Campaigns/Elections

First Rule of Politics: Follow the Money Message

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Over at RealClearPolitics, the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism's Terry Michael, casts a cold eye on money-challenged Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack's withdrawal from the Democratic presidential race:

Listen up, those of you who report, write, broadcast, cable-babble and blog politics for a living or avocation: Money follows message in politics! Not the other way around.

It boggles my mind that those in the First Amendment business will let themselves be used by the Washington ethics industry to further an assault on free, and sometimes expensive, political speech.

How convenient the self-styled Public Interest Groups make it for candidates without an appealing message or a pleasing personality to excuse their failure to connect with voters in the free market of ideas and first impressions.

Patriotism is often the last refuge of scoundrels. And "I can't compete with opponents who prostitute themselves to the money changers" seems to be the first excuse of presidential non-contenders who fooled themselves into believing they were Leader of the Free World material.

Whole thing here.

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  1. “Just ask Hillary “No-Last-Name” Clinton if money can buy you love, or whether loving sleep-overs at David Geffen’s can buy his money.”

    That would be a great argument, if Hillary Clinton wasn’t the best-bankrolled candidate in the history of the planet.

    If you’re arguing the thesis that money follows message, and the ability to connect with voters, then bringing up Hillary Clinton is the last thing you want to do.

  2. I’d say that bringing up Hillary Clinton in any context is the last thing one should do.

  3. “If you’re arguing the thesis that money follows message, and the ability to connect with voters, then bringing up Hillary Clinton is the last thing you want to do.”

    So you’re asserting that Hillary has an unappealing message and no ability to connect with either voters or money people? And she has raised lot’s of funding in spite of that?

  4. Is Anna Nicole still dead?
    That’s all that matters.

  5. madpad,

    No, I’m arguing that connecting with “money people” is quite different than connecting with voters.

    As it turns out, in a society with high levels of economic inequality, “one dollar one vote” is not a precise substitute for “one person one vote.”

  6. I think that is very safe to say that money does not guarantee political success.

  7. In other words, Michael’s assertion that Vilsack’s inability to raise Big Early Money deomonstrates his inability to appeal to voters is bunk.

    No, it shows his inability to tap into big donor networks.

  8. Grotius,

    If A does not equal B,

    then -A does not equal -B, right?

    If the ability to raise money does not equal the ability to appeal to voters,

    then the inability to raise money does not equal the inability to appeal to voters.

    Right?

  9. Um joe, you’re using symbolic logic incorrectly.

    A not implying B

    does not in anyway imply
    not A not implying not B

    I am unable to walk does not imply I have a broken leg.

    I am able to walk, on the other hand does imply that I don’t have a broken leg.

  10. As it turns out, in a society with high levels of economic inequality, “one dollar one vote” is not a precise substitute for “one person one vote.”

    Can’t argue that…but I don’t think that’s Michael’s point. He’s just arguing that whining about money when you’re real problem is that your personality-challenged is feeding some myths about why people fund candidates. Facts are, politics is always a popularity contest. People fund candidates who they like and think can win.

    Vilsac was massively overshadowed by the Clinton and Obama campaigns – which had been working the anglessince long before their announcements and long before Vilsac announced his campaign back in Novof ’06.

    Comparitively, he has all the charisma of melted ice cream starting with his ambivalent stance on the hot-button issue for Dems: Iraq.

    Hillary may be no less ambivalent, but people aren’t defining her solely on that basis.

  11. joe,

    I’ve read a number of studies on money as a predictor of electoral success, and as I recall it is not a particularly good predictor of such.

  12. madpad,

    The only evidence Michael provides that Vilsack is “personality challenged,” or has an unpopular stance on issues, is that he had trouble raising money.

    Now, maybe Vilsack os both of those things, but the fact that he hasn’t scored a lot of money doesn’t demonstrate that.

    Hillary Clinton is both “personality challenged” and holds many unpopular positions, but she’s raised a ton of money.

  13. Grotius,

    I agree, money is a bad predictor of political success.

    Doesn’t that suggest to you that a lack of money is a bad predictor of unpopularity?

    tarran,

    Tell it to

  14. Which I guess shouldn’t be terribly surprising. If I may be so bold as to draw a very loose analogy with highschool, I will note that it is fairly common to run across unpopular people from wealthy families. In other words, money is not always a good substitute for other qualities that we humans value – such as a sense of humor, etc.

  15. tarran,

    Tell it to Terry Michael.

    He abserves that a popular message and appealing candidate implies lots of money,

    and concludes that a lack of money implies an unappealing candidate and an unpopular message.

  16. “I’ve read a number of studies on money as a predictor of electoral success, and as I recall it is not a particularly good predictor of such.”

