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At $92.60 a Vote, Bloomberg Shatters an Election Record.
December 4, 2001 3:34 PM   Subscribe

At $92.60 a Vote, Bloomberg Shatters an Election Record. Ross Perot spent about $3.59 per vote in his 1992 presidential race. The $68,968,185 price tag was more than Forbes and Corzine spent on their 2000 campaigns. Do candidates that essentially buy their elections gross you out, or do you feel better knowing that their money didn't come from PACs?
posted by jennak (29 comments total)

 
As bad as it is, it's what must be done to win. 90% of people only know what they hear in the media and advertising. If your opponent spends 2 mil you have to spend 3... it's a vicious cycle.
posted by geoff. at 3:57 PM on December 4, 2001


If he paid me $92.60, I'd vote for him.

To answer your question, I *do* feel better that a candidate's money didn't come from a PAC or other individuals that she/he would have to answer to or repay with favors (see current President). Granted, a rich politician isn't exactly a commoner of the people being represented.
posted by msacheson at 3:58 PM on December 4, 2001


Candidates can spend all the money in the world getting their message out, but I still won't vote for them unless I like that message.
posted by dagny at 3:58 PM on December 4, 2001


It is more money than Mr. Bloomberg apparently envisioned spending earlier in the campaign. Last spring New York magazine reported that Mr. Bloomberg had said that he would not spend as much as $30 million on the race, quoting him as saying, "At some point, you start to look obscene."

Um. At what point would that be? Is over $30 million being obacene a general guideline or can that be doubled + $8 million?

It's not so much the amount of money, but the idea that wallpapering prime time television with your campaign is enough to win that makes me feel dirty. I don't fault him, after all it doesn't take much else to win a political campaign these days.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:59 PM on December 4, 2001


Is over $30 million being obscene a general guideline or can that be doubled + $8 million?
posted by eyeballkid at 4:00 PM on December 4, 2001


No, what grosses me out is when someone takes a few facts about a single election (Bloomberg spent about 4x as much as Green; Bloomberg won the election) and makes an unwarranted generalization (the implication that voters will simply vote for whomever's name they see more often).

Now, for all I know, the generalization may be true, but the result of a single election is hardly proof of that.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:01 PM on December 4, 2001


Just to point out, Green (his opponent) spent $16.5 million. Also, Green used the city's matching funds, which restrict his methods of fundraising. There was no way Green could have possibly raised an amount equal to Bloomberg's personal forture.
posted by jennak at 4:02 PM on December 4, 2001


while i think media and marketing in large part have an effect on people i don't think it "buys an election." if lots of money and marketing alone made people and companies successful then every dot com company would have been successful.
posted by suprfli at 4:26 PM on December 4, 2001


No, what grosses me out is when someone takes a few facts about a single election (Bloomberg spent about 4x as much as Green; Bloomberg won the election) and makes an unwarranted generalization

7/23 New York Observer article on Bloomberg's spending : "On communications with the voters alone, in five weeks Mr. Bloomberg has already hit the cap that Democrats–all of whom face limits under the city’s tough campaign-finance laws–can spend for the entire primary....Even the public polls taken in mid-June show any of those Democrats beating him by a margin of 2 to 1, or more, in a general election."

He had zero name-recognition before. He spent millions more than Green on communications. In the last 2 weeks of the campaign, he spent $24.4 million on ad blitzes and direct mailings. What other explaination can be offered other than he bought his name recognition?
posted by jennak at 4:27 PM on December 4, 2001


No, what grosses me out is when someone takes a few facts about a single election (Bloomberg spent about 4x as much as Green; Bloomberg won the election) and makes an unwarranted generalization (the implication that voters will simply vote for whomever's name they see more often).

Now, for all I know, the generalization may be true, but the result of a single election is hardly proof of that.


According to Open Secrets, In '98, "All that money talked pretty loudly on Election Day. In 96 percent of contested House races and 91 percent in the Senate, the candidate who spent the most won." Read the couple paragraphs at that link. Very interesting.
posted by jeb at 4:42 PM on December 4, 2001


Campaign finance reform is all well and good, but what about what msachenson said earlier? I mean, just because people heard one candidate's name more times than the other, it doesn't mean they were ignorant of the others.

At some point, we have to be able to trust people to actually make a decision.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 4:59 PM on December 4, 2001


jennak, Green ran a crappy campaign. He came off arrogant and unlikable in the debates and several interviews towards the end. Still, how many people watched the debates or read about the candidates positions? Green also had the misfortune of working as public advocate, a position where he made political enemies yet received little attention for the thousands of people he helped.

