his coffers. That's what's different from the 2008 campaign and from the 2004 campaign when, if you'll remember, John Kerry essentially went dark in the month of August, wasn't able to advertise, and President Bush and the outside groups, the Swift Boat Veterans, really did their damage then.

  • 10:17:46

    PAGEAnd, Reid, how much difference does it make that this money is being raised and spent not by the campaigns themselves but by this whole new kind of super PAC?

  • 10:17:56

    WILSONThis is fascinating. What we have -- another sort of odd part that we've seen is that the campaigns themselves are losing a lot of control over the messages they want to deliver. President Obama wants to deliver a very clear message about where the economy is going and who Mitt Romney is. Mitt Romney wants to deliver a very clear message about where the economy is going and who president Obama is and what President Obama's record was.

  • 10:18:17

    WILSONNeither of them really want to talk about health care. Just the last week is a great example. Americans for Prosperity, an outside group largely sort of organized by the Koch brothers out of Kansas, ended up spending, you know, $6 million or so on advertisements about the health care law.

  • 10:18:36

    PAGEWe're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we'll continue our conversation about campaign 2012, the role of money and how it's different this time from previous campaigns. You can reach us, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email at drshow@wamu.org.

  • 10:20:04

    PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio, Margie Omero. She's president and founder of Momentum Analysis, a Democratic public opinion research firm. And Jan Baran, he's head of the election law group at Wiley Rein. He's a former general counsel to the Republican National Committee, and he's written a book, "The Election Law Primer for Corporations." And Reid Wilson, he's editor-in-chief of National Journal Hotline. Hotline's about to celebrate a big anniversary, is it not?

  • 10:20:33

    WILSONOur 25th anniversary. It's a big year, and, well, you and your husband have been big fans of Hotline for a long time.

  • 10:20:40

    PAGEThat is...

  • 10:20:40

    WILSONWe always appreciate that.

  • 10:20:41

    PAGEThat is completely true. And congratulations on that.

  • 10:20:44

    WILSONThank you.

  • 10:20:44

    PAGEWe were talking about how super PACs have changed the political world, allowable only because of some Supreme Court decisions that have come down. Margie, for campaigns, how much difference does it make?

  • 10:20:57

    OMEROWell, I think -- here's one thing where it might make a real difference, and that's the voter perception that Congress and Washington has just run amok. And then, you know, Congress has record lows. People are dissatisfied. They don't like the Citizens United ruling that launched super PACs, and they feel dissatisfied with the campaign finance system. And it just makes them feel that -- poll after poll shows us that the wealthy are getting more than their share.

  • 10:21:24

    OMEROThey're getting more than their money's worth -- that's an actual question -- when they donate to campaigns while their voices are not being heard. So in that respect, I think super PACs make a difference that the culture and perception that Washington is out of touch.

  • 10:21:38

    PAGEJan Baran, does it make a difference in the reality or just the perception?

  • 10:21:42

    BARANWell, it's a little bit like rearranging the furniture in a living room. You know, it looks a little different, but all the pieces are basically the same. And the phenomenon of super PACs is interesting in part because we now have these committees that, by the way, register with the Federal Election Commission. They report where they get their money and how they spend it, and they are allowed to accept donations in unlimited amounts. That's the landscape in 2012.

  • 10:22:13

    BARANNow, if we go back to the 2000 election between Bush and Gore, under the campaign finance system at that time, unlimited donations from corporations, unions and individuals were legal and given to the national party, the Democratic Party and Republican Party here in Washington. And in that election, they each raised $250 million, and they used to be the ones that would spend the money on a lot of advertising. Today, we now have these so-called super PACs because campaign finance reforms laws since 2000 have made it illegal for the parties to accept that money.

  • 10:22:51

    PAGEBut here's a tweet that goes to the point you're making. This person asked, "Where does accountability come from with this new system? Candidates don't have to answer for misinformation that benefits them." That's the difference from the way the soft money system worked, isn't it?

