Hillary Clinton will far outpace Bernie Sanders, and likely all Republican candidates, in money raised for her Presidential campaign. The question is whether money can buy an election.

You would think the answer would be a clear Yes. However, recent history tells us otherwise. In US politics money by itself has very little power to determine who winds up winning office. The first test of this came in 2012, which broke all previous records for campaign fundraising and spending. Of the $2 billion raised by both candidates, $1.31 billion came from Romney’s corporate and billionaire base. A whopping $406.8 million of the $609.4 million raised by Super PACs – over 66%  – went  to Romney.  By way of comparison, President Obama raised a mere $690 million from his grassroots supporters over the World Wide Web.

We all know who won that election.

Earlier this year, their Imperial Majesties Charles and David Koch announced their intention to buy the 2016 election for a cool $1 billion. Will that investment pay off for them? Or are they flushing it down the toilet?

What has become apparent since Citizens United is that money in fact cannot buy elections. It can buy influence over politicians once they are elected. But what we are finding out is that once a candidate has enough money to make his or her voice heard, more is not necessarily better. A 2011 study by Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt of Freakonomics demonstrated that doubling the amount of money spent on a campaign results in no more than a 1% increase in votes for the candidate. Compared to the numerous other factors that can determine an election, this is proverbial peanuts.

Consider the effects of where the candidate stands on the issues. After eight years of George W. Bush and his Reign of Error, Obama’s message of “Hope and Change” resonated with the public – and continued to resonate four years later. There wasn’t much that McCain’s or Romney’s money could do to change that.

Today, Hillary Clinton could be about to learn the same lesson. Only a few weeks ago, virtually everyone said that Bernie Sanders – a self-professed socialist – could not possibly win the White House. At best, we thought that he would influence the debate. Today, poll numbers are showing that Sanders is closing in on Clinton fast. Despite every attempt by mainstream corporate media to marginalize him, Sanders is attracting record crowds wherever he speaks. Only yesterday, Bernie Sanders was endorsed by no less than Larry Cohen, the most powerful and influential labor leader in the country. He now has the backing of veterans as well. Progressive Senate colleague Elizabeth Warren is on the verge of joining the Sanders campaign.

Is this all happening because Sanders is raising more money than Hillary? Hardly. So far, Hillary has raised $45 million toward its $2 billion goal for 2016. Those contributions came from only 46,000 donors – 4,000 short of Clinton’s goal for the first quarter. In contrast, Bernie Sanders’ campaign has raised only $8 million so far – but he has at least 200,000 donors.

Those numbers say it all. Sanders is focusing on the issues that concern the overwhelming majority of Americans. These issues include Wall Street corruption, corporate trade “deals” that send jobs overseas and threaten our democracy, the bloated military budget and endless wars for perpetual profits, economic injustice, the right to health care and education, the environment, and more.

Hillary Clinton has plenty of cash, but Bernie Sanders has credibility with the electorate. That credibility, as well as the trust that comes with it, is something no amount of money can buy.


K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.