Disparities in spending can't be ignored as a major factor in elections. My neighborhood isn't particularly affluent, despite rampant gentrification. Bloomberg had signs and flyers everywhere, there was no place within 10 blocks of my apartment I could go and not see a Bloomberg ad. His purchased visibility probably swayed enough people to secure him the election.

I hope he can manage the city's budget better than his campaign spending.
posted by joemaller at 5:05 PM on December 4, 2001


Well, maybe he really really really wants to serve his city.
posted by mstillwell at 5:08 PM on December 4, 2001


Bloomberg spent his own money to win the election. Seeing that most of the unions and voting blocks were supporting everyone but Bloomberg, having no strings and owing no loyalties is a very big thing for any NYC mayor. Too many strings and loyalties crippled Dinkins from being even a remotely effective mayor.
posted by tamim at 5:17 PM on December 4, 2001


> Now, for all I know, the generalization may be true, but
>the result of a single election is hardly proof of that.

One event does not make for a trend or even for a subject worth commenting on. I'm surprised the Times ran this.

In 1998, the california press was going on and on about how Checci and Harman's obscene spending in the gubernatorial race had alienated voters who instead opted for Gray Davis, a mild-mannered public servant.

Is this a difference between California and NY? Between 1998 and 2001? Who knows.
posted by vacapinta at 5:29 PM on December 4, 2001


Campaign finance reform is all well and good, but what about what msachenson said earlier? I mean, just because people heard one candidate's name more times than the other, it doesn't mean they were ignorant of the others.

Not to mention that you'd have to look pretty hard to come up with a category of speech more obviously protected by the first amendment than political campaigning.

As attractive as the idea of limiting what people can spend on their own campaign may sound, it's pretty much guaranteed to be dead on arrival.
posted by jaek at 5:46 PM on December 4, 2001


At some point, we have to be able to trust people to actually make a decision.

Yes, we do, but being that we can't run controlled experiments, don't you think we should be a little suspicous when in 96% of House races, people make a decision for the guy who spent more money? What about the fact that this money doesn't come from individual voters, but from PACs and others with their own agendas. The whole accountability system is messed up.

Instead of:
Be good to constituents->get votes->keep job

You get:
Be good to biggest donors->get votes->keep job.

96% of House races were won by the biggest spender in '98!! It's not idle speculation about possible bad situations, it's a reality. This is how we end up with laws like the DMCA and SSSCA. Why should they give a shit what we think when as long as they keep a wealthy industry happy, they are virtually guaranteed to win again?

Even if campaign speech is vigorously protected, if it's clear that unrestrained campaign finance is breaking the republic, than we should change the rules.
posted by jeb at 6:10 PM on December 4, 2001


anyone that lives in new york can tell you that bloomberg didn't *buy* the election. bloomberg bought some visibility with his money, but hardly as much as mark greene bought with years of political incumbency and weekly if not daily cameos in local news broadcasts. if "visibility" is about television coverage, i'd still wager that greene won on that count, at least locally. your average new yorker had no idea who bloomberg was before he ran for office. everyone with access to a new york post knew who greene was.

also - some interesting stats: . In an election day exit poll by Edison Media Research New Yorkers were asked “Regardless of how you voted today, how concerned were you about the large amount of his own money that Michael Bloomberg spent on his campaign?” Only 25% said they were “very concerned” and it’s probably reasonable to assume that more than a handful were serious Mark Green supporters. Of the remaining 75%, 18% said they were “somewhat concerned;” 25% said they were “not very concerned;” and 35% said they were “not concerned at all.”

Campaign finance reform is certainly a worthy topic, but Mike Bloomberg’s victory hardly proves that bloomberg bought the election. As indicated by the poll, there’s no clear causal relationship between Bloomberg’s spending and voter preferences. It should also be noted that the disparities in campaign expenditures fail to explain the volatility of the swing vote in the last days of this election.

