Shock and Awe, 2012 Edition

Inquiring minds want to know — what happened to Mitt Romney’s supposed financial edge?  Wasn’t that supposed to be his ace in the hole?  Wasn’t he going to “carpet bomb” swing states with advertisements?  Now, as it turns out, President Obama has tens of millions of dollars more in his campaign account than Willard.

What happened?

Well, as the New York Times reports, a lot of this supposed financial edge derived from the Romney campaign’s counting monies in Republican National Committee accounts that cannot be directly used by the campaign as campaign money.  This wasn’t illegal — it was just a public relations stunt.  Although the Romney campaign claimed that it was raising massive amounts of money,

federal law guarantees candidates, not parties, the lowest available ad rate in the days leading up to a general election. Thanks in part to his army of small donors, Mr. Obama gathered more money in his own campaign account than Mr. Romney, whose advantage lies in raising large checks that primarily benefit the R.N.C.

Mr. Obama began September with a balance of $86 million, even after spending $65 million on advertising. He raised over twice as much money as Mr. Romney in checks of under $200, which donors can give repeatedly without quickly hitting federal contribution limits.

I’m reminded of the Bush Administration claims in 2003 that it would “shock and awe” helpless Iraqis into submission to American “liberators.”  It’s also very reminiscent Karen Hughes’ claims in the last week of the 2000 campaign that George W. Bush was closing fast in California — a multimillion dollar head-fake that might have cost Bush the election but for the Supreme Court’s coup d’etat, or Karl Rove’s confident 2006 assertions about him knowing “the math.”

Why the massive claims, then?  Because that’s how today’s Conservative Movement operates: a massive confidence game in an attempt to cow the opposition.  It’s all hat and no cattle, or in Mitt Romney’s case, all Top Hat and no cattle.

And it never works.  The Obama campaign deftly used these claims as a way of energizing its bank of smaller contributors, and wound up having more cash on hand at the end.  As mentioned, Bush wound up losing the popular vote, and the 2006 elections.  As for cowing the Iraqis — we all know how that turned out.

The entire Conservative Movement essentially operates on a model of assuming that the public and the media are simply too ignorant or too preoccupied to understand real issues.  They are right more than I would like to acknowledge.  But at this point, it’s really all they have left.  And if today’s polls are right, it’s not enough.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

8 thoughts on “Shock and Awe, 2012 Edition”

  1. OK, that’s a terribly written article. It really doesn’t make clear whether the Democrats or the GOP are in ahead (in terms of money) right now.

    Obama has more cash than Romney.
    But [Romney + RNC] has more cash than [Obama + DNC].
    But “some” of that RNC money can’t be used by the campaign.
    But it can be spent on ads, just not coordinated with the campaign.
    But ads that aren’t paid for with the candidates’ own cash cost more.
    … and there may be more I’m missing.

    So, bottom line, after all that back-and-forth, which party is in better shape, financially? After reading the NYT story, I have no idea.

    1. By “that’s a terribly written article” I mean the NY Times piece Jonathan links to, not Jonathan’s post itself.

    2. See also this New York Times blog post. Romney is complaining that he is having to spend too much time fundraising to keep pace with Obama – who, you will note, is busy being President. Those people inclined to give to Romney have in many cases maxed out a year ago, while Obama’s campaign is funded by a flow of small-dollar amounts, often repeat donations by people who can’t casually sign over two grand at the start of the campaign – and Obama doesn’t have to go out schmoozing these donors (and couldn’t meet that many people anyway, even if he weren’t otherwise engaged); their money flows in so long as they’re paying attention to the campaign and believe Obama’s got a shot.

  2. The most rational voices on the Republican side are sending pretty strong signals that Mitt has disqualified himself.

  3. Of those 50,000$ plate dinners, only a small fraction belonged to Rmoney because of the max contribution rule; the rest went / goes to the RNC.

    Only now, the loss of faith in Rmoney on that side means that the RNC will be applying the overage to congressional and other downballot races as a failsafe.

    Rmoney got pwned, or perhaps he pwned himself. Gad, what an incompetent, whining, unaccountable loser (as well as being a contemptible skunk in moral terms). Think of what it takes to do things so badly on every possible front. (the only “skill” he’s shown in nine years of running for Pres is burying his incredibly weak opponents in avalanches of negative ads / money).

    Heaven HELP this poor bleeding country if he should get elected due to some last-minute calamity or engineered chaos or vote suppression.

    Folks, work!!

  4. And it never works.

    I think the strongest claim you can make here is that it doesn’t always work. In fact, the last 15 years or so include some stunning successes for this strategy.

    “Shock and awe” failed, but “WMD” succeeded. The California head-fake was unhelpful, but “Swift Boats” was a winner. Yes, 2006 didn’t go well for the Republicans, but you can’t win ’em all. 2004 went quite nicely, thank you.

    And 2000 doesn’t strike me, overall, as an example of bullshit failing to work.

  5. On the other hand, you can also look at this disparity as a result of accounting tricks and the electoral equivalent of off-balance-sheet special-purpose entities. Under the current rules, money donated directly to a campaign is perhaps the least efficient form of cash in play. It’s subject to very low spending limits, pernickety requirements for accounting and disbursement, and lack of plausible deniability. If it’s used to say something objectionable, a candidate has a hard time weaseling out of it. Money donated to “independent” organizations (e.g. the hundreds of millions to Karl Rove’s “nonprofit”) is not subject to donor limits, timely disclosure requirements, or the requirement that the candidate stand behind the statements made. (And a recent supreme court decision made it even worse: you can say whatever you want about candidates by name, just as long as you don’t explicitly tell people to vote for or against them.)

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