Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Funding in the 2012 elections

Mark Schmitt wrote last week about how Super PACs were allowing for zombie presidential candidates who now have the funding to walk the Earth long after a lack of endorsements or victories should have finished them off. I think this is just the beginning of the ways that some post-Citizens United funding innovations will affect the 2012 presidential election.

It's hard to know, going into the race, which side will have more mysterious funding backing it. There is no shortage of wealthy benefactors in either party who would be willing to give millions of dollars if they thought it might affect the presidential election. But this lack of knowledge increases the uncertainty surrounding the election considerably.

In 2008, McCain's team went into the general election knowing it was facing a condition of asymmetric warfare: Obama's team could outspend them 2 to 1 anywhere. Now, there are tactics you can pursue knowing you're facing such a situation in order to confuse your opponent, such as being ambiguous about just where you're devoting your resources. I think McCain did some things along these lines. Not that they helped him a great deal in the end, but in a closer race, perhaps such tactics could make a difference.

This year, conversely, neither side really has any idea what the funding situation looks like in advance. Yes, Obama and (presumably) Romney will be able to look at each other's campaign finance disclosures, but those will only reveal a modest percentage of the spending that will occur this year. Where will these Super PACs deploy their spending? What sort of messages will they convey, and will those messages be consistent with what the campaign is trying to say? How do you form a strategy if you have no idea what your opponent's capabilities are, or if you don't even know what your own capabilities are?


Kevin said...

Campaigns are likely monitoring FCC-required ad buy disclosures, currently only available in hard copy at the stations. However, if the FCC's proposed rule requiring these disclosures be put online is passed, the rest of us will be able to see these data too

Anonymous said...

Are the superpacs actually funding the campaigns? Or just speaking out on candidates and issues? The latter is protected in the Constitution.

Seth Masket said...

Anonymous, while I'm not suggesting any illegal activity, I'd submit that there's very little difference between "funding the campaigns" and "speaking out on candidates and issues." Yes, providing direct payments to Obama for America 2012 would be illegal, but running ads praising one candidate or attacking another (even if they don't use any "magic words") is pretty much what both SuperPACs and the formal campaigns will be doing come October.