05 April 2011
The Billion-Dollar Campaign: America's voluntary election tax
The President nominated himself for re-election yesterday, to no one's surprise and possibly to no one's great enthusiasm. At the same time, Republicans are poor-mouthing their chances against him next year, and polls appear to justify their pessimism. Respecting the power of money as they do, Republicans may well be intimidated by the Obama campaign's goal of topping the $750,000,000 raised for the 2008 campaign and possibly breaking the $1,000,000,000 barrier. Overkill does seem to be the President's object. He's reportedly asking wealthy donors to give at least $5,000 in two doses, one for a Democratic primary season in which Obama is unlikely to face any real challenge. Since the campaign can apparently do with the money as it pleases, the idea may be to influence other Democratic primaries. Meanwhile, the campaign is at pains to deny that the money raised will go mostly toward advertising. Instead, most of it supposedly will go toward hiring grass-roots campaign workers. Some observers suspect that Obama may become more dependent upon big donors this time, since many of the small donors of 2008, and especially the presumed independents, will have grown disillusioned with him now that his historical novelty has worn off somewhat. Nevertheless, reporters seem to consider it likely that the President can meet his fundraising goal. It may be that more Americans accept the logic of modern-day democracy, in which spending money appears increasingly as an essential component of civic participation. The major parties would like us all to believe that we aren't doing our full civic duty if we don't donate to election campaigns. The eagerness with which many Americans respond to their appeals looks strange when compared with the grudging way citizens contribute to the actual government of the country at tax time. A campaign donation comes with no comparable return in the form of services. All the average donor (as opposed to the corporate donor) can hope for is the satisfaction of seeing his or her side win -- and the even greater satisfaction of seeing the other side lose. Yet the donor presumably feels greater pride of citizenship in donating than in paying taxes. He may even hope, if he's a Republican, that donating more one way will mean having to donate less the other way. But whatever a donor's motive, the donation is superfluous. You're no worse a citizen if all you do at election time is vote. There may be more you can do to assure yourself of a decent choice of candidates, but none of it should automatically involve spending money. If you feel compelled to pledge money to a political campaign -- if you feel that you won't make a difference otherwise -- that you need to donate to counterbalance someone else's donation -- it should be obvious by now that something has gone terribly wrong with democracy in America.