Tuesday, May 25, 2004

A Giant Sucking Sound of the Presidential Election Year

The problem of presidential election years for activists on the left is not only that they tend to suck many activists' time and energy into the self-defeating project of electing the perceived lesser evil who turns against them but also that Democratic Party political machines suck big money out of small pockets of ordinary Americans with liberal bleeding hearts.

Some American leftists, like G. William Domhoff, wanted Ralph Nader and the Green Party to run an "insurgent campaign" in the Democratic presidential caucuses and primaries, forming a faction of the "Green Democrats" in the Democratic Party and emulating "Jesse Jackson's access to the Clinton-Gore presidency" ("Greens or Green [Egalitarian] Democrats?: A Commentary on the Nader 2000 Campaign," In These Times, March 29, 2002).

Not cost-effective. It costs a left-wing candidate more to run in the Democratic presidential caucuses and primaries than to run as a Green candidate in the general election. Howard Dean spent over $40 million, did not win a single primary, and got forced out on February 18, 2004 -- five months before the Democratic Party National Convention on July 26-29 and more than ten months before the election day in November. Generous individuals who gave money to Dean spent $40 million -- and gentle souls who gave to Dennis Kuninich spent $5 million -- without earning a single vote for their candidate in the general election. In contrast, "Ralph Nader spent only $8.5 million on his national presidential campaign" in 2000 (Yvonne Abraham, "Clean Elections Offers a Big Lift to Green Party," The Boston Globe, March 3, 2002) and got 2,882,955 votes in the general election ("U.S. Presidential Elections: Leftist Votes") -- about $2.9 per vote in the general election, which is far less than $100 per vote for Dean, $80 per vote for Kucinich, and $7 per vote for Al Sharpton in the Democratic caucuses and primaries (Cf. Norman Soloman reports that, in 1996, Nader "opted to cap his campaign expenditures at $5,000" ["News That Still Goes Unreported: 'Dollars Per Vote'"] and received "685,128 votes nationwide," spending only "seven-tenths of a penny per vote" ["Bumpy Media Road For A Wellstone Presidential Drive"] -- our Consumer Advocate sure knows how to get his money's worth).

Take a look at how money gets lost in the Democratic caucuses and primaries:
Add Up the Dollars, Er, Votes

THAT old promise of a chicken in every pot looks like a bargain compared with the sums politicians are spending this year to win votes. Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri spent $18 million in his presidential campaign, which ended after he won fewer than 14,000 votes in Iowa. That works out to about $1,300 per vote, which would be enough to buy every voter a chicken, a pot and a full-featured stove.

To be fair, you could include the votes that Mr. Gephardt has been picking up in primaries since he left the race. Counting them, his per-vote cost stands at about $600. So he can point to at least one bigger spender in the past: Steve Forbes, whose quest for the Republican nomination in 2000 cost $86 million, or about $650 per vote. But Mr. Gephardt is still comfortably ahead of another plutocrat: Michael R. Bloomberg paid about $100 per vote while spending more than $73 million to win the race for New York mayor.

Among this year's Democrats, the next highest roller was Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who spent $17 million, or a little more than $200 for every vote he won in the primaries until he withdrew. Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, spent the most, $42 million, but took back enough of America to average about $100 per vote until his withdrawal. Gen. Wesley K. Clark spent $22 million, or just less than $60 per vote.

Among the active candidates, Representative Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio has spent $5 million, or about $80 per vote so far. Mr. Edwards's $22 million in spending works out to nearly $24 per vote, and Mr. Kerry's $31 million to $21 per vote. But the most cost-effective of all is the Rev. Al Sharpton. By spending a little more than $600,000, he's paying less than $7 per vote, which is just about the price of a chicken. (John Tierney, "The 2004 Campaign: Political Points," New York Times, February 29, 2004, Section 1, Page 18)
$18 million (Gephardt) + $17 million (Lieberman) + $42 million (Dean) + $5 million (Kucinich) + $22 million (Edwards) + $600,000 (Sharpton) = $104,600,000 = wasted dollars for the Democratic losers who do not get a single vote in the general election.

MoveOn.org, too, is trying to make financial suckers out of their "on-line activists," with the goal of getting "500,000 people to donate $100 each":
MoveOn.org, one of the best-financed of the independent, liberal and controversial political groups spending millions to defeat President Bush, is shifting its fund-raising and campaign strategy. The group said yesterday it will stop taking large donations from rich backers and instead build a more conventional political action committee with smaller donations. . . .

The MoveOn PAC, like all PACs, is limited to contributions of $5,000 and less. But unlike the 527 groups, it is allowed to directly support candidates for office.

MoveOn.org was founded in 1998 to oppose the impeachment of President Clinton.

It has continued as a liberal grassroots campaign organization and has raised millions of dollars for its campaign against Bush. It has a massive network of supporters and claims 1.7 million "on-line activists" that have contributed to various MoveOn campaigns.

A lot of MoveOn's money went to the MoveOn Voter Fund, known as a 527 group for the IRS code it operates under. After the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law prohibited unregulated soft money donations to the political parties, 527 groups sprung up among Democratic interest groups as a way to combat Republicans' traditional fund-raising advantage.

The Voter Fund attracted donations from some of the most generous Democratic campaign financiers in the country, including international financier George Soros.

MoveOn contributors from this area include RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser, Costco co-founders Jeff Brotman and James Sinegal, investor James Roush, and software entrepreneur and environmental philanthropist Paul Brainerd.

The $50 million Pariser said MoveOn will raise would easily make it the best funded PAC ever.

In the 2000 campaign season, the largest PAC was Emily's List, a women's fund-raising organization, which reported raising $21 million. The NRA was second, with $17.8 million.

"Without a doubt, this is our most ambitious project yet," Pariser said in a teleconference with reporters. But he says MoveOn has never set a fund-raising goal it did not exceed. Pariser said the goal is to get 500,000 people to donate $100 each.

If MoveOn reaches its $50 million goal, Pariser said about $10 million will be spent on a get-out-the-vote drive, $20 million on presidential campaign TV ads and $20 million in direct contributions to Kerry and other candidates. (David Postman, "MoveOn.org Says It Will Limit Size of Donations to $5,000," Seattle Times, April 23, 2004)
Do I hear a giant sucking sound?

And to think that, in the event John Kerry gets elected, MoveOn.org will devote its political and financial capital to the all-important task of shielding President Kerry from any and all criticisms, even from well-deserved ones from his left. . . .

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