News 8 Investigates: How big money influences an election
LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — With less than a year to the presidential election, the candidates have already raised more than $650 million. But there’s much more to come. Some political analysts believe more money could be spent on the 2020 race than the last election.
Over the years, the amount of money spent on presidential races has gone up significantly. In 2000, about $1.4 billion was spent on the election compared to about $2.4 billion in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Part of this money comes from outside groups either supporting or opposing the candidates. When and how that money is spent could play an important role on which name you see on the ballot.
“If Wisconsin is the most important state, we’re going to be a wash in campaign spending,” said Anthony Chergosky, a political science professor at UW-La Crosse.
Especially because presidential campaigns are very expensive.
“Unless you’re running at a very hyper local level, are you going to have a candidate that can talk to every voter,” said Sachin Chheda, a Democratic strategist based in Milwaukee.
To get their message out to as many voters as possible, candidates have to pay for trips, TV ads, social media posts, billboards, campaign offices, yard signs and print materials for volunteers to pass out across the United States.
“The candidates can’t do this all themselves, so you have to have money to pay for those things,” said Chheda.
Let’s look at the 2016 presidential election. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton raised about $564 million compared to Republican nominee Donald Trump who raised about $333 million in campaign contributions.
What that doesn’t include is the millions upon millions raised by Super PACS.
“They can take in as much money as they can possibly take in,” Chergosky said.
In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC, that anyone individual or organization can give as much or as little as they want to outside groups dedicated to help a candidate win or lose, as long as that group does not coordinate efforts with a candidate. That opened the door for Super PACs.
“People will be able to donate $1 million, $10 million, $50 million,” Chergosky said. This differs from individual contributions to a candidate’s committee, which is capped at $2,800 per election
Since that ruling, spending from outside groups, largely Super PACs, has gone up dramatically.
“Corporations are basically allowed now to spend directly to tell you who to vote for and who to vote against. They can basically do it in an unlimited way,” Chheda said.
In 2008, outside groups spent about $230 million on the presidential election. That amount nearly tripled after the Supreme Court’s ruling and it’s only gone up since then.
If you look at certain races, some campaigns were kept alive by this outside spending. Back in 2016, there were at least nine top candidates that had more outside money for them, than they raised through their own committee, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Chergosky said typically spending matters more during the nomination process, because during the general election people vote typically for their own party.
Source: Center for Responsive Politics
Some candidates have distanced themselves from Super PACs. During campaign stops and early ads, a number of Democratic nominees have said they do not want spending on their behalf or that the Citizens United decision should be overturned. Chergosky believes that some candidates may change their tune, because they simply won’t have enough money on their own to carry them through to the election.
“The reality is that we don’t have a lot of control sometimes to what people are going to do,” Chheda said.
Chheda has worked on state and federal campaigns. He said part of the problem for campaigns is that they really can’t tell Super PACs what they should or should not do.
“They can say publicly say, ‘I don’t want any Super PAC support.’ And what that really means is that, ‘I don’t want support where is money is being put into some other organization that is then carrying a message that I can’t control,'” Chheda said.
So how can voters know what or who to trust? People can use the Federal Election Commision’s website to see where candidates and Super PACs are getting their funding.
“They’re just trying to persuade you to vote for a particular candidate or to vote against a particular candidate or to show up for a particular election,” Chheda said.
Chheda said be careful what you listen to. Look at the disclaimer and find out who paid for the ad. Find out if it was authorized by the candidate or somebody else.
“It’s really important to trust, I think, what candidates say about themselves and what candidates say about their opponents and try to keep out the noise of what independent groups are trying to say,” Chheda said.
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