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OPINION: We Have a Much Bigger Problem than Big Money in Elections

by Brett Meador, published

The 2016 election cycle is estimated to spend $5 billion, enough to build Trump World Tower fifteen times. Already the candidates and their Super PACs are flush with huge sums of cash; Clinton is almost at $70 million and Bush is over $120 million. Cruz, Sanders, Rubio, Walker are all between $15-52 million and counting. Big money in elections has led to many Democrats and Republicans agreeing that it is killing the integrity of the election system – Due to the fact that the candidate with the most treasure has the best chance of winning.

Candidates rent expensive venues for fundraisers and speeches; they launch national TV commercials, along with print, digital, and radio advertisements. With this money being spent primarily on building name recognition within the public, one must wonder why a candidate with $25 million has such a sharp disadvantage to the candidate with $100 million. Surely $25 million is enough to spread one’s message to every citizen that is paying attention? Of course, an attentive citizenry – or lack thereof – is exactly the problem.

During the election season, voters are bombarded with TV ads, pantsuits, comb-overs, and yard signs because it is effective. With more money, a candidate has more reach and for some reason, voters seem to be more swayed by seeing five ads rather than two. It is easy to blame big money because it clearly impacts election results. However, it is only an exacerbating factor of the true problem, which is that personalities, advertisements, quick sound bites, and a person’s appearance

win elections.

By putting a cap on the money allowed to be donated to campaigns or outlawing super PACs, it would probably make it easier for less cash strapped candidates to get elected. However, take a look at this list of dollars raised by candidates and tell me that the bottom half of those people would be better options than the top half. I suspect very few people would come to that conclusion. More equitable amounts of money among campaigns may have an effect, but it will not solve the problem of having poor quality options at the voting booth.

The glamour of a new face, a witty political slam, and emotional speeches distract us from talking about ideas, policy, or philosophy. Let’s face it, we are simple people and we choose for simple reasons. We need to address this problem if we want elections to matter.

Some individuals argue that changes in the primary selection process, real multi-party debates, improved journalism, or more citizen participation will solve our simpleton voter dilemma.

Perhaps reforms in these areas could improve elections but they will require the public to demand such changes. We are left with the irony that citizens need to make an effort to save themselves from their own lack of effort. But it is far easier to listen to TV commercials and Internet pop-ups than to read a book or search for intelligent critique.

It is alarming that we give enormous and ever increasing amounts of power to these elected officials. If we cannot choose our leaders for substantial reasons then we cannot give substantial power to our leaders.

Photo Credit: Sean Locke Photography /

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