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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Big donors get to play ‘Godfather’

Telegraph Editorial

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen raised $2.8 million for her U.S. Senate campaign in the last quarter, outpacing a man who may or may not be her Republican challenger by $800,000. Scott Brown raised a mere $2 million, though his camp thought that was pretty impressive when they announced it last week.

Democrats across the state trumpeted the news of Shaheen’s fundraising prowess on Monday. She has raised $10 million during this election cycle and has $5 million cash on hand. She should have; through the end of March, spending money to make money was her biggest campaign expense, with 35 percent of her campaign’s expenditures – $621,000, according to Opensecrets.org – going toward fundraising. ...

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Sen. Jeanne Shaheen raised $2.8 million for her U.S. Senate campaign in the last quarter, outpacing a man who may or may not be her Republican challenger by $800,000. Scott Brown raised a mere $2 million, though his camp thought that was pretty impressive when they announced it last week.

Democrats across the state trumpeted the news of Shaheen’s fundraising prowess on Monday. She has raised $10 million during this election cycle and has $5 million cash on hand. She should have; through the end of March, spending money to make money was her biggest campaign expense, with 35 percent of her campaign’s expenditures – $621,000, according to Opensecrets.org – going toward fundraising.

It’s how the game is played, but it’s also a testament to how warped the political process has become that, not only has money eclipsed the issues, it has become the main issue, drowning out all others.

How many teachers could be hired with that amount of money? How many college tuitions could be covered by those sums, or cops employed on the street? How many mental health agencies, social workers and day care providers could use even a portion of that amount?

Political operatives in both parties would have you believe that the numbers are indicative of the grass-roots support enjoyed by their candidates.

That’s true, but only in a limited way. The money is more a reflection of a well-honed party fundraising apparatus that solicits with the efficiency of a boiler room peddling questionable stocks with high-pressure tactics that would make the Wolf of Wall Street blush.

The email solicitations in the last quarter went out from groups with names like “Defeat Scott Brown,” a Shaheen group called “Save the Senate” and from the candidates themselves and anyone in either party with sufficient name recognition to leverage a few bucks from prospective donors. The message is always some variation of “Armageddon is just around the corner if the other guys win.”

Every candidate running for federal office has their fundraising machinery, but they would prefer you to pay careful attention to the donors who gave $200 and less. They want you to ignore the deep-pocket contributors who are courted by candidates when they jet around the country to cozy up to those weighed down by cash.

And let’s face it, those big-money types aren’t contributing out of the goodness of their hearts. They are purchasing access that small money donors can’t match because – as our Supreme Court has decreed – money is speech and lots of money buys a louder voice in the halls of Congress.

Big donors get to play Don Corleone in the film “The Godfather,” who famously said to the undertaker in the film’s opening scene: “Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. ”

Such services typically entail a member of Congress voting a certain way on an issue of critical importance to a donor or, better yet, using their pull to make sure an issue never comes up for a vote.

There is no evidence that the current campaign finance system serves anyone particularly well except incumbents. A recent study from the London School of Economics, in fact, quantified the incumbency advantage as being worth about $500,000 to an officeholder.

No wonder those in office have historically been re-elected at rates topping 90 percent.

Money could have something to do with that.