June 12, 2012
Suppose two opposing political candidates are standing outside your favorite supermarket, flashing cash and running their mouths at you as you enter. Suppose they simultaneously compete – somewhat rudely – for your time and attention. Would you stop and listen or keep walking? Before you answer, imagine you can see how much money both politicians have in their hands. One is clutching a $20 bill and a couple of ones, while the other is earnestly gripping just a few ones and a couple of quarters. There is a magic money machine in front of each candidate that dispenses fresh dough for the candidate to dispense to all takers.
“Vote for me, and I will give you $22!” one of the candidates declares.
“Vote for me, and I will give you $3.50!” the other one says.
Gut check time - can your vote be bought? If so, what’s your price? If not, how do you defend yourself from the onslaught of unsolicited sales pitches?
According to a June 6 report by Liz Lefebre at uscatholic.org, incumbent Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the super PACs supporting him spent about $30 million successfully defending the governor from the challenge of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the state’s June 5 gubernatorial recall election. That comes out to about $22 per vote for Walker, who received 1,334,450 votes, and $3.50 per vote for Barrett, who received 1,162, 785 votes and had roughly $4 million backing his efforts to unseat Walker.
Campaign spending vs. clarity on the issues
With political spending poised to reach new heights in Campaign 2012, American voters would be wise to step back from the flood of money and focus on candidates’ records and where they stand on the issues. This is easier said than done, since candidates have been known to “stretch the truth” somewhat during campaign season. But with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opening the door for even greater amounts of cash to influence U.S. elections, the time is right for a backlash. That backlash needs to be premised on factual information, not expensive political spin.
Let’s call it “Voters Enlightened.”
In spite of all the big bucks flooding the political arena, it is still possible to let research and reason – not big bucks and bogus ads – guide your voting behavior.
Keep these three things in mind during Campaign 2012, and you will be on your way to electoral enlightenment.
1. Politicians and the special interests financing them will be spending more money than ever before during Campaign 2012, thanks to the Citizens United decision.
2. Politicians and the financial interests supporting them are trying to buy your vote through the commercials you see. They are rarely, if ever, trying to provide you with accurate information so you can make an informed decision.
3. You do not have to sell it. You can “buy your own vote” by basing your decisions at the voting booth on research and reality. Just for fun, you can put some change or a buck in a jar (a big jar) every time you see or hear a particularly childish or offensive campaign ad. If you do this, you will have a tidy sum saved up by Election Day. That way, all the money the Super PACs are spending results in more money in your pocket and no influence on your vote. Not exactly what they had in mind, but that’s OK. It’s a free country and you have the right to ignore twisted political ads.
Time vs. money in the battle for your mind
Points 1 and 2 are easy enough. Once you understand that the billions of dollars that will be spent on this campaign are being spent in order to influence voters’ choices, not necessarily for providing them with accurate information, then you’ve developed an “immunity” of sorts to the toxic Citizens United decision. You can help others enact their immunity by reminding them of the first two points every time you find yourself in a discussion. It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat, a Republican, a Green, a Libertarian or something else, No. 1 and No. 2 will always hold true.
The next step, No. 3, will actually require some discipline and some effort, but it is the only way Voters Enlightened can triumph over the tidal wave of cash, foreign and domestic, unleashed by the Supreme Court’s controversial decision. It boils down to this: Dedicate at least three hours between now and Election Day researching the candidates, their records and their positions before deciding who gets your vote. Three hours dedicated to cutting through the crap vs. billions of dollars designed to shape, mold and influence your perceptions. If you put in the effort, your time beats their money. That alone seems worth it to me, regardless of who wins the election.
If you like to write about U.S. politics and Campaign 2012, enter "The American Pundit" competition. Allvoices is awarding four $250 prizes each month between now and November. These monthly winners earn eligibility for the $5,000 grand prize, to be awarded after the November election.
Wikipedia entry on Wisconsin gubernatorial recall
A record amount of money spent on Wisconsin recall, CBS News, June 6, 2012
Money talks: Wisconsin’s recall election, uscatholic.org, June 6, 2012
2008 campaign costliest in U.S. history, Politico, Nov. 5, 2008
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