Money has taken center stage in this election cycle. Four years ago Barack Obama went back on his word and declined to take public funding for his general election campaign. This allowed him to exceed the campaign spending limits that come with that funding. In 2007, Obama challenged Republican hopefuls to agree to taking public financing and accepting spending limits. John McCain agreed and when he became the nominee he kept his word. Obama made the challenge even though every major party presidential candidate since 1976, when the current system came in place, accepted public funding and campaign spending limits. In 2008, he became the first candidate to break that tradition, and this year Obama made no initial challenge and neither the president nor Mitt Romney are accepting public financing and spending limits. Because it does not enjoy the cash advantage it did in 2008, the Obama campaign has come to send regular fundraising e-mails decrying that his campaign will be outraised and outspent and has to raise more money in order to remain competitive and, hey, maybe even win.
But as noted on Reason 24/7, POLITICO found that “[i]n six of the most hotly contested GOP primary contests this cycle, the best-funded candidate lost,” with Arizona’s Congressman Jeff Flake being the latest to defeat a better funded opponent. He was outspent two to one by real estate mogul Wil Cardon, and still won with a 48 percent margin, joining Ted Cruz in Texas, Todd Akin in Missouri, Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, and Deb Fischer in Nebraska, who raised less than $1 million. POLITICO describes a bevy of factors that helped the underfunded candidates win often decisive victories, providing more evidence that money is not a great indicator for political success and that much of the pearl-clutching over the influence of money in politics might be just that.