Sixty million dollars sure sounds like a lot of money. That’s how much the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised in the month of May. Michele Bachmann figures it’s such a huge number that she can scare conservatives into giving her Congressional re-election campaign money by citing it. “Our victories this week have the Democrats on the run, but $60 million dollars in one month will help them fight back hard and I’m concerned they are preparing to dump their piles of cash on me and other Constitutional conservative candidates,” reads her latest fundraising e-mail.
There’s only one problem, for Bachmann and the Democrats alike. Republicans out-raised them by a comfortable margin. The Romney campaign and Republican National Committee together brought in $76.8 million in May.
Democrats are gamely trying to spin this by arguing that it is cyclical: Obama and the DNC were way ahead of Romney and the RNC because the Republicans had not settled on a candidate. Now that they have, a flood of donations will come in on their side, but in the end it will even out.
That’s true, but Obama has to vastly out-raise Romney if he is to compete on the airwaves this fall. That’s because the wave of unlimited contributions from corporations and eccentric billionaires unleashed by the Supreme Court is going much more to the right than the left. Last week Politico reported that right-wing groups are planning to spend $1 billion on the election. “Just the spending linked to the Koch network is more than the $370 million that John McCain raised for his entire presidential campaign four years ago,” noted Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen. “And the $1 billion total surpasses the $750 million that Barack Obama, one of the most successful fundraisers ever, collected for his 2008 campaign.”
What is that money going to? Some of it, including much of the $400 million being spent by the Koch-related groups, will go to grassroots field operations. But most will go to advertisements.
And what will the advertisements consist of? Intellectually dishonest attacks on Obama’s record. Consider this hit job from Crossroads GPS, one of the two groups run by Karl Rove that together will raise and spend $300 million on the campaign. The commercial, which is being distributed with a $7 million ad buy, features a ticking debt clock and a narrator complaining that Obama is “adding $4 billion in debt each day” and “borrowing from China to pay for his spending.”
Coming from Karl Rove, this is more than a little hypocritical and misleading. Rove, of course, was the political mastermind of the Bush administration. The national debt nearly doubled under Bush–who inherited surpluses and left office running a massive deficit—from $5.7 trillion to $10.6 trillion. That’s because he passed tax cuts and increased spending. Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, blamed the political operation in the White House—in other words, Rove—for being irresponsible and ideological rather than serious about governance.
While it is technically true that the debt has continued to rise under Obama, this is hardly his fault. According to the Congressional Budget Office, roughly half of current deficits are due to the tax cuts Bush signed and the two wars Bush started. Meanwhile, Obama inherited a recession caused in part by Bush’s reckless mismanagement. During recessions governments run deficits because tax revenues decline even if rates stay the same, and automatic spending on programs such as food stamps and Medicaid increases as more people become eligible. Moreover, anyone with a basic understanding of macroeconomics knows that tax cuts and stimulative spending are often required during a recession to boost demand and help generate economic growth. In light of all this, Rove is more responsible for the current deficit than Obama is. But Rove blames Obama for it anyway.
Crossroads GPS actually proposes to make the deficits worse. As Jonathan Salant points out at Bloomberg News: “For all the talk about the debt, Rove’s group wants to continue all of the Bush tax cuts, as well as eliminate the estate tax on multimillionaires. Crossroads GPS doesn’t offer any specific spending cuts to pay for these policies.”
Republicans hope to convince the public to blame Obama for the debt they created, and to vote for more of the same policies that created it. And with an enormous spending advantage, they may be able to.