Politics

Money Can't Buy Me Love/Votes/a Mandate/etc

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Here's another reason to hope that Sen. John McCain shuffles into irrelevance – that shibboleth of "campaign finance reform" scolds, the idea that big money can buy elections, fell completely flat in 2006.

The average cost of winning a 2006 House race was about $966,000, based on pre-election finance reports, and $7.8 million for a Senate seat. In all, seven Republican congressional candidates and 33 Democrats managed to win their seats despite being outspent. Carol Shea-Porter, a New Hampshire Democrat, spent the least among outsiders to win a House seat—$123,257 at last report. For the Senate, Montana Democrat Jon Tester was the bargain-buyer, spending $3.8 million to unseat incumbent Conrad Burns.

These numbers are actually distorted by outliers like Hillary Clinton's Presidential windup in New York, where she spent $35.9 million to smash a hapless Republican. In close races, outspent Democrats triumphed over cash-flush Republicans. Jim Webb beat George Allen despite being outspent $13.4 million to $4.2 million. Jon Tester beat Conrad Burns spending $3.8 million to Burns' $7.5 million. Multi-millionaire candidates in Washington, Vermont, Nebraska and Arizona (the latter one a Democrat) all got creamed. And the figure's even more distorted when you factor in the spending of 527s and national party committees, which broke against Democrats.

Two groups of people should be eating crow about this. The first: the Barron's editors who miscalled most of the races, basing their predictions on fundraising. (They called Republican Mark Kennedy the winner in Minnesota. Kennedy lost by 20 points.) The second group: Campaign finance reformers, who've been arguing that we need to get big money out of the system by any extra-constitutional means necessary.

(Side note: the Connecticut Senate race was a true anomaly this year, as a cash-flush pro-war incumbent beat a millionaire anti-war challenger. Dead-ender pro-war columnists are insisting that this victory was "the most important" of the year. But let 'em have it. They need their fantasies.)