Why Your Senator Doesn’t Represent You: The Big Money in Political Campaigns
We know what the ballot looks like when we go to the polls. But what does a senator see?
To win elections, politicians need votes. To get those, they need to raise money – a lot of money. In the 2010 Senate elections, the average winning candidate received 1.8 million votes and raised $9.8 million. Candidates who raised 33 percent less money received 33 percent fewer votes, and lost.
If a candidate called up voters himself, he’d need to convince 144 people every hour to vote for him (on average over his six-year term). That means he could spare just 25 seconds talking to each voter. (And this assumes he never spends time governing; he’d actually have far less.)
But modern political campaigns speak to voters less directly, with TV ads and billboards. To afford their campaigns, senators need to raise $782 an hour. That sounds like a lot, but a single big donor gives $1,837 on average. Most Americans can’t afford that, but politicians ask lobbyists and the wealthy. Because each big donor gives so much, he or she is worth 2.4 hours of a candidate’s time – over 300 times more than a voter.
Would a busy senator rather talk with 300 voters or one big donor? When it comes time to do his job, and pass legislation, whose interests will he represent?