Don't Worry, I Said Hey/ Baby I Got Your Money

|

Katie Schlieper at CampaignMoney.org takes issue with my column on the mercy killing of public financing.

He trots out the beaten horse of Howard Dean's presidential campaign as proof that the internet provides an effective counterbalance to any iniquity inherent to privately financed elections.

True, then I trot out the much livelier horse of Jim Webb's Senate campaign. And if the article had been filed a few weeks later I could have flogged Barack Obama's incredible 100,000-donor campaign. Anyone from any of those campaigns could tell you that their need to reach out to, and appeal to, the maximum number of voters, had a profound effect on what they focused on in their campaigns.

It takes 96 $25 small-dollar contributors to equal one big-dollar contributor giving the maximum $2,400 contribution in the presidential primary. Is a presidential candidate (already spending half her day fundraising) going to make 96 individual thank you calls, and take 5 minutes to ask each what their concerns are? Or is she going to make one call to that $2,400 giver and take five minutes with him?

First, it's a maximum $2300 contribution. Second, what does Schlieper think would happen in a completely public system? Candidates would flip open a phone book and call the first people in Akron with last names starting with "G"? Of course not. If they could draw on a cornucopia of public funds they'd respond to either 1) no one or 2) a random selection of letter-writers and visitors to their offices.

A privately financed campaign system makes some voters more valuable than others, favors the speech and concerns of a small group of people over those of the vast majority of our population.

I'm still not sure how public financing changes that. Some voters live closer to Washington, DC than others. Some are faster letter-writers. Some will write letters that get read by a communications director, and some will get read by the summer intern who's closing windows to IM with the hawt guy in John Boehner's office. Some will have a cousin who dated that intern's best friend. Some, sadly, will not. The only way that anyone can make sure they get noticed is by sending or withholding the money that politicians need to run their campaigns. It's the model of fairness.

NEXT: Red Cross: Iraq Situation Is "Ever-Worsening"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “I could have rode in on”?

    Jesus, Weigel! Shill away, but do it in English.

  2. I agree that public financing needs to go. However I don’t believe it’s possible to run on populist support. No matter what system is in place, the deep pockets will find a way to own it. A candidate can make some early noise with a large number of small donors. But for the long haul, a candidate must have a pipeline into the established king makers. Howard Dean is an example, and Barack Obama will be another.

    In this regard, public financing is just a cog in the establishment machine. It needs to go, but the bigger problem of anti-anti-establishmentcy will remain. A shorter campaign cycle would help. So it comes as no surprise that it is longer than ever.

  3. P Brooks,

    is “could have ridden in on” what you are looking for?

    Frankly, active past participles are are antiquated forms of speech that don’t add much to understanding, just to the need of more english majors.

  4. If they could draw on a cornucopia of public funds they’d respond to either 1) no one or 2) a random selection of letter-writers and visitors to their offices.

    I’m not defending public financing of campaigns, but given the choice of candidates responding to 1) no one or 2) a random selection of letter-writers and visitors to their offices or 3)their wealthiest constituents, I’d say that while no option is particularly satisfying, number 2 is probably superior to number 3, and number 1 may well be superior.

  5. L I T-

    It may be antiquarian persnickety grousing, but it’s hard to take somebody who would write “could have rode” seriously. Think craftsmanship.

  6. It’s hard to take somebody who would write “could have rode” seriously.

    You’ve found me out: I don’t ride horses.

  7. ps-

    If only our English majors spent their time contemplating participles instead of deconstructionist homoerotic conspiracy theories about Hucleberry Finn, this world might be a better place.

  8. Here is the specific reform Schlieper is advocating:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_Elections

    (interesting, worth a read)

  9. “I don’t ride horses.”

    Beating them, post mortem, on the other hand…

    tee hee

  10. “The only way that anyone can make sure they get noticed is by sending or withholding the money that politicians need to run their campaigns. It’s the model of fairness.”

    What a load of crap. This wasteful state of affairs, in which big bucks must be spent to pollute our public discourse (such as it is) with appeals to the stupidest part of human nature, and which renders our “democracy” even more unrepresentative than it already is, is hardly a “model of fairness.” I understand opposition to public financing of campaigns, but why celebrate the sordid, sad, and unfair reality of private financing?

    Perhaps the rich will inevitably always own the government. Just another reason why the rich should also pay for it, and no one should pay any tax on their income up to the U.S. mean household income.

  11. Is a presidential candidate (already spending half her day fundraising) going to make 96 individual thank you calls, and take 5 minutes to ask each what their concerns are? Or is she going to make one call to that $2,400 giver and take five minutes with him?

    CM.o has no clue. The candidate’s going to give the $2300 (sic) donor his five minutes, then forget about him. That donor’s maxed out. The 96 individuals will get thank you notes, calls from staffers, campaign propaganda, visits from precinct captains, and pleas for more contributions.

    However I don’t believe it’s possible to run on populist support. No matter what system is in place, the deep pockets will find a way to own it.

    We keep forgetting that the purpose of gathering contributions is to purchase advertising to influence swing voters and keep the faithful in the fold. Campaigns that can’t generate populist support don’t get votes. Without votes a campaign is about as fruitful as masturbation.

  12. (I got a little rambly. But there’s a point in there.)

    Campaign financing has nothing to do with individual donors. With a limit of $2300, any individual donor isn’t going to much to help the campaign.

    It all comes down to rallying multiple donors AND concentrating voters for the candidates. Who historically had the power: Unions, Business organizations, Community Groups. (Formerly known as, The Mafia, The Monopolists, and The Machines). When people complain about big money ruining the government, it’s these groups that are “big money”. But they are more than that, they are also Vote Wranglers. All campaign finace reform does is make these groups more powerful by taking away money from non-traditional vote wranglers, groups trying to find like-minded people by running ads during campaign season.

    But now the internet has come along. It’s easy to find like minded people from around the world. Now it is easy to run a populist campaign and raise money, as Dean, Obama, Webb have shown. They still need to figure out how to get voters to the polls.

  13. I think “could have rided” is the preferred usage.

  14. If pushed, I prefer “could’a done rided ’em an’ shit.”

  15. Does anybody happen to know how much public financing money Howard Dean was entitled to at the very beginning of his run for president. How is money apportioned to relatively unknown candidates? And how much money did Dean spend at the very beginning as compared to the other candidates?

  16. parse–

    but given the choice of candidates responding to 1) no one or 2) a random selection of letter-writers and visitors to their offices or 3)their wealthiest constituents, I’d say that while no option is particularly satisfying, number 2 is probably superior to number 3, and number 1 may well be superior.

    Yup- With “public financing” of elections, there would never be any reason for a politician to make an extra effort to talk to the wealthiest constituents…

    Well, unless your wife needs a job, or you decide to write a book.

    Then again, you could just steer a few billion dollars in “unbid” contracts to your husband. After all, why should your hubby have to spend his own money getting you re-elected?

    “Oh. Who’s being naive, parse?

  17. I hate to sound paranoid, but I would have sworn I spelled “Huckleberry” correctly this morning.
    One must strive to proofread punctiliously when throwing stones.

    stupid keyboard

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.