Do candidates need allthat money?

June 03, 2008 11:00 pm

By Kelley Atherton

I read the newspaper just like anyone else does.

I was struck the other day by the amount of money county supervisors have raised for their respective campaigns. The six candidates had raised a total of almost $45,500 and spent close to $43,000.

District 2 candidate Charles Slert was the only one to make a comment about how the election is not about raising money, but the issues.

It seems that's what candidates always say. Yet, why is it so important to raise thousands or millions of dollars at all? What is the money used for? Advertising? Signs that litter yards?

I have never been swayed by a sign or advertisement. I went into the voting booth Tuesday like every other voter and chose the person I felt had the most sense and reason.

Campaigning seems to be more of a contest of wills to see who can raise the most and spend the most. The issues seem to fall by the wayside.

Take the presidential election:

Last month, Hillary Clinton raised $21 million, her Democratic rival Barack Obama $31 million, and Republican John McCain $18 million.

All of them have already spent nearly 80 percent of their funds. According to the New York Times, the breakdown of how they're spending money is about the same. Obama has spent the most on advertising, 50 percent. Clinton has pumped 42 percent into ads and McCain has used 40 percent on getting his message out.

I guess the money is well spent if you win.

In the age of the Internet and 24-hour news channels, a candidate can be up and then down with one scandal. Consider John Kerry in 2004 after the Swift Boat Veterans ads attacking his Vietnam War service. There's also the hilarious YouTube debates.

Can an ad really change people's minds? Wouldn't it be better just to hold a press conference or speak to reporters to dispute attacks?

The money that candidates raise could be used for something substantial like all those things that candidates say they're going to do once they're elected. Or even just inspiring people to get out and vote. States have seen less than 50 percent of eligible voters turn out for primaries. For the 2004 general election, 60 percent of voters went to the polls.

Before television, candidates had to campaign the old-fashioned way by talking to people. Now the media does the talking for them. Candidates are kept at a Secret Service arm's length. Debates are structured and organized into one-minute sound bites.

Campaign finance has even become a political issue. The Associated Press has a run-down of issues and where McCain and Obama stand on it.

McCain said that he will use public funds for the general election and has turned down federal matching funds so he can spend beyond matching limits. He also accepts money from lobbyists. Obama has said he'll use private money for the general election race and doesn't accept money from state lobbyists.

Candidates are starting to move away from accepting money from special-interest groups. In "clean elections," candidates only accept money from individual citizens.

If the candidates pledged to dedicate their money to a specific cause, then the people's money could go a lot farther than just paying media conglomerates for ads.

In Del Norte County, $45,500 could go a long way.