Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vindicated: Money Doesn't Buy You A Political Office

Its hard to remain humble when I'm right.
About a month ago, I wrote an article debunking the popular myth that rich political candidates can buy their way into office. David Brooks, writing an op-ed article for the New York Times explains how money in general has very little effect on political campaigns: 
Over the past few months, there’s been a torrent of commentary about political donations and campaign spending. This lavish coverage is based on the premise that campaign spending has an important influence on elections.
I can see why media consultants would believe money is vitally important: the more money there is the more they make. I can see why partisans would want to believe money is important: they tend to blame their party’s defeats on the nefarious spending of the other side. But I can’t see why the rest of us should believe this. The evidence to support it is so slight.
The evidence is clear. Money doesn't do much in politics. David Brooks points out that in this election cycle, Democrats have raised more money and spent more money than Republicans; yet, Republicans are expected to make the biggest political gains this November. According to the columnist, it doesn't matter if the money comes from campaign donations or from outside groups. 
One such outside group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is often vilified by the President and is mentioned in David Brook's column, despite the fact that there is no evidence that they have donated any money to this political campaign. Yet, even if the claim was true, they only contribute to 10% of the overall money used for political campaigns according to Mr. Brooks.  Moreover, the jury is still out among Political Scientists on whether or not the cash spent by independent groups are any more effective than money spent by a political campaign.
The New York Times columnist explains that the reason why there is so much money in political campaign is not for the candidate's benefit but for the benefit of political strategist's bank account and the donor's ego:
So why is there so much money in politics? Well, every consultant has an incentive to tell every client to raise more money. The donors give money because it makes them feel as if they are doing good and because they get to hang out at exclusive parties. The candidates are horribly insecure and grasp at any straw that gives them a sense of advantage.
In the end, however, money is a talisman. It makes people feel good because they think it has magical properties. It probably helps in local legislative races where name recognition is low. It probably helps challengers get established. But these days, federal races are oversaturated. Every federal candidate in a close race has plenty of money and the marginal utility of each new dollar is zero.
In this day and age, money is almost never the difference between victory and defeat. It’s just the primitive mythology of the political class.
The claim that there's too much money in politics might be true. But the claim that money actually has an influence in political campaigns to such extent that a rich politician can buy a political office, win elections or influence voters is simply not true. However, that myth will never die. Politicians will continue to use this myth for political purposes. 
However, that doesn't mean you, the voter, have to believe the myth.

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