Opinion: Political spending pales in comparison to holiday splurge

Dan Backer

’Tis the season of giving, and Christmas 2019 is on pace to set records.

According to Gallup, consumers plan to spend an average of $942 on Christmas gifts this year — up from $885 in 2018. All in all, holiday retail sales are set to surpass $1 trillion, with online spending on an unprecedented track.

That’s a lot of Christmas trees, iPhones and bourbon bottles! On top of that, America’s retailers are pumping billions of dollars into TV ads, social media spots, and other promotional initiatives.

The Michigan-grown, 60 foot tall Norway Spruce comes alive with 19,000 multi-colored led lights as the crowd cheers. 16th Annual Detroit Tree Lighting in Campus Martius Park in Detroit, Michigan on November 22, 2019.

However, if that same money was spent on political advertisements, there would be outrage. Christmas carols would turn into shrill screams for “campaign finance reform.” After all, as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders recently put it, “Billionaires able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elect candidates that represent the wealthy and powerful (is) not democracy.”

In truth, political spending pales in comparison to the holiday splurge: Election 2016’s final price tag — the largest in U.S. history — was less than $7 billion for all federal elections (and an estimated $1 billion is double-counted). Election 2018 set a new midterm record, but came in under $6 billion.

Even in 2020, which is expected to be “the most expensive presidential race ever,” the total is unlikely to exceed $7 billion. That’s one little Elf on the Shelf, compared to the $1 trillion holiday season upon us.

However, when a group of individuals comes together and spends $100,000 on a political ad, Democrats immediately pivot to outrage. Over at the Federal Election Commission (FEC), rogue Democratic commissioner Ellen Weintraub continues to crusade against political advertising, arguing such information “divides our democracy.”

How, exactly? If anything, the backbone of American democracy is the free flow of information, which we all process to make decisions in the political system. Restrict that flow of information, and democracy is sure to suffer.

Whether you see a political ad or a car commercial, you’re simply receiving information to process. The onus is on the purveyor of information to sell you one way or another — if you’re not sold, you’re not forced to buy.

Yet political spending is constantly considered some nefarious activity. There is no federal agency requiring retailers to report their ad buys, who they pay to execute them, or who buys their goods. Dare to spread a political message this Christmas, however, and you’re bound to run into red tape.

In reality, neither form of advertising should trigger anything other than turning the channel or scrolling down the page. But rogue bureaucrats like Weintraub don’t trust Americans to process information for themselves and make decisions accordingly —to vote “properly” (e.g. vote Democrat). Therefore, it is up to Weintraub and other Democrats who buy into this un-American thinking to regulate political speech because Americans are simply too stupid or too naive to think for themselves.

Why are you smart enough to decide which car to buy this Christmas, but not smart enough to decide which candidate you prefer?

As free-thinking adults, we should be offended by the liberal scolds who consider us incapable of thinking for ourselves. Remember: The next time you see a Christmas commercial, you can watch it or tune out. The next time you see a 2020 political ad, you can vote for that candidate or not.

The power is yours — and yours alone. It is not given to you by Bernie Sanders, Ellen Weintraub, or anyone else for that matter. Don’t let Scrooge take that away.

Dan Backer is a veteran campaign counsel, having served more than 100 candidates, PACs, and political organizations. He is founding attorney of political.law, a campaign finance and political law firm in Alexandria, Virginia.