    In fact, Baron’s predicted that Republicans would maintain control of Congress based upon the amount of dinero raised by each campaign.

  17. I think that Vilsack makes people think of a ballsack, which doesn’t go over well with some of the people.

  18. Damn, here I thought the first rule of politics was that you had to know if the juice was worth the squeeze.

    Nick

  19. joe,

    Are you or have you ever been a forest raping orchid thief?

    Another foodprocessoring of logic debate I remember a few years ago, from DC, was that since people are required to keep their sidewalks free of ice in the District then gun manufacutrers are supposed to be held responsible for people being shot with their guns. Did you author that one too?

    Back to the forest raping orchid thief, why must logic be stood on it’s head when you people just decide for everybody else what is good for them? Do you truly think that you are so much smarter than everybody else that you must make their voting choices for them too?

    As it turns out, in a society with high levels of economic inequality, “one dollar one vote” is not a precise substitute for “one person one vote.”

    Guess what Eisenstein, in the USA you can have as many dollars as you like and you only get one *legal* vote per race.

  20. While I would agree that money is not everything, I think he discounts it far too easily. I am sure it is a combination of party loyalty, name recognition, ability to raise money, playing the game and personality (of course Vilsack had none of these, except perhaps party loyalty). I really think message is the least of it, most people make certain assumptions as to what you believe because of the the R or D by your name, and I don’t think they listen to your message very closely (that’s why Conservatives were surprised when Bush started pushing no child left behind, and prescription drugs for old people, etc.) But lets face it unless you live in New Hampshire or Iowa, it doesn’t matter who you support at this stage in the game, those two states will decide who is going to get the major party nominations and one of those two major party candidates will win and those candidates message will be similar, the main differences will be in the nuances not the substance. Maybe that is what the majority of people want.

  21. Won’t Al Gore just sit back and let Hillary and Barry fight it out, then – when both are wounded and vulnerable – offer his candidacy?
    At that point, would Barry or Hil accept the v.p. position?

  22. Do you truly think that you are so much smarter than everybody else that you must make their voting choices for them too?

    They do, but who doesn’t. Actually, I think I’m smarter, but I don’t want to tell people what to do except: Leave me alone! The funny thing is that this really seems to get to liberals (and social conservatives). Both groups seem to think that telling people how to live their lives is at least their right, if not their duty. The simple idea that people could be left to their own devices seems to scare the shit out of them. I say, “Just leave people alone!” and they say, “But what about…?” It’s so damn annoying. I hate these people.

  23. I’m going to end up writing in Cthulhu anyway, so it hardly matters who’s running.

  24. Let me try again for what I believe are those whose power of logic is challenged by their dislike of Hillary Clinton and perhaps by their quasi-religious beliefs that money explains life. Hillary didn’t gain her support from havng lots of money and she can’t end the problems she’s having with more money. Obama had no money when his poularity zoomed and he’s raising lots now because many find him appealing. Gov. Vilsack was at about 10% in the polls IN IOWA, running third in his OWN state, where he didn’t have to have a dime in his pocket to get his message out.
    Much more important here for those who believe in free markets and free minds is the assault on free political speech from the ethics industry — the McCain-Feingold types — who want to inhibit free expression by limiting how much we can spend on it. Read Brad Smith’s “Unfree Speech” and John Samples’ “The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform.” My piece was really addressed to political journalists and I didn’t want to labor again over all those libertarian arguments Smith and Samples so eloquently state.

  25. Hillary Clinton is both “personality challenged” and holds many unpopular positions, but she’s raised a ton of money.

    The point, dear Joe, is that she has plenty of personality for the folks that elected her. She also has plenty of popularity as a Democratic front-runner leading most of the polls. So I don’t think shes as personality challenged as you think.

    As for unpopular positions, please tell me what those are and who they are unpopular with? Apparently, they are quite popular with the aformentioned voters and pollees…not to mention the people giving her the money.

    But even unpopular positions are secondary to real popularity, which she also seems to have.

    Personally,I couldn’t care less. I have little feeling one way or another for the woman. But all of this really begs the question: If she’s so unpopular and personality challenged, why do YOU think people have given her all that money?

  26. OK, since we libertarians fancy ourselves to be econ savvy, the question is not whether money matters, the question is whether there are diminishing returns on increasing campaign contributions. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the guy with nothing in his warchest will just about always lose. But it may be that once you have enough to get attention there are other factors that come into play.

    The question is not “Does money matter?” but rather “How much does a particular amount of money matter relative to another amount of money?”

  27. Well said, Terry Michael.

  28. The question is not “Does money matter?” but rather “How much does a particular amount of money matter relative to another amount of money?”

    A think the calculus behind that is far too complex to compute with any degree of accuracy. The factors that attract money go hand in hand with the factors that attract votes and interest.

