“Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”
Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh, 1966, Democrat, Speaker, California State Assembly
If “Big Daddy” Unruh is right – and he is – then the question we must ask politicians is: “Who’s your Momma?”
Rebecca Hamilton (Public Catholic) – “Stop Slogan-Voting…. Pt 2 – High Campaign Dollars = Government Puppet People” – gives us an insider’s understanding of how money works in politics and why we have no idea whom we are electing in the current money/consultant-driven political environment.
Barack Obama is her prime example. Please read her post FIRST, before going any further.
The reason I find Rebecca Hamilton’s (Public Catholic) blog so compelling is that it rings true and helps me make some sense out of my own recent experience with public politics – and she does so from an authentic Christian perspective. This referenced post is no exception.
In this commentary, I’d like to offer a brief Case Study and some Lessons Learned from Hamilton’s insights.
CASE STUDY: SC Congressional District 7 – With the primaries behind us, my choice in November is now between a Chamber of Commerce clone of Forest Gump (R) and a Jim Clyburn clone of Sheila Jackson Lee (D). The candidates themselves would, of course, vehemently protest these caricatures – one thinks slower than Gump and the other is younger than Jackson Lee. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
My concern here is how the GOP ended up with Forest Gump.
SC Congressional District 7 is new – the result of population increases primarily along the beach where I live. Grassroots conservatives united across seven counties and lobbied energetically to have the new district drawn along traditional historic, socio-economic boundaries that made sense and would represent “We the people.” We won – and had a good looking, young, conservative state legislator ready to run and, I have no doubt, win the new seat in Congress.
But “Good Looking” had something cooking with a young woman who said “No,” repeatedly – and eventually had him arrested for stalking and harassment. Who knew? But it turned out to be well-deserved and grassroots conservatives had no one on the bench to replace him.
That left the field open and nine candidates signed on – Forest Gump, the Nasty Little Sucker, two Decent Folks, and five Fringe Wannabes.
(My son-in-law made up the moniker “Nasty Little Sucker” to describe an obnoxious little kid in his neighborhood who whacked and pushed around the younger kids and then went whining to his mother when he was pushed back. It fits one of these candidates perfectly – the guy has been in the center of the worst of redneck politics in SC for years. He has worked hard to earn the tag.)
Those of you with political experience have already figured out what happened. There were several “debates” but, with nine candidates on the stage at a time, voters didn’t learn much of anything about any of them – who they were, what they had accomplished or what they stood for. What voters did get were sound bite responses to dumb questions – with one telling exception. Each one of them was asked how much money he/she had raised thus far. Six of them gave fundraising amounts of under $40,000. The other three said $450-$500,000. My jaw dropped!
In the end, Forest Gump and the Nasty Little Sucker (NLS) outspent everyone with multiple mailings, and endless TV and radio ads. Game over.
The Decent Folks split the decent vote and the Wannabes picked up fringe voters thereby assuring that the NLS and Gump ended up in a primary runoff as one and two. Gump ended up beating the NLS in a brutal firefight of negative advertising.
And that’s how grassroots conservatives in SC Congressional District 7 ended up with clones of Forest Gump (R) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D) as our voting choices in November.
LESSONS LEARNED: This is where Public Catholic’s insight into how campaign donations work helps me make some sense of all this. (If you haven’t read Hamilton’s blog, please do so now.)
I – Politicians work for the people who paid for their campaigns
During her successful campaign for Governor, Nikki Haley frequently noted that our elected officials in SC have forgotten who they work for – presumably “We the people.” But she was wrong. Elected officials know exactly who they are working for… and it’s not the grassroots.
The weird part is that we wonder why they “betray” us once they’re in office. They don’t betray anybody. We just misunderstand. In truth, these party loyalists who ignore the needs of their constituents to line the pockets of the people who paid for their campaigns are keeping their word. This is what they were recruited and created to do. – Public Catholic
Candidates need grassroots votes to get elected, but they need big bucks in order to get our votes. Grassroots contributions by themselves are nowhere near enough to get a politician elected to office.
II – Most Political Campaigns are Consultant-Driven
The end result is that voters have no idea who the candidate is, or what he/she actually believes. It worked both ways in the SC Congressional District 7 Primary – Gump and the NLS dominated the media with their consultant-driven messages and the Decent Folks were drowned out. The Decent Folks and Fringe Wannabes were each outspent more than 10 to 1 – they never had a chance.
So how does this work? Here’s my paraphrase of Hamilton’s insights –
When a political party recruits a candidate they are assigned a party-approved consultant who works on commission, and is compensated based on the amount of money he/she raises for the candidate’s campaign. The candidate essentially signs away control of his/her campaign to the consultant in return for the promise of the mega-bucks required to wage an all out media war. Consultants “go for the gold” and control the candidate’s message in order to satisfy both the party who approved them and the big bucks folks who will make them rich. And that works out great for everyone… except the electorate.
It takes a lot of talent to manipulate the electorate and there’s no lack of it in these consultant-driven races. But this talent is not directed toward representing the people or the good of the country. It’s focused on servicing the needs of the people who paid for the consultants, advertising, polls and think tanks who created this campaign engine in the first place. – Public Catholic
III – Voters have no idea whom they are voting for.
This is not good. High priced political consultants are master media manipulators – dishing up style over substance and image over reality. They will do what it takes to win. The evil genius of it all is:
We are encouraged by advertising to imagine candidates in a certain way that usually has no relation to the people they are…. We come away from these ads, thinking we’ve been told something when in fact all that’s happened is that we’ve been induced into feeling something. We take this feeling and attach it to the candidate. In this way, today’s political advertising induces us to create the candidate in our own minds and then vote for whatever we imagine him or her to be. – Public Catholic
IV – Grassroots-Driven Campaigns are difficult but not impossible.
Hamilton refers to this as “do-it-yourself” campaigning. And, not everyone is capable of pulling it off. Why?
In a rough and tumble do-it-yourself campaign… the best candidate usually won. By best I mean the candidate who could think on his or her feet, learn from mistakes and think tactically under pressure. That doesn’t mean they were the nicest, but in a surprisingly effective way, these races usually elected people who had what it takes to govern.
The best thing about do-it-yourself campaigns is that they are a kind of natural selection process. Genuine idiots can’t get themselves elected in a competitive do-it-yourself campaign. They just don’t have the brains, the tactical sense or the communication skills to become elected officials. – Public Catholic
I’d like some more conversation here about “the brains and tactical sense” part of this, but our local grassroots experience proves her point. When “Good Looking” self-destructed there was no one else on the grassroots’ bench. Not so for the established elite. They jumped in with both feet and it instantly became a two man race. No one else had a chance – some because of money, some because they didn’t think through what they were doing, some because they were lousy communicators and some because they were “genuine idiots.”
CONCLUSION– I see that Rebecca has already posted Pt 3 in this series so I’ll wrap this up.
What did you think of the photo-shopped Time magazine cover parody? Loved it? Hated it? (I guess if you were really offended you wouldn’t have read this far.) Either way, it provoked an emotional response in you – and that’s exactly what Political Consultants do. It illustrates Public Catholic‘s point on the dangers of Consultant-Driven political campaigns and it also graphically makes the point – “Who’s your Momma?” i.e. follow the money.
BTW: Why don’t you just subscribe directly to Hamilton’s blog. Click on the link on the bottom of the right column for email updates. It’s a lot better than getting it second hand through me.