It requires an insane amount of money to run a political campaign today

Nov 5, 2014 at 11:11 am

So last night, incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder won his bid for another four years as Michigan's top official. The victory came with assistance from a number of groups, including the Republican Governors Association (RGA), which alone spent $14.1 million on 11 TV ads to support Snyder's re-election bid. 

As the do-gooders over at the Michigan Campaign Finance Network noted last month, the RGA was one of the top two donors in the state this election cycle. The other? The RGA's Democratic counterpart

Michigan voters have been exposed to a barrage of advertising about the gubernatorial candidates sponsored by the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association. Through the end of September the RGA had sponsored $6.3 million-worth of ads, and the DGA sponsored $7.6 million-worth. Both will continue saturation advertising until Election Day.

The latest reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service by the two 527 groups show that they are extremely large political committees. In the period from January 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014, the RGA has received $117,689,677 in contributions. The DGA has received $71,515,868.

And remember: That was the total amount spent by the end of September — by only two groups!

That's not even the largest eye-popping figure. In Kentucky, the race between Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and his opponent, Allison Grimes, cost $80 million, a record-setting figure. Here's the kicker: McConnel and Grimes raised and spent only $50 million of that amount — the other $30 million came from outside groups. And of that $30 million, only two groups comprised $20 million of that total. 

Think about that. That is insane. The Louisville Courrier-Journal highlighted what $80 million could buy: 

That's about half of what the WHAS Crusade for Children has raised in total during its entire 61-year history.

It would build about 1,000 Habitat for Humanity homes in Louisville.

It would pay to operate the Cabbage Patch Settlement House for the next 44 years, if invested properly to merely keep up with inflation.

It's not unusual anymore, either. Not since the U.S. Supreme Court passed the pivotal Citizens' United decision in 2010, which unleashed a flood of spending on behalf of the wealthy. It's a point MT's Jack Lessenberry highlighted in this week's issue, focusing on a particular local race for Michigan's House of Representatives

The real story is that our system no longer really works, except for billionaires. Well, in a few more liberal places, millionaires can play, too. But for the rest of us, forget it. Normal people can't even dream of running for most offices.

Nor do most politicians depend on normal people for anything other than a confused vote. Nor do they have much power themselves. They're owned by the special interests that fund their campaigns and causes. Running for anything, even a little piddly state legislative seat, is out of reach for most people otherwise. Take Ellen Cogen Lipton, my state representative.


This year, she had to give up her job because of our state's asinine term limits, and ran in the Democratic primary for the state Senate. She spent more than $210,000 on the effort ... and finished third, way out of the money.

This, for a job that pays $71,685 a year, and won't have much power, since Republicans will once again solidly control that gerrymandered chamber. But she had to spend all that money to have a chance.

Again, remember: That's for a local race. Want to run for Detroit mayor someday? Between Mayor Mike Duggan's campaign fund, and a so-called Super PAC that supported him, an insane $6 million was raised for Duggan's successful mayoral bid, according to Bridge magazine

There are those who see a silver lining in all of this — for instance, as the New York Times calmly notes, the new campaign finance laws "allow groups to reach voters with more specific political messages, which can harden partisans’ views but also potentially bring together new and perhaps unlikely voting coalitions."

But what's a more compelling and worthwhile point to note was the tune Lessenberry sang this week: the Average Joe who's interested in being a public servant needs to have access to serious fundraising capabilities.

Because, at this point, even the smallest of political aspirations requires a boatload of money.