    If you aren’t someone who can attract interest – or if your ability to attract interest is less than (or perceived as less than) someone elses, then you’re not going to attract the necessary money OR votes.

  29. thoreau,

    You seem to be focusing on endpoints. Politicians don’t generally arise out of nowhere. They spend a long time cultivating their success. So by the time they are getting big dollars they’ve done a lot of things unrelated to money to get them those big dollars.

  30. I like the new, incoherent Guy Montag. Dude, have a second cuppa, and take another crack at that, because I can’t even figure out if you’re on the right thread.

    madpad, are you kidding? You want to argue that Hillary stands out for her personality? You are unaware of the divide between her and the Democratic voting public on the Iraq War? Really?

    “If she’s so unpopular and personality challenged, why do YOU think people have given her all that money?” Because she has peronal relationships with a lot of rich and powerful people; because she’s seen as likely to be the next president, and people with money want to be on her good side; and because there are some people who are genuinely excited by her beliefs and leadership. Mr. Michael can pretend the former two categories of donors don’t exist, or that their preferences are a close approximation of those of the public at large if he likes, but it takes some pretty imporessive suspension of disbelief.

    Tell me, madpad, do YOU think the people who put large amounts of money into the political system are representative of opinions and interests of the voting public? The popular libertarian argument “The best way to prevent government influence-peddling is to reduce the government’s influence” seems to suggest otherwise.

  31. thoreau,

    Perhaps a recent example or two are in order?

    Howard Dean was popular and he raised a lot of money, in what was then an innovative manner, by being popular with a niche audience and providing an easy way for them to contribute to his campaign. More like he got the word out that people could contribute to him online and they did.

    AFTER he had a lot of money and spent it trying to get his message out he was left in shreds by his own erratic actions.

    Ross Perot had a very popular message too and lots of money, both his own and from contributions. His popularity declined when he began acting nutty. Apparetly more people believed that Dean was even nuttier than Perot because Perot made a much better showing in his campaign.

    No, that is not the end of the Perot story. The man still has more money than G_d and could never get more than 1% of the vote now because he had to use even more of his own money after the election to prove just how nutty he is.

    It ain’t the money, it is the message. In politics your message is your product. If your product is not selling then nobody will suport you and you will not go “national”.

    Side note: Suppressing messages through restrictive advertising seems to be the method of choice for folks whos message does not sell.

  32. joe,

    I like the new, incoherent Guy Montag. Dude, have a second cuppa, and take another crack at that, because I can’t even figure out if you’re on the right thread.

    Sorry if that was too complicated for you. I am certainly not bright enough to explain this to you, but I am skeptical enough not to buy into your notion that the best ideas go unfunded and the worst ones are popular with rich people.

  33. I am skeptical enough not to buy into your notion that the best ideas go unfunded and the worst ones are popular with rich people.

    I can think of some pretty terrible ideas that are popular with certain strata of rich people.

    The Davos crowd is all about transnational progressivism, and has also adopted the global warming mantra. Oddly, wealthy international elites seem to like ideas that result in burdens on people other than themselves, and concentrate power and influence in their hands.

  34. Guy,

    Congratulations on the lucid comment.

    I am not positing an inverse relationship between the quality of an idea and the level of funding its proponent attracts.

    I am disputing Terry Michael’s assertion that there is a strong positive relationship there.

    He singles out Vilsack as someone with a bad personality and an unpopular history on the Iraq War as explainations for why he didn’t attract money, yet his counter-example of Hillary Clinton is someone who is perceived as having a less-than-likeable personality and who has an equally unpopular history on the war, yet she’s raked in more money than God.

  35. Whomever decides to do something about the Africanized Killer Honey Bees is the one who gets my money.

  36. What money helps buys is recognition. And of course it’s partially a Catch-22, as money tends to flow toward the known commodity. As such, it’s silly to compare the most famous First Lady since E. Roosevelt with an obscure governor from Iowa. Bill Clinton was also an obscure small-state governor, but he spent many years cultivating his position with the Democratic Party towards his presidential run. I see no evidence that Vilsack did anything of the sort.

  37. “Bill Clinton was also an obscure small-state governor, but he spent many years cultivating his position with the Democratic Party towards his presidential run. I see no evidence that Vilsack did anything of the sort.”

    Do remember his (disastrous) speech at the 1988 convention? He was highly touted from exactly the cultivation you cite. And he nearly blew it with that speech 🙂

    How he referred to that disaster in the beginning of his 1992 speech was kinda funny. So were the “Clinton 1996” signs back in 1988.