  • 10:23:05

    BARANWell, that's correct. In fact, I think that the soft money system not only increased accountability because the parties were held accountable, but they were fully disclosed, those donations. You know, they were reported to the FEC, and everybody knew where the money was coming from. Now, we have sort of a jerry-rigged system, where the super PAC's disclosed, but you have other groups that are tax-exempt groups and they also raise and spend money. But under tax and campaign finance laws, they don't disclose it.

  • 10:23:35

    BARANI think all this money, frankly, would go to the parties if it was legal because, generally, contributors would like to support either the candidate or the political party, and that's where the money used to go before these new laws went into effect in 2003.

  • 10:23:50

    OMEROBut the differences, though, some of these folks who might -- you're right, might otherwise contribute to the party. But sometimes, they want to have their own control over their message.

  • 10:23:58

    OMEROThey can hire their own consultants like you saw with the Ricketts Plan from a few months ago that was reported in The New York Times, where a wealthy donor hired his own consulting team, came up with his own message that sounded very racially loaded that was not what the Romney campaign wanted to be talking about and really interjects a -- can interject one donor's vision of how the campaign should be run in a way that, you know, can be very harmful to the political dialogue.

  • 10:24:24

    PAGEYou know, the Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, the casino magnate from Las Vegas, has contributed $20 million this year to candidates and the campaign, and he's not done yet, Reid. What does he want?

  • 10:24:42

    WILSONWell, that's a very good question. Sheldon Adelson has been involved in politics for quite a long time. Remember in 2008, he ran what was kind of the forerunner to super PACs, a group called Freedom's Watch, that spend a lot of money on down ballot races. You know, he has given beyond the presidential contest. He has given to a super PAC that backs a candidate in the Florida Senate race.

  • 10:25:05

    WILSONHe's very likely to get involved in the Senate race in Nevada where a former employee of his, Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, is running for the Senate seat. He's likely to get in, opposing her. And, you know, he's even financed a lot of campaigns overseas, in Israel. He's a major player in Israeli politics as well. So the biggest sort of problem here that, I think, Jan touched on a little bit is that the FEC is broken.

  • 10:25:33

    WILSONThe Federal Election Commission that we report to, based on the court cases that have happened over the last decade, the legislation that -- sort of the bits and pieces of McCain-Feingold campaign legislation that's been struck down here or there, and the simple partisan divide at the FEC where it takes four votes out of six to do anything. There are three Republicans who vote all together and three Democrats who all together.

  • 10:25:56

    WILSONSo essentially, nothing gets done. It is a -- it is, you know, perhaps our most broken sort of government institution. It will take a very fundamental change to either adopt the sort of wider -- wide -- more widely available financial situation or to impose new restrictions. Whichever side is going to win, you know, has to win, but nobody has the votes to actually get anything done in the future.

  • 10:26:22

    PAGEJan, do you agree that the FEC is broken?

  • 10:26:24

    BARANWell, an unbroken FEC is not going to change the First Amendment and a lot of Supreme Court decisions. I mean, whether the commission is broken or unbroken or whatever, people like Sheldon Adelson have a constitutional right to spend money on their own without collaborating with the campaign. This has been in existence, by the way, since 1976 with the first Supreme Court decision. And today, we're talking about Mr. Adelson.

  • 10:26:52

    BARANEight years ago, in 2004, we were talking about a gentleman by the name of George Soros. And he and a couple of fellow billionaires donated in that election, I recall, somewhere between 60 and $70 million, you know, just the three of them, the three amigos that funded the so-called independent groups. We didn't call them super PACs then in 2004, but the media fawn Americans coming together. We had swift vote veterans.

  • 10:27:20

    BARANI mean, there was almost -- there was, I think, half a billion dollars spent on independent advertising in 2004. And this kind of underscores my point, is that things look a little different this year, but they really aren't. I mean, we've got different percentages of participants here, and they're may be acting through different vehicles than we saw in 2008 or 2004. But it's basically the same dynamic.

  • 10:27:46

    BARANWe've got candidates and political parties subject to these limits. They can only raise $2,500 now for these presidential campaigns. And then we have these -- this alternative universe of independent spending, which can be done by super PACs, independent groups, or there's the Sierra Club or the National Rifle Association, what have you. And that's the system that we've had now for several elections.

