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Friday, October 23, 2020

Campaign Spending is a Tragic Waste

I have always hated political campaigns for all manner of reasons, but without doubt the most compelling one — aside from the egregious exaggerations, flatulent falsehoods, and mendacious misrepresentations — is the enormous waste of billions of dollars on radio, TV, cable and internet advertising by various campaigns, PACs, super-affluent politicians, and other insufferable billionaires. Although interestingly enough and consistent with everything else he does, the Tax Cheat-in-Chief appears to have spent none of his own money on his campaigns. Rather, according to the New York Times, he’s made beaucoup bucks at his hotels, golf courses and clubs by selling access to himself and the White House. But I digress.

With the growth, power and reach of digital advertising today, the ad spending opportunities and the resultant problems have simply expanded. Which means the misdirection and misuse of billions of dollars that could be better used to address so many more pressing and meaningful issues in our country have simply accelerated. The excess and stark stupidity of these ad spends has only been made more obvious when research from each ensuing year consistently and convincingly demonstrates that traditional, indiscriminately-directed advertising has less and less impact on an ever-decreasing target pool of theoretically undecided voters.

Anyone who hasn’t made up their mind by this point on the major races is so indifferent or ill-informed that they probably shouldn’t be asked to or trusted to vote anyway. Trump’s latest and failed attempts to bribe the undecided with last-minute cash stipends wouldn’t have made any major difference either. But since it’s our cash and not his, he was more than happy (maybe even medically euphoric) to spend whatever dollars he thought he could grab as long as the checks had his name on them. But don’t expect those Dollars from Donald any time soon–his own party has thrown a wrench into the spokes.

Hijinks and horseplay aside, this year has, sadly, set new records of excess and unchecked spending, which would be horrible in most times, but it is beyond unconscionable in this particularly painful period of distress, disease and depression that plagues our entire country.

The Day One poster boy for this wastefulness is clearly Michael Bloomberg, who spent around $500 million of his $55 billion net worth on an abortive campaign where even the excited voters apparently couldn’t be convinced that Bloomberg cared all that much. Low key is sometimes okay in the early stages of the primaries, but somnolent never succeeds. Worse yet, Bloomberg then pretty much went radio silent for months only to finally emerge claiming that he was going to again spend a bunch of money helping Biden’s efforts in Florida. But always at a safe distance.

Mighty Mike once more into the breach and to the rescue except that all it amounted to was writing a few more checks from on high and not much more. A bunch of bucks and no real skin in the game. This noblesse oblige attitude isn’t really lost on too many mere mortals and, in fact, for many of these poseurs, it’s really their main message which is: I’m actually above all this but happy to influence the outcome without getting my hands dirty. And its very bloodlessness explains a great deal of why Bloomberg never connected on an emotional level with the electorate this time around. It’s all just about cash and just as cold and unfeeling. Which is quite surprising because no one doubted his commitment, energy or enthusiasm throughout his three terms as mayor of NYC.

The PACS and special interest groups are exploding the overall ad spend in Arizona where the Senate race numbers are already over $116 million and in North Carolina where the totals already exceed $160 million. Some other races – the McConnell/McGrath fight in Kentucky for example – are hoovering in so many PAC dollars that other candidates in both parties who are in much closer races are starting to complain.

In Illinois, we are witnessing an even greater tragedy and a further demonstration of mindless spending and wretched excess. Two billionaires – one the governor, the other a hedge fund manager – have taken opposite sides on legislation that proposes to bring a graduated income tax plan to the state. These two between themselves have spent more than $100 million to buy ads for or against the proposal.

This grotesque spectacle is taking place at the same time that Chicago has an immediate budget shortfall of about $1.2 billion and Illinois is financially in the toilet. Hundreds of thousands of people are jobless, tens of thousands are homeless, families are struggling to feed their kids, and these two arrogant assholes are spending $100 million on advertising. And to be sure, to a lesser extent, similarly stupid and insensitive spends will be taking place in every city and state over the next couple of weeks.

There’s really no end in sight and no prospect of any relief since the rules of the road are written by the very same self-interested people spending the money to support their own campaigns and interests. Too much is never enough for these folks.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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