In the wake of the election, we’ve been reflecting on a topic that is close to the hearts of members of the League of Women Voters and others: the corruption of political discourse by money. The League was founded in 1920 when women got the vote. Since then, its mission has been to educate voters.
- Question: How many political messages did you receive daily during the recent campaign?
- Question: How many of them used a “survey” or “quiz” that concluded by asking for money?
- Question: How many mailers presented a simplistic, negative version of a candidate?
- Question: How many of us feel resentment that the only form of political speech that matters seems to be money?
The final accounting for this election is not yet available, but we can measure the total amount of money spent by looking at the Federal Election Commission’s report for the 2012 election (the total election, not just the presidential race). Politico summarized: “Almost $7 billion was spent by candidates, parties, and outside groups.”
Broken down into categories, we see that:
- Candidates spent $3.2 billion;
- Parties spent $2 billion; and
- Outside PACs spent $2.1 billion.
Politico observes that “the total number of dollars spent on the 2012 election exceeded the number of people on the planet.”
One asks what this money buys. Increasingly, it buys distorted, negative caricatures of candidates. Complex issues are reduced to simple-minded slogans. The image of politicians becomes that of attack dogs rather than thoughtful debaters.
To restore dignity and genuine debate to the political scene, the League strives to be a force that stands above money. Voter guides and candidate forums provide a level playing field where each candidate has the same number of words or the same number of minutes to respond to the same questions. Character, thoughtfulness, and ideas count—money should not.