  • 10:28:11

    PAGEBut I wonder if this system of unlimited contributions tends to help Republicans. There's a chart that ran in The Boston Globe this morning about contributions from big donors, and it shows 35 Republican conservative donors who have contributed $1 million or more, 16 for Democrats and Liberals.

  • 10:28:34

    PAGEAnd if you look at the top-ranking Democratic liberal group, it would be the National Education Association, $3.6 million. Republicans have four groups or individuals who are well above that: Adelson at $20 million, another family at $18 million, another at six. Does this tend to help Republicans?

  • 10:28:55

    BARANWell, it's, again, I think, remains to be seen because the statistics you are sharing here are a reflection of these -- the so-called super PAC spending in the Republican primary. There was no primary in the Democratic Party. And so you had the super PACs that popped up. They raised a lot of money. You didn't have the same incentive on the Democratic side. Now, the Democratic Party is trying to vitalize their own super PACs.

  • 10:29:27

    BARANThey seemed to be having some mixed results, but we'll see, you know, over the four months whether or not Democratic version of the super PAC will be equal to or less than the Republican counterpart going forward. And by the way, all that money has been spent that you cited there because it was spent in the primary. But also, you know, you're not reflecting, first of all, President Obama's distinct fundraising advantage so far.

  • 10:29:53

    BARANYou're not reflecting the amount of money that organized labor has said it's going to spend, which, they publicly announced, will be $300 million. There are a lot of different components in the campaign finance system. And whether or not at the end, after November, one side or the other spends more remains to be seen.

  • 10:30:12

    WILSONThe big difference here is -- I think the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans -- is that Republicans were prepared for the Citizens United decision, for the speech now of the FEC decision, which was another important part of this that often gets overlooked. Republicans sort of saw the -- saw that coming, saw those rulings coming and set up the infrastructure they would need to raise the big money and spend it in the 2010 election.

  • 10:30:37

    WILSONDemocrats were caught a little flat-footed. They didn't -- they sort of didn't want the, you know, the money to come in, so they didn't want to make the preparations to do so. They didn't -- and, by the way, their donors take a look at President Obama and say, wait a second. You are -- you know, you don't take lobbyist money. You don't take big checks. You don't allow corporate checks.

  • 10:30:53

    WILSONAnd now you want us to give to a super PAC. They see a disconnect there, so Democrats are sort of struggling to catch up. And we've seen that in the Priorities USA. The pro-Obama super PAC has been much slower to raise those big dollars from seven-figure givers than the Republican-friendly super PACs have.

  • 10:31:12

    PAGESo, Margie, is it basically the Democrats' own fault for just not being ready for the changes in the way things work?

  • 10:31:18

    OMEROWell, I think the other way to look at this is, is this a reflection of an actual difference of two parties? And which party -- is there one party or one candidate who is more interested in protecting tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and one party that is more interested in asking the wealthy to pay their fair share? And is that causing this difference in campaign contributions and the fact that Republicans seem to be benefiting from super PAC universe and outside groups?

  • 10:31:46

    OMEROAnd, you know, many argue that that's what this is about. This is about the wealthiest trying to make sure that someone who protects their interest gets elected to the White House while President Obama really has the advantage over Romney on small-dollar donations and, you know, the groundswell support, enthusiasm that he had in 2008.

  • 10:32:05

    PAGEAnd, Margie, when you're working in a campaign, advising a candidate, how much difference does it tend to make if they have a big donor who's giving them lots of money or spending lots of money to help them get elected? What effect does it have on the positions that candidate might take?

  • 10:32:20

    OMEROWell, I think -- first of all, voters tend to think that there is a very strong link, and I think whether there actually is a link varies dramatically from member to member, interest to interest and some other specifics. Are you talking about -- or an industry that employs a lot of people in a district, well, then it's more complicated. And if you're talking about an industry someplace else and it's just an outside donor that is really helpful to a candidate as opposed to the biggest employer in the state, you know, then maybe that's in voters' interests.

