Karen Heller: Up to our eyeballs in campaign spending

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has pledged as much as$100 million to defeat President Obama. He previously dropped $20 million backing Newt Gingrich. WONG MAYE-E / AP
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has pledged as much as$100 million to defeat President Obama. He previously dropped $20 million backing Newt Gingrich. WONG MAYE-E / AP
Posted: July 30, 2012

How much is too much? How about $2 billion?

That's the amount Republicans, Democrats, and all those confoundingly named PACs are projected to spend on the two major nominees in the 2012 presidential campaign, which is double the amount the top contenders spent four years ago.

Consider all the good such vast mountains of capital could accomplish rather than ensuring that, whenever you turn on the television or search the Internet, there's an image of Mitt Romney or Barack Obama asking for your vote and, incidentally, more money.

The campaign is a sad twist on the U.S.-Soviet arms race, opponents spending stupid levels of money in an attempt to make all equal while logic has fled the premises. The enterprise inverts priorities, making polling, advertising, and fund-raising trump the candidates' views on the issues, which we already know.

The truth is you can throw a heap of money at any problem and still come up short. Consider Romney's launch of his current foreign goodwill tour to England, Israel, and Poland, which aims to make the candidate look presidential in international policy.

But, no. On the eve of London's Olympics opening ceremony - which, I needn't tell you but someone might have informed Romney, is a massive deal for the Brits - the candidate labeled that nation's preparations "disconcerting." (Note to Mitt: When Brian Williams gives you a softball question, respond with kind and hollow platitudes.)

The English are second to none in the art of self-deprecation, but they really don't want to hear this stuff spouted by a Yank, even one who ran the 2002 Winter Games and who has a horse (literally, in dressage) in this race. After Romney's gaffe, Prime Minister David Cameron responded, "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world," adding, in a sly swipe at Salt Lake City, "Of course, it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere."

Advantage, Britain! On to Israel!

There's been great concern over the influence personal wealth has in this campaign, and much wringing of hands, but moguls can make spectacularly poor investments. Casino titan Sheldon Adelson bet $20 million on Newt Gingrich, proving that, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, money is wasted on the rich.

Adelson has pledged as much as $100 million to defeat Obama, through Restore Our Future and other super PACs. An ardent supporter of Israel, Adelson is contributing $5 million, hoping to persuade Jewish voters to switch parties. More than 70 percent of Jewish voters supported Obama in 2008 and polling suggests that, at most, Romney can attract a quarter of the base. As one prominent lobbyist for Jewish causes said, "Every single number indicates there is no such thing as a Jewish problem for the president."

Money, money everywhere, but no one stops to think.

When a candidate's natural base lacks enthusiasm - consider the protracted, anyone-but-Mitt primary season - spending more may not be the best strategy. "Advertising dollars are just as good as the product they have advertised," George Will recently noted. "The entire Ford Motor Co.'s marketing genius was put behind the Edsel. Didn't help. The Edsel wasn't a good product."

Please consider that this is conservative George Will comparing Romney to an Edsel.

We can be happy for many things, though, such as not living in Columbus, Ohio. During the first 12 days of this month, the two presidential campaigns and super PACs aired 1,640 political ads in that media market.

And every single one of those 1,640 ads was negative, a reminder that Obama's reform agenda doesn't extend to old-school attack politics.

Indeed, more than $44 million was spent on political ads between May and mid-July in the battleground of Ohio, and to the benefit of precisely whom other than some very happy television station managers?

Thank London we have the Olympics for the next two weeks to distract us from late summer's other amusement: guessing Romney's choice for vice president as we fast approach a momentous yet cautionary anniversary in our nation's history, Aug. 29.

That's the day, four years ago, that John McCain stunned the nation and picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, capsizing his presidential chances but launching the former governor and her family's reality-television careers, which continue to this day.

So enjoy the Olympics while you can, because of the $2 billion that Obama, Romney, and the super PACs will squander on the presidential campaign, I'm sorry to tell you that only half has been spent so far. We have more than three fun-filled months to go!

Which is another way of saying that we, and certainly the poor residents of Columbus, haven't seen anything yet.


Contact Karen Heller at 215-854-2586, kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @kheller.

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