TOPICS > Politics

President Warns He’ll be Outspent in Reelection Campaign

June 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
The money-raising campaign is in full swing for the presidential candidates, and it's estimated that more than a billion dollars will be spent on this year's contests. Gwen Ifill interviews Democratic strategist Tad Devine and Rick Tyler, former senior adviser to the Winning Our Future super PAC.
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GWEN IFILL:  When it’s all said and done, more than a billion dollars will be spent on this year’s presidential contest, and not all of that will come from the candidates themselves. With the full participation, though, of both major-party candidates, the money campaign is now in full gear.

Another day, another series of money-raising campaign events for the two men running for president, with Republican Mitt Romney on the stump in Virginia.

MITT ROMNEY (R): We’re going to win in Virginia. We’re going to win in November.  Thank you for your help.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GWEN IFILL: And President Obama on the road in the South.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hello!

GWEN IFILL: But these elaborate campaign events don’t come cheap. The president appeared at his 100th fund-raiser of the calendar year last night in Boston.

Today, in Atlanta and Miami, where he attended three more, he suggested he’s just trying to keep up.

BARACK OBAMA: No matter how money is spent on the other side, when people are engaged and involved and they understand that our core values and who we are and what we’re giving to the next generation is at stake, the American people fight for what’s right.

GWEN IFILL: As the next campaign reporting deadline approached, the Obama campaign followed up with a blunt email appeal today.

“I will be the first president in modern history to be outspent in his reelection campaign,” the email read. “If things continue as they have so far, we can be outspent and still win, but we can’t be outspent 10-1 and still win.”

Romney has been on the money trail as well. He spent his weekend at a fund-raising retreat for deep-pocketed donors in Park City, Utah, the minimum cost of admission, $50,000 a head.

RODGER YOUNG, Romney Fundraiser: I’m going to do everything I can do.  I’m going to bundle every penny.

GWEN IFILL: Roughly 700 donors made the Utah trip to support Romney, who says he will be the one outspent.

MITT ROMNEY: We organized a number of fundraising organizations and individuals, and we have built the kind of organization you have to have to go up against President Obama.

GWEN IFILL: And that’s just what the candidates themselves are doing.  Romney’s campaign and the Republican National Committee raised a combined $76.8 million in May, while the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised $60 million.

But fund-raising reports out last week showed that outside groups, the so-called super PACs, are hard at work. Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney group, has raised nearly $62 million, far outpacing Priorities USA, which has raised less than $15 million for the president.

And with the Supreme Court yesterday reaffirming its Citizens United decision, which spurred the rise of the super PACs, there is no end in sight.

Joining us now to discuss how presidential campaigns have evolved in the post-Citizens United era are Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist and adviser to Al Gore and John Kerry’s presidential campaigns, and Rick Tyler, former senior adviser to the Winning Our Future super PAC that backed Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential bid.

Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

So, Tad Devine, lots of money is being raised, lots of money is being spent.  How much of this has to do really with Citizens United?

TAD DEVINE, political consultant: I think a lot has to do with it. I think the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates of money in American politics.

And I think these super PACs are on their way to becoming the dominant force in terms of communication. Without the Citizens United ruling, I don’t think this would have happened. And we’re likely to see them play an even bigger role in the general election than they played in the nominating process.

And I think it’s arguable that they were the decisive factor in the nominating process on behalf of Gov. Romney.

GWEN IFILL: What do you think about that, Rick Tyler? Do you think that the floodgates were opened because of the Supreme Court ruling or had it started earlier?

RICK TYLER, former Newt Gingrich aide: It’s hard to disagree with the way Tad has framed it.  I don’t disagree. The floodgates have been opened in the sense we haven’t seen this type of money being spent in the political world before.

However, look, we always have to balance the states’ limits on political speech with, you know, impending threats of oligarchy. And I think in the end the citizens can decide what is political speech, what is biased speech, what’s a one-sided story and what is not.

So, while I think the court in its 5-4 decision ruled correctly both in this case, the Montana case, and the Citizens United case, I think they ruled too narrowly.  I think we need to return the freedom back to the candidates. They after all have their name, fortune and sacred honor on the ballot. And allow them to raise the money so that they can control their own message, so that super PACs are not the dominant force.

GWEN IFILL: But someone like Sheldon Adelson, who helped Mr. Gingrich out, Mr. Tad Devine, he could have spent $1 million or $10 million, as he’s writing a check for Mitt Romney right now, he could have done that without Citizens United as an individual.

TAD DEVINE: Sure. And we have had independent expenditure in the past. But I don’t think we have ever seen anything of the magnitude that we’re seeing today.

The truth is that these interests, whether it’s interests like corporations which can now after Citizens United contribute directly from their corporate treasuries, or individuals who can contribute either directly to super PACs and be disclosed or discreetly through other entities and have their money have a huge influence, I don’t think we have seen anything like this before because now they understand that these committees, the super PACs, are the committees that will dominate the election campaign.

And so, yes, they could have done it in the past. But what we’re seeing right now and what we likely see in the months ahead I think is unprecedented in terms of its scope and impact.

