California Political Lesson for Obama: It’s All About the Money

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


In recent years, California spent more money on political campaigns than any other state and the winner almost always had more money—usually twice as much money. And the incumbent always won.

The National Institute on Money in Politics’ report—a two-year study of campaigns conducted shortly before and after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 Citizens United decision—was released about the same time it was announced that presidential candidate Mitt Romney swamped President Barack Obama in the June competition for raising dollars, $106 million to $71 million.    

The president and his allies are still ahead in campaign contributions, $512 million to $389 million, but June is the second month in a row he has finished second. Romney and company raised $76.8 million in May, $17 million more than President Obama.

Like winning politicians in California, Romney raised most of his money from big donors in June. Four out of every five dollars Romney received came in donations of more than $250. The Obama campaign says its average donation is $52. A study of California campaign finance for 2001-2011 found the top 100 donors contributed one-third of the $3.67 billion spent statewide, mostly on the winners.

The state study was conducted before California instituted a new top-two primary system, its biggest political reform since term limits, so the effect on its 98% victory correlation for the best-funded candidate is unknown. Nationwide, that figure is 77%.       

The factor accounting for the biggest reduction in the relationship between fundraising and competitive elections appears to be public financing. Among the states that have it, about half of their races were competitive in terms of fundraising.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

State Legislative Races Least Competitive in Nation, Study Says (by Will Evans, The Bay Citizen)

Monetary Competitiveness in 2009-2010 State Legislative Races (by Peter Quist, National Institute on Money in State Politics)

Money and Incumbency Advantage in Contested Legislative General Election Races (National Institute on Money in State Politics)

State's Top 100 Political Donors Contribute $1.25 Billion (by Coulter Jones and Elizabeth Titus, California Watch)

Romney Outraises Obama by Half in June (by Nicholas Confessore and Michael D. Shear, New York Times)

Romney Rides Big Donors to Outpace Obama's Fundraising (by Alina Selyukh  and Jeff Mason, Reuters)

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