  • 10:32:52

    PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:32:56

    WILSONOne interesting difference, too, is that I think Republican voters and donors are much more motivated against President Obama than liberal donors are in favor of President Obama. That is, the liberals who gave a lot of money over the last couple of years, and who could write a seven-figure check now, tend to be people who are disappointed that President Obama hasn't closed -- you know, sort of kept all of his promises from the 2008 campaign, that the, you know, the prison in Guantanamo is still open, that he took so long on gay marriage to come to his eventual conclusion.

  • 10:33:29

    WILSONThere's sort of this liberal angst, if you will. They haven't been satisfied by the first four years. Now what President Obama is trying to do in that -- as in that conference call that you mentioned earlier -- is sort of spur them to action and say, well, you may not be completely satisfied with me, but the alternative is much, much worse for you.

  • 10:33:46

    OMEROBut he does have 150,000 new donors...

  • 10:33:48

    WILSONThat's right.

  • 10:33:48

    OMERO...that he didn't have before, which, I think, is a pretty high number for this part of the year.

  • 10:33:51

    PAGEJan, do donors contribute to a candidate 'cause he stands for -- he or she stands for what they support? Or do they contribute to a donor in the hopes of shaping what they will support?

  • 10:34:02

    BARANWell, probably both. I'm not a political scientist, but there have been a lot of studies that have been made regarding how elected officials vote and whether or not they reflect their constituency or whether they reflect their contributors, which sometimes is going to be the same. You know, a senator from West Virginia or Kentucky is going to be pretty pro-call, you know, right? That may not be true from -- of a senator from New York.

  • 10:34:31

    BARANSo politics is an interesting dynamic, and these people are representatives. I want to say that Reid has made a very interesting and valid point in my view, which is that the motivation so far in this cycle seems to be the anti-Obama people. Well, this is the flip side of what we saw eight years ago in 2004 because that was the year in which there was an awful lot of liberal mobilization against President Bush.

  • 10:35:02

    BARANAnd that was the year, frankly, that the outside spending groups spent twice as much as the conservative groups. That was the year of the Media Fund and Americans Coming Together. And you may recall that, initially, the Republican Party was just anti-527 organizations. They were going to file complaints at the FEC in court and so forth. And then they woke up and realized, well, the Democrats really had a drop on them in raising lots of money.

  • 10:35:32

    BARANIt wasn't till August of 2004 the Swift Boat Veterans was started and had their first ad. And even though the Republicans or conservatives in that election were outspent 2-to-1, the effect of the independent spending, obviously, was still equal to whatever the Democrats were spending.

  • 10:35:52

    PAGEReid, last time around was the first time since the post-Watergate reforms that a presidential candidate of a major party decided not to participate in public financing. Now nobody's participating in public financing. You said the FEC is dead. Is public financing also dead?

  • 10:36:08

    WILSONPublic -- there is no way that a viable presidential campaign can operate for the two months of the public financing period between about Labor Day and Election Day on, what is it, $85 million? I mean, the -- President Obama, last week, spent 15 million bucks on advertising alone. The outside groups spent about that same amount alone on television advertising in a single week.

  • 10:36:32

    WILSONExtrapolate that over two months at the heat of the -- at the height of the campaign when these campaigns are essentially buying up all the television advertising time they can find, employing armies of staff across several states, employing the -- you know, every consultant and pollster in their party, there's no way that they can operate on just $85 million. The financing system needs to either radically change, or it's going to operate under the current system in which President Obama and Mitt Romney are not opted in.

  • 10:36:59

    OMEROAnd the other thing, too, is it doesn't actually help you with voters. I mean, this is another thing that we've…

  • 10:37:05

    WILSONThat's very true.

  • 10:37:05

    OMEROWe haven't spent as much time talking about is what does campaign finance and candidates' own participation mean for voters in how they evaluate who they are going to vote for. And Gallup did a poll last time around in 2008 and said, do you know if Obama and McCain are participating? And nobody knew. Even when explained, it didn't really make their -- it didn't change anybody's view. If they were already voting for Obama-McCain, they're going to continue to vote for Obama-McCain.

  • 10:37:28

    PAGEIt's a great disappointment to the newspaper editorial writers, who have focused so much on that issue, to hear that. We're going to take another short break. When we come back -- we've talked about where the money comes from. When we come back, we'll talk about where the money goes. Where is it spent? Stay with us.

