As part of its mission to advance bipartisan political dialogue, the Center for the Political Future hosted Democratic presidential fundraiser and ambassador to the United Kingdom Louis B. Susman and Republican presidential fundraiser Jack Oliver. The panel focused on growing concerns with the evolution of fundraising in presidential politics.
“The biggest change I’ve seen [in presidential campaign fundraising] has been the internet,” Susman said. “It’s a whole new game. I don’t think traditional fundraising will be eliminated; I just think its importance will be less.”
Nearly 50 people attended the discussion, which was moderated by the Center’s co-directors Bob Shrum and Mike Murphy. The panel discussed how the internet and social media platforms have equalized the fundraising playing field.
“What the internet has done is it democratized fundraising so everybody can have a voice,” Oliver said. “You can have a voice as much as you want, and it’s empowering.”
The speakers discussed the behind-the-scenes aspect of campaign donations and how presidential candidates are able to fully maximize their financial resources, especially in light of the 2020 election cycle.
“There are limits [on donations,]” Oliver said. “You can give $2,600 per person per cycle. What becomes important, outside the parties, is people who have spheres of influence.”
Oliver noted the increasing use of campaign donation limits. Because of limits, he said that campaigns have increasingly depended on bundlers — people representing certain communities who gather contributions and present them to the campaigns — as a mode of fundraising.
“The attempt to get these important bundlers and/or grassroots organizers involved in your campaign both at the political level and the financial level is the major focus of most of the men and women running for president right now,” Oliver said.
Oliver said Super PACs — independent political action committees which indirectly support candidates with unlimited donations from corporations, unions and people — and “dark money” groups — non-profit organizations that raise unlimited amounts of money without disclosing donors — also have a stake in campaign financing.
“A lot of people are very critical, on the left and on the right, about these issue campaigns that are run external to the campaigns themselves,” Oliver said. “It is a very controversial piece because you have people not knowing where the money is coming from.”
Susman said that he believes one of the greatest threats to democracy was the 2010 ruling in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court case, in which money was equated to speech.
“People could give unlimited money and you didn’t have to say where it came from,” Susman said. “I think that is dangerous. It shouldn’t be allowed.”
Oliver said another change that has occurred in fundraising is the increasing cost and resources necessary to run for president.
“It’s expensive to run for president,” Oliver said. “One of the things you want to be able to demonstrate is whether or not you can bring resources together not only financially but organizationally as well.”
Oliver said this has led to the creation of the “permanent campaign,” in which candidates of both parties are constantly preparing for the next election cycle.
“What we’ve seen with the proliferation of news stations and your ability to create your own news vacuum with people who agree with you on 99 percent of the things that you think, is [politics] never stops,” Oliver said.
Susman said that without enough funding, a candidate does not stand a chance to win an election. This means that candidates will take money from corporations and wealthy individuals even if they feel morally disinclined.