It is undeniable that money and politics are deeply entwined within the US political system. The main reason for this is campaign spending. This spending is great for lobbyists who facilitate the transaction between those who have the money and seek influence, and for those who have the influence but need money for campaigning.
For more than two hundred years, election campaigns have been part of the democracy and political process in the US. As mentioned earlier, lobbying and corruption has also been evident during this time. Nevertheless, in the 1970s and 80s a boom in campaign costs began and, subsequently, candidates required more money to run with plenty of interests willing to supply those funds. Since then, campaigning for the presidency or Congress in the US has been an increasingly costly endeavor.
The reasons for this increase in campaign expenditures are many. First, the “tools” to run an effective campaign became more expensive, during the 70s and 80s. Pollsters had become reliable allies, who could pinpoint where the candidate could gain those all-important swing votes needed to win an election. Furthermore, polls (such as the one seen above) could now also show which political topics and issues a candidate’s constituency was most interested in, and how they felt about those issues. This made it possible for a candidate to focus the campaign on those issues the voters felt most passionately about. Nevertheless, taking credible polls requires many resources, so pollsters do not come cheap, which in turn increased the campaign costs for all competitive candidates.
TV ads were another expensive campaign tool that became popular at this time, they became more common and widespread during this period and were, naturally, very costly. The combination of polls and TV ads also made negative ads or “attack ads” an effective tool, for certain campaigns. The perhaps most famous example of a negative TV ad is one of the earliest of its kind, the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign’s “Daisy.” This ad suggested that nuclear war would happen, if people voted for his less-experienced opponent Barry Goldwater. The TV ad were successful and their popularity grew in the following decades. Their effectiveness were remarkable, for instance, polls could show that the majority of swing voters in a constituency were pro-life and anti-abortion. Consequently, the candidate could then run expensive TV attack ads against the opponent candidate, explaining how he or she was for free-abortion – or “baby murder,” as the attack ad more likely would call it. All of this could help a candidate to win an election, but he or she would also have to increase campaign spending in order to do so.
However, the increase in campaign cost (and as a consequent, campaign spending) would only have been possible if there were actors that could enable candidates to spend more. Yet, there were many such actors. Businesses, universities, unions, interest groups, e.g., all began to acknowledge the benefits they could get by building good relationships with the campaign fund needing candidates. Thus, to facilitate this increasing market were the lobbyists. For a fee, they would help the actors get earmarks and legislative influence by helping them direct their campaign contribution to the most influential members of Congress, who were sitting in the right committees and had the most power. This influence had also been spread to a wider range of congressional representatives in the wake of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, which brought change to many seats in Congress. Furthermore, lobbying organizations like the Business Roundtable was formed to discourage the Keynesian way of economic thinking and promote more conservative and free market friendly ideas. This was supported by big think tanks like the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, which gained increased influence in these years. Consequently, “K-Street” in Washington became filled with lobbyist, both in-house lobbyists working for a specific company or interest group, as well as lobbyists working for more independent lobbying firms. Although, they all had one thing in common, they facilitated the supply of funds from private companies and groups into politicians’ campaigns, thus enabling them to increase spending and pay for the increased cost of campaigning.
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- Ansolabehere, S, Gerber, A.S. & Snyder, Jr., J. M. (2001). Does TV Advertising Explain the Rise of Campaign Spending? MIT Economics.
- Kaiser, R. G. (2010). So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government. The United States: Vintage Books.
- Ornstein, N.J., Mann, T.E., Malbin, M.J., Rugg, A. & Wakeman, R. (2014). Vital Statistics on Congress Data on the U.S. Congress – A Joint Effort from Brookings and the American Enterprise Institute. The Campaign Finance Institute, Chapter 3.
- Waterhouse, B. C. (2014). Lobbying America: The Politics of Business from Nixon to NAFTA. New Jersey, US: Princeton University Press.
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