  • 10:40:04

    PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, Reid Wilson of National Journal Hotline, Jan Baran, head of the election law group at Wiley Rein, and Margie Omero from Momentum Analysis, a Democratic polling firm. We're going to go to the phones. We'll go first to Ed, who's calling us from Floyds Knobs, Ind. And I took your call totally to say the name of your town. Where is that?

  • 10:40:31

    EDCan you hear me?

  • 10:40:31

    PAGEI can hear you, Ed. Where are you from?

  • 10:40:34

    EDFloyds Knobs, Ind.

  • 10:40:35

    PAGEAnd where is that?

  • 10:40:37

    EDIt's just across the river from Louisville, Ky.

  • 10:40:39

    PAGEI see. Well, thanks so much for calling. Do you have a question?

  • 10:40:43

    EDYes. Well, it's more of a comment. Every time we talk about campaign donations from wealthy donors, they always bring up Soros. And I remember very clearly, when Soros was giving large amounts of money, he was very open and transparent about it. Any reporter, anybody could call him up, and he'd sit and blab for an hour about what he wanted.

  • 10:41:05

    EDAt the same time, trying to find out who was supplying money to Swift Boat or to the other Republican-leaning PACs or whatever that we have right now, I get on the computer, I can't find anything. It's all secret. That's my comment. Please don't compare Soros to the secrecy and the opaqueness that we see so often on the Republican side.

  • 10:41:29

    PAGEAll right, Ed. Thanks for your call. Jan, I think you were the one who made that comparison.

  • 10:41:33

    BARANYeah. Well, I would direct Ed to opensecrets.com or -- excuse me, opensecrets.org as well as the IRS website. Swift Boat Veterans did disclose where they got all their money. And they disclosed where they spent their money. And it's a matter of public records. And so, you know, the comparison is valid. In fact, some of the Soros money went to other groups that did not disclose, just as some of the Republican money went to other groups besides Swift Boat Veterans that were not disclosed.

  • 10:42:05

    BARANBut a lot of the contributors to Swift Boat were the same ones who are contributing these days to some of these super PACs. And again, they're all disclosed because the super PACs are over at the Federal Election Commission and disclose their funding.

  • 10:42:20

    WILSONWell, there are two different groups here, and I think both -- there are two different groups of donors, those like George Soros and the Koch brothers who like talking about their agendas because when they write a $10 million check and they get to explain why they're doing it, they get to sort of throw a few what we call message bombs in there and promote their party or their argument. And then there are the people who want to be more quiet.

  • 10:42:41

    WILSONI recall one of the guys who was -- who's spent a lot of money behind the Swift Boat Veterans, a homebuilder from Houston named Bob Perry, who's been much more sort of private about his donations. In terms of the actual groups, the law allows for both -- what we call super PACs, which actually do disclose their donors and all their -- just like a campaign does, anybody who gives more than $200 has to supply their name and their address and their occupation and all the information that a campaign does.

  • 10:43:12

    WILSONOn the other hand, there are groups that are organized under section 501 (c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code that don't have to make those same disclosures, that aren't required to file that information with the IRS. Just as an example, in the presidential campaign so far, Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC in the general election, post primary, has spent $11.5 million on television ads. We know who bought those -- who spent that money. We know whose money that is, where it came from and where it went.

  • 10:43:42

    WILSONOn the other hand, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies is one of these 501 (c)(4) organizations. They've spent $28.7 million on TV ads, and we don't know who gave that money. So there are, you know, two groups, the ones who have no problem saying, yes, I support this, and here's a $1 million check to go run advertising about it and others who were more private. And that's what -- that's the big difference here is this money that is not as well -- as fully disclosed (unintelligible).

  • 10:44:10

    OMEROAnd it makes a good point, which is Americans want more disclosure, not less. People are always in favor of more disclosure, more transparency, certainly when it comes to other people like politicians. Maybe not themselves, but they want other people to be more transparent and open. And as we move away from that, they you're going to have a sense, you know, voters are going to be unhappy and they're going to be disappointed, and they're going to feel alienated and dissatisfied with how elections are run.

