Friday, May 4, 2012

Does Americans Elect "Get Big Money Out of Politics"?

A big part of Americans Elect Corporation's self-proclaimed value proposition is that, by providing 'non-partisan' 50-state ballot access plus a digital megaphone for candidates who do not wish to align with either of the two conventional parties, it provides a means to take the 'big money' out of politics. Provided, that is, that one ignores the 'big money' pumped into Americans Elect itself. It's a nice idea, and a bold claim. But does it hold up under scrutiny?

Up to this point no one could really answer that question...there were simply no hard data available with which to test the hypothesis. But now, for the first time, we have some solid (although admittedly still sparse) data, and the answer is: "sorta, but sorta not, and definitely not in a good way."

Leading AECorp declared candidate Buddy Roemer provides us with a unique test-bed on which to evaluate AECorp's claim. In this election cycle Buddy has been, first, a declared Republican candidate (through February 22, 2012) and then, most recently, a declared Americans Elect Corporation candidate (from February 23rd through today). His candidacy thus provides us with a wealth of authoritative and comparative campaign finance data to draw upon for our analysis, courtesy of his legally mandated and publicly accessible filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Cranking Buddy's FEC numbers, we first find that Americans Elect Corporation definitely does get the big money out of politics, but maybe not in a good way (see the figure below; click to view an enlarged version).

The chart above shows that, in the latter half of Roemer's first incarnation as a Republican, his campaign averaged just over $40,000 per month in individual donations. But upon his rebirth as an AECorp candidate his monthly total instantly plummeted, to just $9,925 in March, his first full month as an AE. Americans Elect certainly has succeeded brilliantly in taking the 'big' money (such as it was) out of Buddy's campaign.

But donations don't win elections -- spending wins elections. So the next chart, below, analyzes the Roemer campaign's FEC-reported expenditures per vote earned, both as a Republican and as an AE, and puts these into context by comparing them with the expenditures per vote of the entire Republican field in the Florida primary.

Through his tenure as a Republican candidate (from January 1, 2011 through February 22, 2012), the Roemer campaign reported expenditures totaling just under $452,000 (to arrive at this figure we pro-rated the campaign's reported February 2012 expenditures). Republican Roemer received a total of 7,297 votes in Republican primaries through March 20th of this year, so he spent $62 per Republican primary vote earned. Similarly, between February 23rd (prorated) and March 31st of this year, AE Roemer's campaign spent $60,295, and (as of March 31st) had earned 1,289 support votes at AE, a spend of $47 per AECorp vote earned. To lend some perspective to these numbers, the right-hand bar in the chart above illustrates the entire Republican field's expenditures in the Florida primary (as reported by ABC News): just $8.50 per voter. Thus, at least when looked at from a bang-per-buck perspective, Roemer has been spending like a drunken sailor both as a Republican and as an AE.

As of today (May 4) no other declared AECorp candidates' campaign finance reports are yet available on the FEC web site, so we can't really compare AE Roemer's spending to that of his rivals. But given that Roemer's AECorp spend-per-vote is clearly astronomical (compared to conventional Republican politicians, who are not exactly penny-pinchers), we won't be surprised to learn, in a few weeks, that AE Roemer is massively out-spending his AE rivals. He is able to do this because, thanks to his failed Republican run, his campaign entered the AE sweepstakes with money in the bank ($41,000 to be precise), whereas we're willing to bet that AECorp candidates such as true independents Michealene Risley and Laurence Kotlikoff launched their AECorp bids with little more than the lunch money they had in their pockets the day they declared. More importantly -- and likewise thanks to his failure as a Republican -- Roemer is the only declared candidate qualified to receive Federal campaign funding; he has hoovered up $285,000 of it since February 1st of this year. Your tax dollars, uniquely at work for AECorp's Buddy.

'Big money' is a relative term. It doesn't have to mean "billions." Forty-one large...or certainly two hundred and eighty-five large...can look like big money to a field of competitors who, between them, don't have two nickels to rub together. Buddy Roemer got into his first place position at Americans Elect Corporation the old-fashioned way: he bought it.

So does Americans Elect get the big money out of politics? Well, yes -- in the sense of being the kiss of death for a candidate's fund-raising efforts, as the case of Buddy Roemer clearly demonstrates. And, no -- not in the sense of preventing candidates from throwing fistfuls of dollars at handfuls of voters, if they happen to have the bucks.


  1. Why pick on Buddy Roemer? Do you have an agenda against him? It's not HIS campaign that needs transparency. You could have at least added a footnote to remind your readers that AE's attempt to "Get Big Money Out of Politics" is not the same campaign that Buddy is running to reform campaign financing by accepting individual contributions of $100 or less.

    "Spending like a drunken sailor"? Hardly a fair or appropriate description of Governor Roemer's attempt to break through the barrier to get his name out there. Of COURSE his per vote cost will not compare favorably against the money machine! But that doesn't imply anything bad or dishonorable on Buddy Roemer's part.

    I feel you have done Governor Roemer a disservice with this irresponsible story.

    1. They are another candidates smear campaign

  2. I think that the point here is that Americans Elect purports to be "clean" politics as contrasted with the Democrats and Republicans who are "dirty," but the politician who is leading the AE "declared" candidates, Buddy Roemer, is still a politician whose deodorant is not working very well.

    Roemer is singled out because he is leading the declared candidates. That is a fair and appropriate reason to focus on him.

    talers is offended by the drunken sailor comment, which is unnecessarily offensive. But my guess is that the author of the article is revealing a bias against Roemer. Unfortunately for Roemer, he properly deserves bias against him.

    The only reason Buddy Roemer is seeking the nomination is that he has had a failed political career and could never expect to be elected to anything again. To learn the truth about him, go to the following web page and then scroll down the comments to the comment of “Say Amen.” Read the citations that have been assembled there. They are excellent sources of information about Buddy Roemer, written by independent, objective, and reliable journalists and historians.


Join the debate. What's your take on this?