There has been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth since it appeared this spring that forces supporting Mitt Romney would be able to raise about as much money as those supporting Barack Obama. There’s even more now that it seems likely that the pro-Romney side will raise and spend more money than the pro-Obama side.
Four years ago, the Obama forces heavily outspent those supporting John McCain. The Obama campaign had enough money to target — and carry — heretofore Republican states such as North Carolina and Indiana.
That experience made the Democrats spoiled. The prospect that the other side would have as much money as they do struck them as a cosmic injustice. The prospect that it would have more — heaven forfend!
Democrats like to blame this situation on the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which allows corporations and unions to spend money on political speech. They did so even after their defeat in the June 5 Wisconsin recall election, in which Citizens United had no effect because fundraising was governed by state campaign-finance laws.
What’s really interesting is that, if current projections are right, this will be the third election in a row in which the party holding the White House will be outspent by the opposition.
In 2004, incumbent Republican George W. Bush’s side was outspent narrowly by those opposing him and favoring Democrat John Kerry. One reason Kerry outspent the president was that billionaire George Soros contributed heavily to Kerry’s efforts — and we heard few complaints about it at the time from those now decrying the billionaire Koch brothers’ spending as a threat to democracy.
In 2008, Barack Obama broke his promise to rely on public financing and raised and spent about $750 million — about twice as much as was spent on behalf of John McCain, who accepted public financing.
Now, despite the clout any incumbent president has, Democrats are likely to be outspent by Republicans.
All of which tends to undermine the case for campaign-spending limits. In the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case, the Supreme Court said limits on campaign contributions were constitutional; they didn’t violate the First Amendment guarantee of free speech because they were intended to prevent corruption or the appearance of corruption.
In effect, the Court said that you can abridge First Amendment rights in order to limit “smart money” contributions. Smart money, by definition, goes only to incumbents and candidates with a good chance of winning.