  • 10:44:34

    PAGEJan, is -- so do you acknowledge that there are some groups that not -- do not disclose and they're much harder for Americans to see?

  • 10:44:40

    BARANWell, there's no question about it, that there are numerous groups. Of course, when they spend money on certain advertising, they still have to file reports with the FEC to disclose that they spent the money, so we...

  • 10:44:53

    PAGEBut they don't have to disclose who gave them the money.

  • 10:44:55

    BARANNot necessarily. You know, so groups like the National Rifle Association or the Sierra Club as well as the chamber of commerce or the AFL-CIO or any of the unions when they go out and buy advertising, that's political. That's covered by the campaign finance laws. They disclose the spending. But because of their tax status and everything else they do, they don't disclose -- don't have to disclose under current laws where they get their money.

  • 10:45:22

    BARANSo that is something that is being debated in Congress. It's a legislative issue. It's a political issue because some of these legislative proposals seem to affect certain constituencies and certain political parts of the universe but not others.

  • 10:45:41

    BARANAnd the last time we had a big bill that was voted out of the House, which was before the 2010 election, there was a law that was proposed and passed, but it exempted the National Rifle Association because they were going to call all these legislators to task for requiring them to disclose where they get their money so that if the law was passed and exempted them, it didn't affect the unions that much. And the business community objected because it did affect groups like the chamber of commerce.

  • 10:46:13

    PAGEYou know, Margie, it's true that a caller like Ed cares a lot about disclosure in the way campaigns are financed. But when I go talk to voters, I got to say nobody ever raises how campaigns -- in fact, they raise unemployment, the deficit. They're concerned about the cost of health care. Lots of things Americans are concerned about. But I wonder, is this, in fact, an issue that affects the election?

  • 10:46:35

    OMEROIt's true. It's a tough issue for voters. It's complicated. I mean, we thought health care was complicated. This is also complicated. It's -- and unlike health care where people have personal experiences with the health care system, they don't have -- typically, voters don't have personal experiences with the campaign finance system.

  • 10:46:53

    OMEROAnd so it's complicated, and it doesn't pass what voters -- you know, their what-does-it-mean-for-me test. You know, when I talk to voters and to focus groups, they are concerned about just getting through the day, it's going to make their life better, finding a job, making sure their husband has a job and so on rather than the nuance of super PAC versus 501 (c)(4) organizations which is complicated.

  • 10:47:18

    BARANYou know, they probably also have a lot of misconceptions. They probably assume that, you know, all of Sheldon Adelson's money is going to the Mitt Romney campaign, you know, because that's the way it's reported. It's going to the politicians. They probably assume that a lot of this money is undisclosed, just like Ed, who didn't know that the Swift Boat Veterans actually disclose where they got their money and how they spend it.

  • 10:47:40

    BARANSo there are a lot of misconception because I think the public generally thinks, well, you know, politics, it's open season, it's money from anywhere and unlimited amounts going to campaigns, and we don't even know where it's coming from. You know, that does happen to be the system that existed before the 1970s, but, you know, we've had an awful lot of changes in 40 years.

  • 10:48:02

    OMEROI think people are right to be concerned. I think people are right to, I mean, and voters consistently have for a while, pre-Citizens United, post-Citizens United, been dissatisfied, two-thirds typically, of our current campaign finance system. I think the difference is, one, a contrast between the two parties. And is there an actual difference between the two parties? And generally speaking, people don't think Democrats, Republicans there is that much of a difference although there are some differences in what President Obama has been doing what Mitt Romney has been doing.

  • 10:48:32

    OMEROThere are some differences in voting for reform. And then the last piece of this is how important is this as a vote driver. And I think their polling is inconsistent on this, but typically it's lower tier. I mean, it's admittedly lower tier just because it's so far removed from daily life. And, you know, there was a poll -- I think Pew did a poll of what should a president talk about in a State of the Union address, I think, from last year or two years ago. And campaign finance was second from the bottom.

  • 10:48:58

    OMEROIt was above global warming, below the environment, but above global warming, second from the bottom, and it -- but it's notable that it had a very low doesn't-matter-at-all response. So it's not that people dig it. It doesn't matter. It's just hard for people to get -- to how to be a vote driver.

