By Josh Kraushaar
It’s easy to get awed by large sums of money these days. Ted Cruz securing $31 million in a week from a new network of supportive super PACs. One wealthy former Philadelphia Eagles owner pledging to spend $10 million to a super PAC to boost Marco Rubio’s campaign. Jeb Bush wowing donors with comments that he raised “tens of millions” for his allied super PAC in his first months of exploring the presidential race. Hillary Clinton’s allies floating the possibility of raising as much as $2.5 billion for her campaign. All these campaign developments have generated breathless coverage at how much money is being spent on the presidential campaign, often raising the specter of oligarchs run amok.
But for all the fretting, the fact that it takes fewer donors to sustain a presidential campaign is healthy for democracy because it makes it easier for underdogs to compete. The most important consequence of super PACs is that they lower the barrier to entry, not that they give the wealthiest candidate an insurmountable advantage.
The paradox of this presidential election is that despite the record amount of money that will be poured into the race over the next 18 months, fundraising actually will matter less than in recent presidential campaigns, and the value of retail political talent will be at a premium. Each individual donation matters less when the pot is so large and nearly every viable candidate boasts a number of super-donors, meaning no one uber-wealthy donor can reshape the race in his or her image.