Thank god for the free market. And thank god for regulations. Those two ideas may seem like an odd pairing but they are the reason we have some hope that this election will be decided by voters, not the super-rich or special interests. Let me explain.
United States Election Law requires ad sellers to sell direct campaign advertisements at their standard advertisement rates. But during campaign season, when demand for television advertising is extremely high, the market price for advertising is well above the standard price. That means that Super Pacs, and 501c4s that aren’t protected by the ad sales laws have to buy their ads at a much higher rate.
Since television advertising costs make up a huge portion of any federal campaign’s budget – and Super Pac and 501c4 political activity budgets – this levels the playing field somewhat. Specific numbers are hard to come by – this article says up to 4x as much per tv spot and this one says 6x as much per spot– but even if Super Pacs only paid 25% more for the same advertisement spot that an election would pay for, it would be a significant difference. If each campaign has one hundred dollars, a Super Pac could only buy four ads while a campaign could buy five. Now, think about the substantial difference in voter outreach efficiency compared to the traditional campaign if those articles citing 4x or 6x more are anywhere close to being accurate. That is seriously good news for our democracy.
But…yes, this is still a pretty small star in a very large universe of problematic campaign finance issues. Perhaps, going forward, we can look for other ways to slightly disadvantage these Super Pacs and 501c4s to limit them. Banning 501c4s from laundering money between themselves would be a good start. Adding costly, time-consuming, burdensome regulations that Super Pacs and political 501c4s have to abide by would a good idea as well. There is plenty of justifiable reason to make Super Pacs and Political 501c4s jump through a lot of regulatory hoops to prevent corruption. Besides, conservative politicians all over the nation attempt to literally obliterate women’s healthcare facilities by adding ridiculous regulations. If that’s allowed (and it has been largely upheld by courts) then so should some super thorough, detailed regulations of Super Pacs and political 501c4s.