The campaign finance decision the Supreme Court delivered Wednesday stirred all the same responses from all the same sources, with the anti-money faction bellowing that the Roberts court had now completed its plan — hatched with 2010′s Citizens United ruling — to put democracy up for sale. The pro-money crowd (to which I belong, by the way), heralded SCOTUS’s latest call as a victory for free speech.
Rather than rehashing that debate and defending a side to predictable results, I’ll burn my column inches identifying the real winner of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission — the media. The more money that flows into campaigning, the more campaigns advertise. The more they advertise, the more money they pay media outlets. And the greater the media revenue, the more secure my profession. Whoops, I mean, the more media properties collect, the more they can spend on the sort of watchdog journalism that preserves democracy!
If anybody needs more money, it’s the news business. According to a fresh analysis published by the Pew Research Center, total “revenue supporting American journalism has declined by one-third since 2006,” dropping from about $95 billion to $65 billion today. Advertising revenue has fallen considerably. In 2006, 82 percent of revenue came from advertising; today, only 69 percent. One result of the turn-down, as everybody knows, has been fewer reporters and less agile newsrooms, which I would declare non-optimal even if I didn’t belong to the trade.
More money spent on campaign advertising would be good, but would it be good enough to solve media’s financial woes? Presidential and congressional candidates, party committees, and political action committees spent nearly $7 billion in the 2011-2012 election cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission. Spending by other organizations topped $1.2 billion.
According to the Wesleyan Media Project, candidates and their backers used these riches to buy more than one million television ads between June 1 and Election Day, about a 39 percent increase over 2008. Presidential campaigns and their surrogates spent nearly $700 million on broadcast TV and national cable advertising (local cable buys were not included in the figures).