I was invited to speak on a (foreign, of course) television show about the money that U.S. presidential candidates are accepting and how it affects them, so I took a look at the latest numbers on OpenSecrets.org. The television producers only wanted to discuss the three Democrats and three Republicans they called the "leading" candidates. Are these the leading candidates in the polls (which at this early stage cannot predict votes) or in fundraising (which is neither voting nor [pace the Supreme Court] speech)? Well, here's the thing: you can't distinguish. The candidates' rankings in terms on money and polling are the same, at least for the Democrats. But here's the question: which is the chicken and which is the egg?
Does the super wealthy sliver of the American population that "contributes" the vast bulk of the money choose to fund candidates because they're ahead in the polls, or do the sort of people who are willing to answer questions from strangers who phone them during dinner tend to prefer the candidates who have the most money? No doubt, it's some of each, but I am certain it is more of the latter than the former. Candidates who raise more money get more media coverage, just as candidates who get more media coverage raise more money, and an amazing percentage of the coverage is simply about who has raised how much money. (And, of course, most of the money goes to television networks in the form of ad purchases. Progressives would be far better off funding the creation of an honest television network than contributing their bit to the common cesspool.) Television viewers are intensively and endlessly trained to be strategists rather than citizens. Few people give their support to the candidate they most agree with. Few even know which candidates they most agree with. (Several online polls that ask people their positions on issues and then match them up with candidates have come out with Dennis Kucinich in the lead). The factors that people base their choice on include more than money, but money is clearly a big part of it and a big part of determining who the media labels "viable."
Among the Republicans, here are the money leaders in terms of money raised: Mitt Romney $44 million, Rudy Giuliani $35 million, John McCain $25 million. Nobody else has raised $4 million. McCain has blown so much he doesn't have $4 million left. Romney has $12 million on hand, and Giuliani has $18 million. Fred Thompson entered the race the day and hour on which he could avoid reporting anything on his fundraising until the race is well underway. The polls show the rankings as Giuliani, then McCain, then Thompson. Romney is something of an aberration: he's got money but not polling.
Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton has raised $63 million, Barack Obama $58 million, and John Edwards $23 million. Two others are over $10 million: Bill Richardson $13 million, and Chris Dodd $12 million. In terms of cash still on hand, they fall in the same order. Clinton has $45 million, Obama $36 million, Edwards $13 million, Richardson $7 million, and Dodd $6 million. The polls follow perfectly for the first three: Clinton, Obama, Edwards. But fourth and fifth in the polls are Al Gore (who's not even running) and Dennis Kucinich (who has only raised $1 million). Kucinich, at a low scale, almost off the radar, is an aberration: his polling ranks him higher than his fundraising.
How does all this cash impact candidates' positions on issues like war, health care, and trade?
OpenSecrets.org does not provide analysis of funding by war profiteers other than oil and gas companies and lobbyists. Oil and gas money recipients in order from biggest to smallest are: Giuliani, Romney, Clinton, McCain, Richardson, Obama. Lobbyists' favorite candidates in order are: Clinton, McCain, Dodd, Giuliani, Romney. This week Edwards' campaign sent out an Email ( http://afterdowningstreet.org/node/26928 ) criticizing Clinton for holding a $1,000 lunch for war industry lobbyists attended by Congressional Committee Chairs and Members on the committees related to their issues. Edwards didn't add that, while Bill may have been the cheater, Hillary turns out to be the pimp. Senator Clinton, who has also benefited from a fundraiser hosted by war-promoter Rupert Murdoch, is the most pro-war among the Democratic candidates. Obama comes next. Then Edwards. Richardson, despite his gas and oil money is more strongly for ending the occupation of Iraq and creating green energy than the others. The Republicans, other than Ron Paul, all back the war,
Edwards' money comes largely from hedge funds. He and the rest of the candidates in both parties, except for Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, opposes ending NAFTA or corporate health insurance. But he takes larger baby-steps toward single-payer health insurance than Clinton or Obama. Clinton accepts huge amounts of corporate PAC money and – as we've seen – lobbyist money. Hedge funds give to, in order: Romney, Giuliani, Dodd, Obama, Clinton, McCain, Edwards. Insurance companies give to: Dodd (who is from insurance-heavy Connecticut), Romney, Giuliani, Clinton, Obama, McCain, Richardson, Edwards. Pharmaceutical and health products companies give to: Romney, Obama, Clinton, Giuliani, Dodd, McCain. And health professionals give to: Clinton, Romney, Obama, Giuliani, McCain, Edwards, Richardson.
How do we fix this? We might start by looking to Arizona and Maine's public financing examples. We might finish by reversing the ruling that money is speech. In the meantime, Clinton is the money leader and the poll leader and a tremendous influence on what the Democratic leadership does in Congress over the next year. Her influence is key to keeping the occupation of Iraq going (and the theory that this will help her next November) and also to holding off impeachment (which she reportedly fears would remind people of Monica Lewinsky). With impeachment effectively removed from the Constitution, and all that follows from that, it is safe to say at this point that Monica blew more than Bill.