  • 10:49:13

    PAGEOn the other hand, it might contribute to this corrosive attitude toward politics, politicians, Washington, who does Washington work for. I mean, it could be part of that whole thing, which I think is something that's really affected our country.

  • 10:49:30

    WILSONYeah, absolutely. I think that anybody who generally talks about campaign finance probably already knows how they're going to vote. But it serves as a great sort of talking point for both sides to argue that the other guy is corrupt or being bought by the shady interests. I mean, every -- I feel like every time a campaign starts talking about their opponents' donors, it's an indication that they're going to lose. And it's just sort of -- it's grasping it at straws.

  • 10:50:00

    WILSONYou know, we can sit here and debate it as sort of how to fix a system or how to sort of bring together a hodgepodge of laws and court rulings that don't always match with each other. But at the end of the day, as I think -- and Margie's made some great points in some of the polling that she's done that, you know, the average voter -- that the swing voter who will really decide this election isn't somebody who is really paying attention to politics right now.

  • 10:50:25

    OMEROI mean, one last reminder, too, it's -- you know, we're throwing out a lot of numbers, talking a lot of details. When you're talking about candidates raising money, it symbolizes that it's time that they're not spending with average voters. And I think that's something that voters really -- that they find offensive, and they're right to be upset by that.

  • 10:50:43

    PAGEYou know, Jan, that's really true. When you look at the schedule of even the president and his challenger, it's striking how much time they spend either on the phone trying to raise money or at events. And then they tuck in an event with the voters between fundraisers.

  • 10:50:56

    BARANYeah. Well, President Obama has broken the record for the number of fundraising events by an incumbent president. He's done an awful lot of them. But there's a reason for that, and that's contribution limits. You know, it's like trying to fill a gallon bucket of water with a thimble. You know, it's a lot easier to just dump the bucket into the water and fill it up. But it's not allowed when it comes to fundraising. He can only accept $2,500 for his campaign.

  • 10:51:25

    BARANHe can accept a maximum of $30,000 for the Democratic National Committee. So in order to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars that is necessary to launch and conduct a nationwide campaign for president, he needs to raise it in small amounts many times at all of these fundraising events.

  • 10:51:44

    PAGEDenise from San Francisco is been holding on very patiently. Denise, thanks for holding on.

  • 10:51:49

    DENISEWell -- thank you first for having me on the show. I just want to say something. At the very -- the first five minutes of the show, something that Jan said about Republicans being outspent 10-1.

  • 10:51:59

    BARANNo.

  • 10:51:59

    DENISEThat's completely ridiculous. I haven't heard one person mention the fact that that Sheldon Adelson came out and said that he was going to spend $100 million on Mitt Romney's campaign to defeat Barack Obama. I mean, he said it in a press release. And I think that...

  • 10:52:13

    BARANHe didn't say that.

  • 10:52:14

    DENISEYes, he did actually.

  • 10:52:15

    BARANNo, I said that the cash-on-hand is 10-1.

  • 10:52:18

    DENISEAll right. Can I finish my point, please?

  • 10:52:19

    BARANMm hmm.

  • 10:52:19

    DENISEMitch McConnell coming out 10 days ago and saying that he wants no disclosure on political spending is an indication that this is a GOP that wants a government paid for by rich men for the benefit of rich men. And all Democrats or anybody has to do to counter that is to go and vote Democratic down the line.

  • 10:52:38

    PAGEOK. Denise, thank you so much for your call. Now, Jan, did you want to get back to your 10-1?

  • 10:52:43

    BARANTen to one was the cash-on-hand difference between the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign.

  • 10:52:49

    WILSONLet me just correct one more thing, if you don't mind. Sheldon Adelson didn't say he was going to spend $100 million. He -- some -- one of his advisers told somebody sort of an off-hand remark that he could spend up to that amount, but, you know, Adelson is becoming the boogeyman for the left that George Soros is for the right. And we -- I think we sort of put a little too much attention on these rich guys who are writing big checks.

