The role of money and politics in the 2016 presidential election is a conundrum. Humongous sums will be spent; the effect on the outcome could be minimal, but in time the flood of cash may produce Watergate-level money scandals. Spending by candidates, parties and outside groups and individuals may approach $10 billion. Both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, if they receive their parties’ nominations, each could spend more than $2 billion, about twice as much as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each forked out in 2012. With several Supreme Court decisions lifting restrictions — on the misguided premise that money doesn’t buy political influence — the way is open for an orgy of spending by well-heeled interest groups and super rich individuals on both political sides. Even beneficiaries, including Clinton and several top Republican aspirants, say the system is rotten.
Yet, unlike in the past, the money advantage may not be decisive. Among Democrats, Clinton would dominate even without her overwhelming financial advantage; she’d certainly be at least competitive as a general election candidate.
Among Republicans, Bush may lap the field, but at least four other contenders — Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul — are likely to build $50 million war chests, counting their so-called super-PACs, before next February’s first four contests: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
The big money stuff then hits in the first few weeks of March. On March 15, states can hold winner-take-all primaries, raising the stakes. But if a couple of the candidates who aren’t named Bush score well in the early contests, they’ll have enough resources to compete in this stage.