Advancing a Free Society

Plenty of Pizza...But Not Enough Dough

Monday, April 9, 2012

Apparently, not everyone’s feeling the pinch of this recession.

According to published reports, President Obama will travel to Detroit on April 18 for what the local media have dubbed a “$1 million pizza party”.

The party’s hostess: Denise Ilitch, daughter of Little Caesars’ founders Mike and Marian Ilitch (dad also owns the Detroit Tigers; the daughter flirted with a run for governor of Michigan back in 2010).

It won’t take a large crowd to hit that $1 million target: invitees are being asked to cough up $40,000 to attend a cocktail reception/dinner/presidential photo-op; $10,000 gets you dinner and a photo.

And, presumably, all the pizza you can eat – “we’ll be serving it on sterling silver plates,” Ms. Ilitch quipped (hey, at least she didn’t say: “Let them eat pie”).

(Btw, to show that a change in baseball ownership can also mean a change in political philosophy: the previous owner of the Tigers, Domino’s founder Tom Monaghan, is a staunchly conservative Catholic and donor to Republican causes.)

Getting back the politics of pizza and campaign dough, you can expect plenty more money stories like this in the weeks ahead. And that’s because:

1)  The Republican race seems over (or a whole lot more civil), what with a halt to negative advertising in Pennsylvania. We’re now shifting to the bigger picture of what it’ll take for Mitt Romney to pivot successfully into the general election;

2)  President Obama’s promise to raise up to $1 billion in this election cycle (he collected about $750 million back in 2008). The Obama re-elect pulled in “only” $45 million in February, a pace that obviously won’t do.

3)  Romney and the Republican National Committee raising money together (as do the Democrats, the Ilitch event being one such example). For reasons having to do with ego and campaign psychology, the president’s party will refuse to be one-upped in this competition.

4)  Republican “super-PAC’s” getting in the game earlier than some might have expected. American Crossroads, the largest of these so-called “independent” operations, plans a May-June advertising push – traditionally, a time when challenger presidential campaigns find themselves underfinanced and at a serious disadvantage to a better-funded incumbent (the Obama campaign has about $80 million on hand in February; the Romney camp reported just $7.3 million).

Of those three factors, it’s the latter one – the rise and the role of “super PAC’s” – that should most concern Team Obama.

As of late February, Priorities USA, the lead pro-Obama group, had raised only $10 million – $1 million of that coming from comedian Bill Maher. But that’s an anemic cash flow. It’s only one-fourth what the pro-Romney Restore Our Future came up with in February (though $40 million of its $43 million raised went to blistering Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich).

Simply put, the Democrats are momentarily behind in the “super PAC” game. And they have their own man to blame. At his 2010 State of the Union Address, Mr. Obama bad-mouthed the Supreme Court for its decision to lift the limit on donations of PAC’s that supposedly ran independently from campaigns, thus discouraging supporters from choosing to give to such groups; after seeing the GOP stockpile money, Obama reversed course – putting his team in a position of playing catch-up.

Team Obama could overlook the “super PAC” gap if it assumes it will blow away the GOP on the campaign/national party front (though it won’t be as dramatic as in 2008, when John McCain accepted public financing in exchange for not raising money after the national convention).

But that could be a strategic mistake, as it doesn’t take into account the biggest unknown – and biggest certainty – in this election: the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare later this year, before the November election.

Consider this scenario: it’s summertime, and the Supreme Court has just issued a 5-4 decision striking down the individual mandate, taking down the rest of the healthcare law with it.

The White House’s reaction? Pretty much what you saw last week, when the President caused a stink over “judicial activism”.

Now, consider the larger universe of Democratic presidential politics: women, minorities, the victimized and oppressed real and manufactured.

The reaction won’t be as measured as Mr. Obama’s – what you’d expect from a president who once dabbled in constitutional law.

Instead, interest groups on the left will declare an assault on democracy – and, pretty much, an affront to western civilization and NPR listeners everywhere. What better time to launch a multi-million ad campaign detailing the evils of a conservative-led Court, and the November winner’s chance to choose a successor for the very liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who’s hinted at a 2015 retirement? Such “comparison” advertising is the province of independent PACs, not presidential campaigns.

If you doubt that Democrats fail to see the potency of this matter, look no further than what may be the most-closely watched U.S. Senate race this fall – the contest in Massachusetts between incumbent Republican Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.

Well before an Obamacare verdict’s been rendered, attacking conservative “judicial activism” is already underway, with Warren going after unnamed justices for wanting to make “their own political judgment.”

Warren’s campaign is locked and loaded on the issue of Obama and the courts. We won’t know until the decision if issued if the Democrats’ presidential effort is as well organized.

It’s food for thought, to go along with that expensive pizza in Detroit. The Obama campaign won’t lack for money; its “super PAC” might lack the resources needed to do the dirty work necessary to get their man a second term.