This year’s election is going to be the battle of the oligarchs and clearly, the oligarchs with the most money to squander on political campaigns will win. There are three contributing factors to this dismal forecast.
First, there is no limit to how much money can be spent on political campaigns by those who have it to spend. This is a direct result of the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United1.
Second, inequality has reached a level at which there are now a few people and organizations with an abundance of cash that, lacking more profitable investments, can be invested in purchasing our elected officials.2
Third, we have a public that is highly susceptible to advertising and public opinion.
- Psychologists have proven that advertising sells. Proof that it does so is clearly demonstrated by the amount of money spent in advertising3. When people see something they like in an advertisement, they buy it. When they see a candidate they like in an advertisement, they vote for him/her. In both cases, their likes and dislikes depend more on appearance and presentation than on substance4.
- Public opinion matters. There is a phenomenon known as “group think” which is the belief in something simply based on what everyone else thinks. (Everyone knows the world is flat, so it must be flat.) Facebook has become one of the leading influential media of all time because it allows the free expression of opinion for everyone in the world to see free of charge. Seeing the same opinion enough times, many readers become believers.
Considering 1) the freedom to spend any amount of money, 2) the amount of ready cash in the hands of a few oligarchs5 and 3) the enormous return on investment (ROI) from political campaign spending and public opinion manipulation, the incentive for these oligarchs to “invest” as much money as possible into the political campaign pot is overwhelming. According to OpenSecrets.org, over $6.5 billion was spent in 2016 on federal elections alone6. That doesn’t include the costs of advertising for state and local elections and it doesn’t include the dark money spent for unaccounted activities such as foreign and domestic troll factories forging false Facebook accounts7 8 and other false flag operations. (My uneducated guess is that the money reported on political campaigns is just the tip of the iceberg.)
Unfortunately, it is the oligarchs who have the money; and all the evidence points to the fact that they are busy “investing” it in political campaigns. Based on everything we have ever learned, the oligarchs who spend the most money will win. It is, therefore, the battle of the oligarchs.
The questions we must therefore ask ourselves are 1) are the interests of the oligarchs consistent with the interests of the public? and 2) if not, what do we do about it?
1 See my last blog on the proposed constitutional amendment.
2 Corporate investment in political campaigns has been proven to have one of the highest short term ROIs of all possible investments.
3 According to Statista, $240 billion was spent in advertising in 2019. That’s two thirds the total amount spent in healthcare.
4 Which is why so much money is spent on packaging.
5 Like Mark Zuckerberg, Charles Koch, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Michael Bloomberg, the Walton family, the Trumps/Kushner clan and … well, you get the picture.
6 This amount is double that reported in 2000.
7 According to one CNN report last November Facebook had shutdown 5.4 billion false accounts in 2019 at the time of reporting. (Putting that into perspective, there are only 7.8 billion people on the planet and some of those are too young to have Facebook accounts.)
8 There’s an excellent article in Al Jazeera (one of the more credible news sources) regarding the use of troll factories in political campaigning. Anyone thinking the Russians are alone in this activity isn’t paying attention.