  • 10:53:09

    PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, we've gotten several emails ago along something like this. This is -- this particular one is from Leslie, who writes us from St. Louis, "Who benefits financially from money spent on presidential campaign? Where does the money actually go? Do these campaigns help our economy any way? Do they generate job creation?" So, Margie, where do -- where does all these money go?

  • 10:53:32

    OMEROWell, I will say as a pollster, it does not go all to polling. But I...

  • 10:53:36

    BARANOr to lawyers.

  • 10:53:38

    OMEROAnd I think this is -- those are both good things. Ultimately, they go to advertising and way -- a direct contact to voters. And -- well, campaigns spend their money on a variety of things, but the lion share of what they do is direct contact. And for most people in most campaigns, that's television. Some television markets are incredibly expensive. Some congressional races have three different television markets in their district, and so they have to buy television in three different markets.

  • 10:54:04

    OMEROIn some places, broadcast television is too expensive. They have to do cable or they have to do both in order to reach the voters they want to reach. And then on top that, they'll do direct mail to supplement the television message and to maybe reach some different kinds of audiences. And that's then -- and then on top of that, you have the field, you know, you have Obama, for example, going on a bus tour. That cost money, just the operation of doing a bus tour.

  • 10:54:25

    OMEROSo, you know, the on-the-ground expenses, coordinating volunteers and field staff and phones and all that stuff, that all adds to a campaign. And certainly, they help local economies in a lot of ways and in the various districts in where are these campaigns are running, printers and caterers and all those things.

  • 10:54:45

    PAGEWell, you have to, you know, rent a bus, but isn't it true that most of the money goes to local TV stations to air these ads?

  • 10:54:53

    WILSONYeah, that's a very good place to have invested earlier this earlier. By the way, they are actually job creators in some way. I mean, the FEC reports what they file show that President Obama's got more than 600 people working for him. And, you know, Mitt Romney's campaign is hiring -- they're on such a hiring spree. I mean, there are people leaving Capitol Hill offices left and right because Boston is snatching them up. They're going to have, you know, four or 500 people in their headquarters working, too. So, hey, in some small way, yeah, they are providing a few jobs here and there.

  • 10:55:22

    OMEROI mean, the other piece of this is in addition to changing how campaign finance works is changing the cost of what campaigns buy. So if we were to provide free television time to the presidential campaigns, would they need all this money?

  • 10:55:35

    PAGEWe've got an email from Matt in Durham, N.C. I think we'll close the show with this -- with his comment and your comments about it. He says, "The amount of money being spent in this election is sickening. How can I, an average citizen, possibly compete with the tens of millions being donated by people like Sheldon Adelson? Does anyone truly believe this is a fair system?" What would you say, Jan? How can an average citizen, not a gazillionaire, have their voice be heard?

  • 10:56:00

    BARANWell, they can contribute to the campaigns. It's easier and less expensive today than at any time, which is why the campaigns are raising more and more money on the Internet in small amounts. You can be part of an interest group where there's a union or the AARP or the Rifle Association or the Sierra Club. I mean, there are many, many organizations representing millions of participants and members who are very active in these campaigns. So I think the little guy is being represented. It's through these organizations.

  • 10:56:35

    PAGEMargie, what do you think?

  • 10:56:35

    OMEROI would say convince your friends and neighbors and co-workers to vote. Get people to the voting booth. Convince them to vote, increase turnout, and convince your friends who are going to listen to you 'cause you're, you know, part of a network. It's seen as the best way, research shows, to get people to vote is if someone they know asks them to do so.

  • 10:56:52

    PAGEReid, we'll give you the last word.

  • 10:56:53

    WILSONThe bottom line is, as Margie said earlier, it's all about contacting voters. That's what cost campaign the most -- campaigns the most money. Matt lives in Durham, N.C. It's a swing state. If he goes and volunteers for his chosen campaign, he'll be able to do a lot, just as much as a television commercial.

  • 10:57:09

    PAGEReid Wilson, Margie Omero, Jan Baran, thank you so much for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:57:14

    WILSONThanks a lot.

  • 10:57:14

    OMEROYeah.

  • 10:57:16

    PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.

  • 10:57:20

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.

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