by Governor Ed Rendell
Since I left office as mayor of Philadelphia, I have taught a course at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. The course is “Political Science – the Science of Getting Elected.”
A staple for my course material has always been case studies from issues of Campaigns & Elections—that’s why I was excited to be asked to serve as guest editor of this issue, which has fundraising as its central theme.
I tell my students that money is the mother’s milk of politics and often a candidate’s ability to fundraise effectively is the single most determinative factor in whether that candidate wins or loses. Having money does not guarantee a candidate will win the election, but not having enough money to effectively convey your message will guarantee that a candidate will not win. The candidate with the most money wins far more often than not, but not always.
In the California Democratic primary for governor in 1998, Al Checchi, a self-funder, spent $40 million and lost, but only because his opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Grey Davis, raised $7 million—barely enough to be competitive but enough to get his message across to California Democrats. The same held true in the December 2007 Philadelphia Democratic primary for mayor when another self-funder, Tom Knox, spent $8 million and lost to Michael Nutter. But he lost only because Nutter raised enough to get and stay on TV for the last seven weeks of the campaign.
The celebrated 2006 general election battle between U.S. Senator Rick Santorum and challenger Bob Casey provides another good example. Santorum, using incumbency very effectively, outspent Casey $26 million to $17.5 million but lost by 18 percent. Casey turned out to be a surprisingly good fundraiser, and he raised more than enough money to deliver his message and effectively compete.
Having said that, it is still undeniably true that every other aspect of a campaign is affected by the amount of money raised. There can be no effective get-out-the-vote effort without money—no focus groups, no tracking polls, no direct mail, no TV or radio ads without resources. No single thing affects all other parts of a campaign as the ability to raise funds.
Fundraising, like almost everything else in a modern campaign, is part art and part science—and is hard to teach. In many ways it is based on the candidate’s personality.
It is also clearly true that the influence of money on the political process is far too great and contributes to the undue power of lobbyist and special interests in state capitols and in Washington, D.C. I believe that campaign finance reform is essential for democracy to flourish.
But I also believe that the media and academics are far too cynical about why people contribute to campaigns. They would contend that people and political action committees give money only to be in a position to get business, to get special treatment. Well, that may be true for many individual givers and for most PACs, especially in mayor’s and governor’s elections (cities and states have hundreds of vendors and suppliers), but clearly not in all elections.
During my time as chairman of the National Democratic Party (1999-2000), I found that a substantial majority of our big contributors gave us money to help elect Al Gore even though it was against their own pecuniary interest (they would save boatloads from the proposed Bush tax cuts). They gave because they believed Al Gore would be better for the country.
So fundraising is a crucial component of campaigns and elections, and this issue examines how money impacts different types of elections. It also takes a comprehensive look at the erosion, perhaps total emasculation, of the most ambitious attempt at federal fundraising reform, the McCain-Feingold law. It’s a great issue—a must read for anyone interested in politics.
Governor of Pennsylvania