    Let us remember the words from the theme to the most excellent movie, Johnny Dangerously, “if money can’t buy happiness/ I guess I’ll have to rent it”

  38. Because she has peronal relationships with a lot of rich and powerful people; because she’s seen as likely to be the next president, and people with money want to be on her good side;

    And she accomplished all of this by being personality-challenged and on the wrong side on key issues? ‘splain to me how that works? ‘Cause I don’t believe that lot’s of money just gets you a pass when you’re a troll who nobody likes.

    You are unaware of the divide between her and the Democratic voting public on the Iraq War?

    If that’s the case, why is she – as you put it – seen as “likely to be the next president?”

    And I can’t beleive I need to point this out to you but a contrary postition on 1 issue is not the same as being “personality challenged.”

  39. madpad,

    Rank the following as reasons for Hillary Clinton’s fundraising success during this election cycle:

    1. Her glittering personality;

    2. Her stance on the issues that motive Democratic voters in this election cycle:

    3. Her connections.

  40. ‘”You are unaware of the divide between her and the Democratic voting public on the Iraq War?”

    If that’s the case, why is she – as you put it – seen as “likely to be the next president?”‘

    Why do you think? Because of her name recognition, he fundraising prowess, the political machine she has behind her…

  41. Rank the following as reasons…

    Teasing out one reason as “the biggest” doesn’t change the fact that all 3 reasons are pretty interlinked (though I wouldn’t call Hillary’s personality “glittering”).

    Still, I give up, joe.

    You and I often agree but now you’re just being contrary, so I’m getting out of the way.

    You’re on a merry-go-round of cyclical arguments and you’re so hot about it you can’t see it.

    Your (apparent) assertion that money if the sole arbiter of success in politics has been demonstrated to be flat wrong.

  42. “Your (apparent) assertion that money if the sole arbiter of success in politics…”

    Exists purely in your imagination.

    I’ve corrected this misconception at least twice already. That is not my argument.

  43. let me see if i get joe’s point here, which i usually do.

    basically: a candidate’s ability to raise money and shitloads of it is only weakly correlated with their having an attractive message or popularity with voters.

    however, it is the candidates with shitpots of money that are seen as the serious contenders and then get elected.

    is this news? why are people having difficulty with this one.

  44. And, Mr. Crane – joe notes that HRC also has support of the machine. Speaking of which, how many times will you cast your ballot tomorrow?

  45. psh, i’m not even sure i’m going to be in this ward for more than another month.

    i might be headed toward (cue shudder) helen schiller’s ward.

  46. I’ve corrected this misconception at least twice already. That is not my argument.

    Then what exactly is your argument?

  47. OK, first, my argument is not about how money effects the outcome of elections, but about how politicians acquire money.

    My argument is that the ability to attract money bears a weak relation to the politician’s appeal to voters. It has a much stronger relation to the politician’s appeal to moneyed interests that are not necessarily representative of the voters. I disagree with Terry Michael’s argument that the inability of a candidate to accrue a large war chest is solid evidence that the candidate was personally or ideologically unappealing to voters.

    If the general public all had the same amount of money, were all equally motivated to donate it, and were all committed to making their donations based on their personal opinions about each candidate’s abilities, then the inability to raise money really would demonstrate that one is a crappy politician. But we know that all three of those statements is false. Some segments of the public are richer than others; some of are more involved in politics; and the richest, most involved ones donate based on whether politicians will pander to their interests.

  48. Also don’t forget that now HRC is considered to be from “New York” while Mr. Vilsak is from Iowa.

    Um, I think I know which state has more rich people and more “movers and shakers.”

    (Actually, the bar to become a “mover and shaker” is surprisingly low for some of the more sparsely populated states. My business partner has found, to his bewilderment, that people keep trying to push him into running for public office, something he has no interest in. )

  49. It has a much stronger relation to the politician’s appeal to moneyed interests that are not necessarily representative of the voters.

    O.K., joe… most of us have that acknowledged that as a factor. All I and most other folks have been saying is that the relationship is not exactly linear.

    Getting moneyed interests to line up at your door takes more than showing them that you’ll pander to them (although no one denies that is a factor). To get them to pony up, you have to demonstrate that you can also win the election…or that your poll numbers are high enough to make you a good investment.

    All Michael said was that Vilsac’s money complaint was a cheap line than anyone could throw out as an excuse for failure. The hard realities are that both Clinton and Obama were miles ahead of Vilsac before they – or even he – had announced their candidacies.

    Clinton has been assembling her money people for decades. Obama has been courting fame, money and public fascination since 2004. They are both wildly popular with large subsets of voters (oh yes…despite what you ar I may think about her ‘personality challenges’ she is very popular with many democrats…even ones who disagree with her on the war.).

    They have name recognition and exposure. Vilsac has little of that. His campaign was a loser before it even was announced.

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