Media Watch: Good News for Campaign Finance

The NY Time’s David Firestone published a post on the Time’s Editorial Page Editor’s blog last week decrying the post-election spending results.  Titled “Bad News for Campaign Finance,” the post was in many ways a sign of how the First Amendment protections have been prevailing over ridiculous political speech restrictions and citizens have been more involved than ever in our democracy.  Here is a point by point breakdown of the Time’s idea of “bad news” and a brief description of why this is, in fact, good news:
  • Both presidential campaigns raised more than a billion dollars each. The number is both entirely expected and yet still shocking, so much larger than previous elections that it suggests the nature of campaigns has utterly and permanently changed. Vast amounts will continue to be spent on data mining and voter targeting, now that the Obama campaign proved the effectiveness of that approach. Key television markets will continue to be saturated with ads, and the number of them will grow.
Oh no…people want to communicate about politics!  What ever shall we do?  The Times goes on to make the ridiculous assertion that because of the cost of running a campaign, there will be no return to the “sanity” of public financing.  Given this  program of political welfare’s history in the Time’s own city, the Times might want to reconsider just how sane an idea public financing really is.
  • Third-party spending groups, including “Super PACs” and so-called social welfare groups, did almost as well as the campaigns, raising $834 million. Nearly 60 percent of that figure came in donations of $1 million or more, from 159 people and groups, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
After decades of manipulating campaign finance laws with the goals of crippling political opposition and protecting incumbency, politicians have backed themselves into a corner when it comes to contribution limits.  Low contribution limits favor incumbents, who have better access to their constituents and are more likely to have larger numbers of donors than their challengers.  By finding ways to express opinions about candidates and issues absent a corruption nexus where contribution limits do not apply, non-incumbent candidates with the support of outside groups are significantly more competitive.  Stay tuned for “reformer” appeals to raise contribution limits.
  • The biggest givers of all were Sheldon Adelson, the gambling mogul, and his wife Miriam, who together gave $92 million in reported donations. Add in the amounts that political insiders say he gave to groups that do not disclose their donors and the total amount the couple gave was closer to $150 million, by far the largest political contributions ever made in this country.
So much for “shadow money.”  Despite cries of “secrecy” and a lack of “transparency,” the media continually proved that the current disclosure regime is more than adequate at keeping tabs on well-heeled political players, while also netting every person who made a contribution of $200 or more.
  • Though it wasn’t revealed until yesterday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee gave $760,000 to the Akin campaign in the final days of the race, and the state party contributed almost as much. Fortunately, all that money was wasted.  
After years of suggesting that the amount of money spent in an election directly correlates with a candidate’s chance of winning, the media has been forced to acknowledge that what really matters is how many people vote for a candidate.  If the people do not agree with a candidate, the people are under no obligation to vote for the candidate.  No matter how much money is spent or where it came from, the ultimate victory is handed down by the electorate, not by donors.
There was one point Mr. Firestone made with which I have to agree:
The Obama administration announced that it will accept unlimited corporate donations for its inaugural festivities, a change from its policy in 2009. The news is a lavishly engraved invitation to all the military contractors, energy companies and financial interests who helped support Mitt Romney this year: write us a check and you can redeem yourselves.


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The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.