In theory, many Americans like the idea that any private citizen can run for office. In theory, many Americans like the idea that one can come from a modest background and with hard work and a little ingenuity, become financially successful. The Horatio Algier mythology often associated with American culture has certainly been the impetus for many immigrants hoping to build a better life in the United States. In practice, however, a highly successful entrepreneur runs for public office and someone invariably whines that “the rich guy is trying to buy the election!” Which is really more likely to produce cynicism: a wealthy candidate risking a thus far successful career to run for office or media-sponsored propagation of the notion that wealthy private citizens inherently make bad public officials and are capable of winning elections only by outspending their opponents?
posted by lizs at 7:43 PM on December 4, 2001


Excuse me for drifting off-topic a bit, but I'm personally a lot less worried about individuals buying elections for themselves than PACs buying elections for other candidates (there, dagny, we can agree on something, yes?). At least the entrepeneur is only responsible to himself and his constituents. But, cases such as this do a lot to draw attention to the importance of money in getting elected, and it's not a bad idea to think about how money from other sources might affect other elections.

On another note, didn't the internet explode over this same topic when Jon Corzine won a Jersey senate seat?
posted by jeb at 8:09 PM on December 4, 2001


It's at least slightly amusing to me that everyone is aghast that $98 was spent per voter in New York, but nobody takes notice that the election funneled over a hundred million dollars into New York's economy. That money didn't go down an oubliette; it paid for advertising, printing, mailing, and many other tasks that in the end helped equalize wealth from one very rich man to many blue-collar workers with less money.

If paying so much for an election by bypassing spending limits via redistribution of a candidate's huge personal fortune to people with real jobs, so much the better. Next time I just hope two candidates do it and spend twice as much.
posted by kfury at 1:23 AM on December 5, 2001


In the UK, there are strict limits as to how much individual candidates are allowed to spend in an election campaign.

It cannot be good for democracy when it is possible to "buy" an election in the way Bloomberg did. America is theoretically the land of opportunity, yet running for office always seems to come down to money. No wonder the various vested interest lobbies are so powerful. The average American citizen would be far better off if politicians really were able to make decisions for the benefit of the people, not the corporations and organisations that bankroll them. The system just doesn't even allow idealism, now matter how idealist a politician may be when he starts his career.

kfury: "Trickle-down economics" was found to be a load of bollocks some time in the 90s. A way of justifying tax cuts for your rich cronies.
posted by salmacis at 2:05 AM on December 5, 2001


I am intrigued that everyone seems to be in consensus that PACs are evil. Do you distinguish between a PAC like say...the League of Conservation Voters PAC and RJ Reynolds PAC? (An NGO PAC and a corporate PAC?) What about union PACs? How is the support of a teacher's union, for instance, a bad thing?
posted by jennak at 3:58 AM on December 5, 2001


I can't think of many instances where an unelected lobby (for whatever group) should have so much influence. By all means, let the NRA (for example) try to influence policy, but not by giving money to politicians. Anywhere else, this is called bribery.
posted by salmacis at 7:03 AM on December 5, 2001


Question: Then how should unwealthy Americans get elected?
posted by jennak at 7:47 AM on December 5, 2001


jeb: Re the '98 House & Senate races. The vast majority of House and Senate races are won by incumbents. It should also be no surprise that incumbents are able to raise more money than their challengers. But correlation is not causality--did they win the election because they spent more money, or because they're incumbent, or just because the fact that they were popular in the last election means they're likely to be popular in this one as well?

Before concluding that money can buy elections, I would be interested in seeing an analysis of only those races in which there was no incumbent, or (even better) those where the incumbent was outspent by his challenger.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:13 AM on December 5, 2001


jennak: A combination of tight controls on candidate spending, and central funding for political parties should enable anybody to stand for election.
posted by salmacis at 8:25 AM on December 5, 2001


A combination of tight controls on candidate spending...

Unless the candidate is a multibillionaire. Wee!
posted by jennak at 9:00 AM on December 5, 2001


jennak: A combination of tight controls on candidate spending, and central funding for political parties should enable anybody to stand for election.

Except, of course, those who oppose nationalizing funding of political campaigns on philosophical grounds. Convenient.
posted by ljromanoff at 9:15 AM on December 5, 2001


from superfli:

>while i think media and marketing in large part have an effect on people i don't think it "buys an >election." if lots of money and marketing alone made people and companies successful then every dot >com company would have been successful.

This is not a very good argument, IMHO.

Lots of advertising and marketing money did just what it was supposed to do - raise name recognition and cause sales: How many dotcompanies did you buy from during the dotcom heyday? -- I bought from 20 or 30 different ones (whichever had the cheapest goods). How much free stuff did you get -- free shipping / buy one get three free / buy the camera get a lifetime of film free, etc ? A ton, right?

The problem was that each company was selling under cost. So the companies got fucked. But consumers got lucked.
posted by zpousman at 9:38 AM on December 5, 2001


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