It's estimated that President Barack Obama will raise $1 billion for his re-election campaign. The GOP candidate is expected to rake in $600-750 million.
This news is usually met with shocked frustration. "It shouldn't cost so much to run for office."
Ironically, the mainstream media joins the chorus.
I'm going to share a secret with you. It's something vanishingly few people realize.
Mainstream media coverage, particularly positive news about your campaign, is crucial. Do you want to know how to get the mainstream media to cover you if you're a candidate? Buy lots of advertising, especially in the mainstream media's venues.
Advertising costs lots of money. Who Benefits from selling advertising?
The talking heads and editorialists can pretend that they're "Shocked!" They can call campaign budgets "obscene." But...
Their employers are benefiting from advertising sales.
And the mainstream media has it in its power to slash the cost of campaigns, and make them less advertising dependent, overnight. The how is quite simple.
I'm imagining a meeting. The attendees would be...
- The Republican National Committee
- The Democratic National Committe
- New York Times
- Washington Post
- Wall Street Journal
- Los Angeles Times
- Time Magazine
- USA Today
That's it. Just thirteen entities. The leaders of these entities all know each other, and it wouldn't be hard to assemble the meeting.
And the agenda would be an agreement: No NATIONAL polling, because there is No such thing as a NATIONAL primary.
Think about this for a second...
- Who pays for ALL those polls?
- Who reports the polls?
- Who has entire programs or reporter beats built around ad nauseum discussion of those very same polls?
I've just described the groups numbered 3 - 13 above. For example, CNN works with Gallup. When they commission a poll, they create their own news!
The agreement would work like this:
- The RNC and the DNC would pick four or five states for the first set of primaries/caucuses.
- These states would need to be split geographically, as well as be demographically diverse.
- No other state would have a primary/caucus for at least three weeks after this first set.
- The mainstream media would agree to limit their polling coverage to just those four or five states.
To be specific, the media groups listed above would demonstrate civic duty by...
- NOT paying for any NATIONAL polling
- NOT reporting on any NATIONAL polling
- modifying their programming into reporting about the campaigns in the early states
That last point is important. What passes for press coverage of the presidential campaign is really sports reporting. "Hardball" is a bad, almost colorless imitation of ESPN. Who is up? Who is down? Polls are a box score. And ALL the talking head shows are just Hardball with a different host and a different political bias.
The campaign goal is to "spin" these shows. And the candidate who fares best in the wake of their coverage is the one who can shift and dissemble most artfully. Is that what we really want in our future President? ...shiftiness? ...deception?
Here are the benefits:
- Upstart, outside the beltway campaigns would have a chance to compete.
- The race would be more interesting.
- The success of the candidate would be more about touching voters, and less about impressing the talking heads and editorial boards. But perhaps, most interesting of all...
- The amount of money spent on primaries/general elections, would be significantly less.
But you won't get that. Let's return to Who Benefits?
- The mainstream media would lose advertising revenue.
- The mainstream media would be forsaking its power over the process.
And don't discount the desire these High Priests of Information have to "anoint" the next President. Were it not for the mainstream media, the last piece of incumbent protection legislation (commonly known as "campaign finance reform") wouldn't have even come up for a vote, let alone passed. In a poll ranking the importance of issues at the time McCain-Feingold was debated, campaign finance was #25 of 25 in importance to the voting public. But the Pew Charitable Trust, along with seven other grant-making foundations, built a virtual Potemkin Village of demand for campaign finance reform. And they funded media eager to help. Who Benefits?
Here, perhaps, we find the most interesting hypocrisy of all. The complaints about bloated campaign budgets are NOT about better government. The establishment media doesn't have clean hands.
In fact, campaigns need to spend money to...
a) Build name recognition
b) Build their campaign brand and position
c) Counter the defamations of opponents
d) Fight the misreporting of the media
The LESS these campaigns have to spend (from funds raised), the more reliant they are on the "good graces" of Bill O'Reilly and Rachel Maddow, or of David Brooks and Ezra Klein.
And that's just how the mainstream media types want it.
So the next time you hear an establishment media figure whining about the cost of political campaigns, remind them that they're part of the problem, and that they wouldn't have it any other way.
Copyright (c) 2011 by Jim Babka. Permission to distribute this blog post for educational purposes is granted, if done with attribution to the author and the Downsize DC Foundation. Permission to use for commercial purposes is denied.
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