Five weeks, $1 billion 'til Election Day

A campaign ad from the race for California governor reminds voters that Gov. Schwarzenegger strongly supported President Bush's reelection.

KAI RYSSDAL:

LIEBERMAN: What used to be an $800,000 campaign is now a $4 million campaign. And that money has to come from somewhere, so . . . If a candidate would have been spending his time knocking on doors and holding rallies, he's spending more and more time on the phone asking for $2,000, $2,100 contributions.

RYSSDAL: What's happended to make that race go from an $800,000 race to a $4 million race?

JORDAN LIEBERMAN: Well, campaigns have become more expensive. There's postage, there's the cost of media, cable buys, production, broadcast media . . . The Internet actually is an increased cost. People need websites. Campaign manager salaries. Consultant retainers. Like anything else, things are getting more expensive.

RYSSDAL: But you can't tell me that stamps going from 37 to 39 cents and the cost of a couple Internet servers is driving things up. What's really happening, though, — right? — is that we're getting more. Just more politics.

LIEBERMAN: You're seeing more gross rating points on broadcast media. What used to be effective —700, 800 points per week — is now 1,000, 1,200.

RYSSDAL: What's a gross rating point?

LIEBERMAN: Gross rating point is the number of times a person will see an ad in one week.

RYSSDAL: So, in essence, we've become numb, right? If 700 or 800 doesn't do it, it takes 1,200 or $1,300?

LIEBERMAN: Well, the people are being subjected to more and more "touches" by marketing devices.

RYSSDAL: Same as in regular consumer products, I guess.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah, I mean, when people used to sell soap, it was a lot easier to cut through the chatter. But now you'll see any kind of consumer product being advertised heavier for the same results.

RYSSDAL: Do you think that what has happened in politics today, because of all the money, instead really of citizens involved in the process, we've just become consumers. It gets fed to us and we just eat it all up.

LIEBERMAN: Well, there's certainly a trend for political campaigns to become more business oriented. We are consumers of political messaging and less about grass-roots organizing. We always joke about requiring a campaign to ban volunteers because that's generally . . . finding a volunteer at a campaign is becoming more and more rare.

RYSSDAL: Why is that?

LIEBERMAN: Well, people are busy. So, instead of volunteering, a homemaker or a motivated college kid will maybe send a check.

RYSSDAL: And so we sacrifice participation for process, really.

LIEBERMAN: Well, it's a different kind of participation. You may see less volunteering on the ground but you'll see more and more people contributing their dollars, which is actually very important. Those small contributions to presidential campaigns really is important to the democratic process. You don't want a few thousand people writing million-dollar checks, even if they could legally.

RYSSDAL: Jordan Lieberman's the publisher of Campaigns and Elections magazine. Jordan, thanks a lot for your time.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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