A month before the crucial Pennsylvania primary an aide to a superdelegate bluntly told a reporter that top Democrats don't want the people to think the Democratic presidential nomination was stolen. The aide referred to the whispers, grumbles, and even loud shouts from both the Obama and Clinton camps about the superdelegates and their possible votes after Pennsylvania. Team Obama especially feared that some superdelegates might do their version of the old back room deal making that party bosses once routinely engaged in at Democratic conventions and handpick Clinton. That would be a smack in the face of the delegates who presumably by the time of the convention will have given Obama a majority of their votes. A superdelegate deal would defy the "will of the people," and virtually insure a balkanized Democratic Party and a crippled nominee. Top Democrats shudder at that thought and say they are working hard to insure that a nominee reflects the wishes of the majority.
The nod to democracy party leaders make is noble and practical, the results of Pennsylvania notwithstanding. But politics being politics, money and political favoritism, but especially money, are making a mockery of the ideal of letting superdelegates decide a nominee purely on their conscience and the best interests of the party. Clinton and Obama have spread cash to any and every superdelegate that they think will back them. The disturbing prospect is that the eventual winner could be the one that spreads the most cash around. There is little evidence that the superdelegates are saying no to the money.
The Center for Responsive Politics reported in mid February that Obama's political action committee had doled out nearly $700, 000 to the superdelegates. Clinton's political action committee had ladled out close to $200,000. The figures almost certainly have jumped since then. And as the battle for the vote of the superdelegates intensifies in the remaining primaries and with neither one able to knock the other one out in the number of pledged delegates bagged, the cash spigots to the superdelegates will open even wider. The money Obama and Clinton has shoved out has been well spent. In February, 34 of 81 super delegates that announced that they'll back Obama got donations from him totaling nearly a quarter million dollars. 13 of the 109 superdelegates that back Clinton got nearly $100,000 from her.
There are two reasons for the gaping disparity in the amount shelled out by Obama and Clinton to the superdelegates. Clinton had less money to spread around and for a time less need to spread it. Clinton and hubby Bill are the Democratic Party's consummate insiders. Before Obama's meteoritic rise on the national scene, Clinton by dint of old ties, loyalties, and allegiances was the runaway choice of the superdelegates to get the party nomination.
Obama radically changed the equation for Clinton and the party. His surge has made many superdelegates rethink their Clinton tie or at least waver. With the king's ransom of campaign cash that Obama has, he was able to nudge some of the fence sitters over to his column.
Clinton and Obama, though, hotly deny that they are trying to buy the votes of superdelegates. They paint their contributions to the superdelegates in the most innocuous and banal terms and say that the cash is simply meant to help Democrats stay in office. But a close look at who gets what belies their publicly professed high minded intent. In almost every case a superdelegate most of whom are congresspersons or senators who announced for Clinton got a Clinton contribution and the ones that announced their vote for Obama got a contribution from him. The reverse is not the case. Few of the elected official-superdelegates got a penny from Obama if they backed Clinton and the ones that backed Obama didn't get anything from Clinton.
Undoubtedly some of the superdelegates that have announced for either candidate back them because they sincerely believe that their choice is the right choice for the party and that he or she stands the best chance of beating McCain. They had already or would have eventually committed to either Obama or Clinton even if they didn't get a cent from them. The money they got from them was simply an added sweetener.
No figures have been released yet but undoubtedly a lot of cash changed hands before the Pennsylvania primary. And if Hillary wins big, a lot more cash will change hands before the final mini-wave of other primaries in May and June. More than 100 house members, senators and delegates from territories and the District of Columbia have not publicly committed to either Obama or Clinton. Their votes ostensibly are up for grabs. The money alone may not sway them to toss their vote to either Obama or Clinton, but it sure won't hurt. Pennsylvania, then, is just another campaign bank stop for Obama and Clinton.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst and National Political Affairs Writer for New America Media. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).