Home > Legal Issues, Primacy of Society > A note on campaign finance and SuperPACs

A note on campaign finance and SuperPACs

In a letter in the Wall Street Journal today, a Richard Williams of Wenatchee, Washington writes with regards to Harold Clark Simmons’ giving more than $18 million to support Republican candidates:

I find Mr. Simmons’s extreme political views pretty abhorrent. Even if I agreed with them, it would disturb me that the political influence and power of one wealthy individual outweighs that of many thousands of other citizens. This situation is incompatible with our democracy.

I have one question for Mr. Williams of Wenatchee. How could you possibly disagree with someone when their opinions are backed by $18 million? What’s that? You are not swayed by huge amounts of money?

So why the assumption that everyone else is? Perhaps the problem is not that Mr. Simmons has given huge sums to promote his political views, but instead the problem lies in the fact that you assume everyone else is such a blithering idiot that they will be unable to help themselves from following Simmons’ money like zombies.

Your logic is poor, Mr. Williams. So poor that I simply cannot fear for the political process based on huge donations like this. After all, if someone with your limited logic skills can see through $18 million, I think the rest of us can fend for ourselves.

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  1. houstonrahoyt
    June 15, 2012 at 10:56 PM

    It is then your contention that no-one is in fact swayed by large amounts of money? So marketing concepts of promotion and advertising are mere folly? Marketing campaigns – just a figment of blithering idiots’ imagination? Remarkable. Thanks for your insight. Knowing someone with your limitless logic skills is out there sorting it out for us idiots certainly reassures me. Remarkable.

  2. June 18, 2012 at 1:48 PM

    The idea that I said that “no one is swayed” by large amounts of money is a straw man. On the other hand, I stand by my contention that large amounts of money tend to lead to small marginal returns. Let’s take the Wisconsin recall and do some math to find the rough margins.

    Walker, according to the press, outspent his opponent by 7:1. (This is probably untrue as it undercounts things like union get-out-the-vote efforts, which cost money but aren’t considered “campaigning.”) Nevertheless, if he outspent his opponent by 7:1, and his campaign expenditures went from about $17.5 million to about $70 million overall, then shouldn’t we expect a pretty strong effect? According to your logic, yes. Actual effect: Walker won by 1% more net votes than in 2010.

    At the margin, there is no provable case for the supposedly overwhelming influence of money. Of course, if there were no effect at all, I’d imagine that politicians wouldn’t bother. But what this roughly shows is that the factors that determine an election are probably either pre-determined, or determined some other way. These exogenous factors are, quite literally, impossible to determine.

    However, I would contend that the cause and effect relationship between campaign spending and election outcomes cuts both ways. While $1 might cause someone to vote for a candidate, someone who is already completely invested in a candidate might donate $1 to help ensure victory (i.e. strong campaigns generate money because they’re influential, not that they spend money to gain influence). In other words, money is a cause and an effect. I believe that the idea of “money as effect” is a far more logical argument.

    Some further and interesting reading:

    http://www.freakonomics.com/2012/01/17/how-much-does-campaign-spending-influence-the-election-a-freakonomics-quorum/
    http://arpejournal.com/ARPEvolume7number1-2/Gius.pdf
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2017056
    http://www.press.umich.edu/pdf/0472099213-ch8.pdf

    • May 30, 2014 at 6:09 PM

      My argument was not a straw man – my “no one is swayed” is mere facetiousness because I think it’s ridiculous to even contend “that large amounts of money tend to lead to small marginal returns”. If lobbying didn’t work, we shouldn’t have lobbyists. But we do. So it’s a darn good bet lobbying still works. People would not continue to pay for a service unless they received said service. Nobody spends large sums of money for nothing! To say, we can’t prove this is the case is silly. Are you suggesting people pay lobbyists out of superstition? Talk about a straw man – of course campaigns don’t typically spend money to gain influence; that’s not their primary function – they spend money to win an election. But you do suggest an interesting scenario (that’s probably commonplace) where a campaign might try to win favors in the form of endorsement by contributing to another’s campaign. Lobbying exists. Donating money to a campaign is just once (barely) visible expression of lobbying. If lobbying weren’t effective, it would gradually cease to exist. To say you can’t prove it, simply means you don’t have access to the data you need. But that’s the whole idea behind a bribe (and that’s all lobbying really is) – people on the outside aren’t supposed to know.

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