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On presidential campaigns, a look forward

Fewer than 2,000 people donated approx­i­mately 97 per­cent of the bil­lions of dol­lars spent on this year’s elec­tion, a major shift in how cam­paigns at all levels of gov­ern­ment are financed and run.

“It’d be one thing if the $6 bil­lion was coming from every man, woman and child in this country,” said Jeff Clements, pres­i­dent and co-​​founder of Free Speech for People, a national, non­par­tisan cam­paign seeking to over­turn the Supreme Court’s 2010 deci­sion in the case between Cit­i­zens United and the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. “But that’s not what’s happening.”

Clements spoke at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity on Thursday at the fourth annual Thomas P. O’Neill Con­fer­ence on pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns and pol­i­tics titled “The Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion of 2012: A Red or Blue Future?”

He noted that the ability of wealthy Amer­i­cans, cor­po­ra­tions and unions to influ­ence elec­tions remains unclear and may never be fully under­stood, espe­cially because of the dearth of infor­ma­tion gath­ered about cam­paign expen­di­tures by the Fed­eral Elec­tion Commission.

The author of the book “Cor­po­ra­tions Are Not People,” Clements argued that major legal changes including a Con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment are required to pre­vent the United States from becoming a plu­toc­racy, oli­garchy or a society rem­i­nis­cent of the Gilded Age.

“Now, this kind of spending is not immoral or illegal,” as it was when tough cam­paign leg­is­la­tion was enacted fol­lowing Pres­i­dent Nixon’s res­ig­na­tion, Clements said. “At this point, it’s become sacro­sanct — a core part of our democracy.

Con­fer­ence host William Crotty, a polit­ical sci­ence pro­fessor and the Thomas P. O’Neill Chair in Public Life, noted that the event gave experts and audi­ence mem­bers one of the first oppor­tu­ni­ties to take an aca­d­emic look at the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and its impli­ca­tions for the future.

“Now that some of us have man­aged to tear our­selves away from Nate Silver’s web­site, I think it only appro­priate to ana­lyze what hap­pened and where we are going,” said Laura L. Frader, a his­tory pro­fessor and the asso­ciate dean of fac­ulty in the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties in ref­er­ence to the pop­ular New York Times polling-​​aggregation web­site and blog.

Crotty kicked off the day­long con­fer­ence with an analysis of the can­di­dates and the cam­paign, noting that both the Obama and Romney camps focused exclu­sively on the bat­tle­ground states that could swing the out­come of the Elec­toral College.

“The can­di­dates looked not at the pop­ular vote but at the 10 states that would make a dif­fer­ence in the elec­toral cam­paign,” Crotty said. “This was where the elec­tion would be fought, they decided. This is where the elec­tion would be won or lost. And nei­ther can­di­date made a per­sonal appear­ance out­side this handful of states.”

Jobs and unem­ploy­ment were the dri­ving issues on the cam­paign trail, Crotty said, adding that the pos­i­tive results of the last two jobs reports in the cam­paign season helped lock in the incumbent’s re-​​election.

“Those results added some legit­i­macy to the administration’s claim that things were get­ting better,” he said.

Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Demo­c­ratic nom­inee for pres­i­dent and a Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence at North­eastern, noted that this year’s elec­tion results show a nation with dra­mat­i­cally shifting demo­graphics. He pointed to Cal­i­fornia, whose growing influ­ence of minority voters has shifted the state from a Repub­lican strong­hold to a Demo­c­ratic lock

“The entire country is moving demo­graph­i­cally in this direc­tion,” Dukakis said, adding that the shift requires Democ­rats to mobi­lize and Repub­li­cans to reach out to con­stituen­cies that have not his­tor­i­cally been part of the party’s largely white base. “The oppor­tu­ni­ties for the Democ­rats are huge. But like all oppor­tu­ni­ties, you have to seize them.”

– by Matt Collette

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