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WOSTER: Political campaign fund raising amounts do not improve politics

Money in political campaigns has grown so much that, sadly, I can't remember the first South Dakota campaign that collected or spent $1 million.

It has been a while. Time was $1 million was an astonishing amount of money in a campaign. These days that kind of money barely gets a candidate into the five-and-dime store of politics.

Candidates used to go on the stump, a phrase that brings an image of a politician speaking from atop a tree stump. Boy, those were the days, huh? People would gather in the town square to listen and the candidate would show up to talk with them. Folks who didn't care to listen would stay home, go to a movie, take a drive in the country or have a picnic in the park, unbothered by political slogans and campaign commercials.

These days it isn't easy to avoid political spots, although Heaven knows I try. When Nancy and I watch favorite shows on television, we almost never watch live. We record them and watch later, fast-forwarding through the advertisements and political spots. Sometimes the recorded program offers the option of clicking on a prompt that skips the commercials. That's the sort of American ingenuity we've all come to know and love. I suppose the people paying for the commercial spots and political ads don't care for it.

I haven't yet figured out what to do about all of the spots that pop up on my laptop screen when I'm trying to read my favorite news columnists. Those things, which only appeared now and then back when I began reading online columns regularly, now pop up one after another, knocking around the text I'm trying to read and taking some of the fun out of things. If technology really is so smart, why doesn't it quit offering me those things when I ignore every one of them?

Somebody is paying for all of that stuff. More than ever, somebody is paying for the political messages. I don't spend dreary days or dark nights fretting over the money, but now and then something catches my eye that reminds me just how crazy it is.

The other day what caught my eye was a list of amounts of money raised by some of the potential candidates for president. The first presidential primaries and caucuses are still many months away, but apparently it's getting kind of late to be thinking of going on the stump. A news site somewhere noted that during the first-quarter of fundraising by 2020 candidates, Bernie Sanders had $18.2 million, Kamala Harris $12 million, Beto O'Rourke $9.4 million and Pete Buttigieg $7 million.

An Open Secrets item late last year that said Donald Trump's re-election committee had $100 million in the bank. A more recent Washington Post story said Trump had $129 million as of the end of January.

Wow. To think my dad and Uncle Frank used to drive from Chamberlain to Pierre to Winner to Murdo and a few places in between trying to save 250 bucks on a used windrower. Like many politicians do, my dad and my uncle were playing with someone else's money. In their case it was the bank's money, and those persnickety bankers called it a loan, not a contribution.

Here in South Dakota, we fund the State Fair at something like $3.5 million. That Buttigieg guy could pay for two fairs right now. The entire state Legislature's budget is maybe $10 million. Harris and O'Rourke could pretty much fund that operation for a year. Sanders could pay nearly two years. Trump's campaign could fund 10 or 12 Fairs. Those comparisons may not be meaningful, but they make me wince.

Some 40 years ago I asked a state senator from over east if he planned to run for re-election. If he did, he said, he would buy a two-by-two ad in the local paper saying he was interested in serving again if the folks in the district were interested in having him. His campaign cost? Maybe $12 or $14, plus a commitment to represent his people.

Adding more money to the mix sure hasn't improved on that senator's approach.

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