GWEN IFILL:  OK.  So, Rick Tyler, we’re making — we’re raising these hundreds of millions of dollars for both campaigns. Each says the other guy is going to outspend him.  What’s it all being spent on?

RICK TYLER:  Well, it’s going to be spent on advertising.

I mean, that is the most expensive purchase in political campaigns. It’s the thing that has historically shaped the message. I don’t think that’s changed yet. It is changing a little bit because people are getting their information, as you know, in all different types of ways.

And — but the political PACs can go that way too. It’s interesting. They’re becoming more like parallel campaigns rather than supplemental campaigns. In fact, they could raise so much money, they could actually dominate the message of the campaign. That part does concern me.

And that’s the part I would like to see the candidates, the money go directly back to the candidates and have to take responsibility obviously for their own message. But again I do think we have to be very leery — I heard a lot of speech today about corruption and the special influence.

I don’t know anything that is more corrupting than allowing the state to limit political speech. So, again, we need to balance that out.  I think the court did that today.

GWEN IFILL:  The court doesn’t want the state to limit political speech, Tad Devine.  What I’m curious about is whether the speech that we see coming out of this big spending is overwhelmingly negative.

TAD DEVINE:  It is. And the tracking of it is demonstrating that.

I mean, for example, American Crossroads, which is the biggest Republican super PAC spender thus far, has had 100 percent of its advertising negative. And I think that’s what you’re going to see because frankly there’s not a lot of incentive for campaigns, independent expenditure campaigns to do anything other than attack the opponent.

And we’re going to see, I think, a magnitude of attacks unlike anything we have ever seen in American politics.  It is going to be continuous.  It’s going to be pervasive.  And it’s going to expand to all the battleground states and perhaps even beyond.

GWEN IFILL: Rick Tyler, this was all supposed to be fixed post-Watergate era by public financing.  Remember that? And now as of last. . .

RICK TYLER:  I do.

GWEN IFILL:  Four years ago, President Obama became the first general election presidential candidate to reject public financing.  Is that system now dead?

RICK TYLER:  I think it probably is dead. I’m against public financing.

I think we have got to work through this process. You know, look, and I agree with Tad. I think this cycle will be as negative as ever. But I do think that voters can tire of the negative ads.

I remember Susan Collins’ campaign when she first was elected as U.S. senator for Maine. And part of the reason she got the nomination was because the divisiveness between the other two Republican nominees was so divisive that voters just threw up their hands and chose Susan Collins, who decided to stay positive.

So, there is opportunities for candidates to stay positive, have solutions, talk about a message, have a vision that is so overwhelming that it just drowns out the negative advertising. I have not seen that in this campaign cycle.

GWEN IFILL: Does all this money, does the fact of the money change people’s minds?  Are people turned off by the volume of the money or just the message that the money buys?

TAD DEVINE: I don’t think. . .

GWEN IFILL: Or neither?

(LAUGHTER)

TAD DEVINE: I don’t think people necessarily get turned off, even if there’s a big negative campaign. I mean, we have seen negative campaigns before in many places in this country.

You know, people are going to vote if their interests are at stake. And right now with the economic situation in the country, with everything that the country has been through not just since the last election, but really I would argue since Sept. 11, 2001, we have gone through a decade in this country where there’s been a dark cloud hanging over the head of people. And they desperately wanted a new direction.

And they’re looking for someone to provide it. So, even if there’s a cacophony of negative ads in states, people are going to vote their interests and I think they’re going to turn out because there’s so much at stake in this election.

GWEN IFILL: With the caps off the limits and assuming — the last time John McCain did take public money, he was limited. Barack Obama raised a total of something like $745 million in 2008.

So, Rick Tyler, how much more money do you think is needed to win the presidency this time with both campaigns basically firing on all guns?

RICK TYLER: Well, look, you could easily see upward of all the spending amounting to somewhere close to a billion dollars.

But I think, look, again, I would go back to a vision will trump the money. If one of these candidates — and I think Tad just framed it exactly right. If you have a candidate who can actually say, I have a vision to get us out of this morass, how can we move forward, how can we create jobs, what is our vision for the future, people would sign on to that.

And money would come secondary.  Absent that, a void, money is going to be the deciding factor.  That would be unfortunate.

GWEN IFILL: And it’s fair to say that post-convention, when everybody starts from zero again, the floodgates open again, Rick?

RICK TYLER: Absolutely.  I don’t see a different change in — I don’t see a change in course of direction at this point.

GWEN IFILL: And you, Tad?

TAD DEVINE: Yes.  I think what we’re going to see is massive spending. Any money that is left over from the primary, because no one has accepted public funding, can be rolled into a general election campaign.

I think that what we’re going to see. We are going to see very loud campaigns on both sides. And the big difference I think this time is that President Obama had a huge advantage in 2008.  He could outspend John McCain. He could go into states like North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, states Democrats hadn’t won in a generation, outspend him massively and ultimately win them.

That is not going to happen this time. The Republicans really do have an advantage.  We will see if it’s decisive. But right now, it’s a real advantage.

GWEN IFILL: Tad Devine, Democrat, Rick Tyler, Republican, thank you both very much.

RICK TYLER:  Thanks, Gwen.

TAD DEVINE:  Good to be with you.