Money in politics has always been a fact of life, but this year it’s even more pervasive.
In 2012, $7 billion was spent in the election by all candidates.
Prior to campaign finance reform and contribution limits imposed after Watergate, the old model used to be: Raise a bunch of money from mostly wealthy donors and spend it on television ads.
The old TV ads weren’t terribly sophisticated, featuring jingles like “I like Ike, you like Ike, everybody likes Ike.”
Candidates took brown paper sacks of cash in the back seats of cars, million-dollar checks from the likes of W. Clement Stone, the millionaire businessman. And they spent the money any way they wanted: paying off other politicians, ministers, lobbyists, you name it.
Now candidates get hundreds of millions of dollars from millionaires and billionaires through super PACs with no legal need to say who donated the money. I miss sacks of cash in the back seat; at least it was intellectually honest.
In last Wednesday’s New Hampshire town hall forum, Hillary Clinton lightly dismissed a $675,000 honorarium she had gotten from Goldman Sachs with this: “It’s what they were paying.”
That was reminiscent of the bank robber Willie Sutton’s line when asked why he robbed banks: “Because that’s where the money is.”
Given the fact that half of all Americans have less than $1,000 to their name and that $675,000 could set up a middle-class family for life, her response seems out of touch. Not progressive, even.
According to Jane Mayer’s new book, “Dark Money,” the Koch brothers are attempting to infiltrate the Republican Party by hijacking its highly targeted mailing lists. The parties are now the middlemen, not the go-to guys. The Kochs and their shadow groups may spend $750 million this year. This is two brothers. Is that OK?
The airwaves are still blanketed by television ads, but that technology is so 1990s. Now, political consultants data mine everything you click on so they can determine just what you want and what potential phrases or concepts will ring your bell. They’re not blowing that knowledge on TV commercials; they are creating narrowcast commercials sent directly to you on your electronic devices.
Let’s say that they have your purchasing habits, subscriptions and other data and they think you’re a potential Chris Christie supporter, and this pops up in your Facebook feed:
“Hi, potential Christie supporter who likes handmade pasta, ornamental whisks, goes fishing seven times a year and has a Beanie Baby collection of between 75 and 125 Beanie Babies, did you know that Gov. Christie also LOVES handmade pasta, owns three ornamental whisks which he uses while fishing on the New Jersey Shore, AND signed the Beanie Babies Preservation Act of 2014, while he was governor?”
No. I’ll bet you didn’t.
That ad is way more effective than a TV commercial with shots of the governor looking heroic, followed by a red, white and blue logo and a slogan: “Chris Christie: Fighting with Everyone, But Fighting FOR You.”
By 2020, maybe they can even Photoshop you into a picture with your candidate, using your data-mined info showing you bowling while enjoying your Bud Lite (they have your credit card statement) and talking about Springsteen lyrics (iTunes data). Then they post it on Facebook, tweet it out and text it to you by SMS.
This specificity works. Ted Cruz used this kind of information to win Iowa. Trump blew it off, and now he’s looking like he’ll want to return to his job of firing people.
Welcome to the future. And, I do like Ike.
He didn’t data mine. He just won the war.