Election 2012

Money Can't Buy You Love, the Election Edition

Raising the most money is no guarantee at all of winning an election


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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.

I previously explained the positive influence of money on the political process here, here, here and here.


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  1. Neither should fools with stupid cardboard signs.

    1. But should Cashes and Paychecks be allowed to vote?

      1. Take that vote and shove it!

  2. Linda McMahon spent $50 million in the 2010 CT U.S. Senate race and still lost by 12 points (to a guy who got caught falsely claiming to veterans that he served in Vietnam, no less).

    The best (worst?) part is she is doing it all over again this election cycle.

    1. I’m all for it. I almost moved there to vote for her.

      Even a miniscule chance of Secretary of State The Undertaker is better than no chance at all.

      1. Don’t be silly. Triple H would be Secretary of State, The Undertaker would be Secretary of Defense.

        1. We could really boost relations with the Islamic world with the Iron Sheikh at State.

        2. Triple H has never even been an International Heavyweight Champion. Completely unqualified for State!*

          The Undertaker speaks 7 languages. All of them dead.

          *I have no idea if this is true or not.

          1. come on, now; we all know John Cena is SecDef.

    2. Carly Fiorina spent over 100m in her 2010 Senate run and finished a few percent higher than Christine O’Donnell did in DE.

      Meg Whitman spend 50-100m more than that and lost by 13 points instead of 10% like Fiorina.

  3. It’s funny how, no matter how much money they get, campaigns never have enough money.

    Kinda like government. How ’bout that: people who can’t manage money during the election also can’t manage it after they’re elected. Who would have guessed?

  4. Money is why we all fondly remember Michael Huffington’s tenure in teh Senate, right? And man, Ross Perot was such an effective President, too.

  5. Dollars should not vote.

    However, it might be time for us to delegate votes according to the voter’s effective Federal income tax rate.

    That would do a few things. First, politicians would not have much motivation to pander to people who are net tax recipients. Second, if you are being taxed at a high effective rate, you get something for your money. Not much, but something. Third, if, say, Warren Buffett really pays a lower tax rate than his household concubines, then he’d get fewer votes as a result.

    1. Better yet, just reduce the power of federal government and it’s not worth it to buy an election. problem solved.

    2. Better yet, just reduce the power of federal government and it’s not worth it to buy an election. problem solved.

      1. Worth saying twice!

        I suspect that would be the result of what I propose, too. Either way we go at it, works for me. Both would be even better.

    3. I don’t get the temptation by people here to support the “only tax payers should vote” meme. Do the rich vote any better than the poor? Are the Republicans significantly better than the Democrats? Not to mention, the most expensive welfare programs are SS and Medicare, which go to millions of middle and upper class people, and then you have the DOD and corporate welfare than combine for close to another trillion. Not to mention all the economic and social regulations supported by the non-poor (ex. crony capitalists who support regulations that inhibit competitors, soccer moms and the WOD, etc)

  6. This seems as good a place as any, but it looks like the Democrat and Republican Election Machine in Oklahoma is going to get it’s way and remove Gary Johnson from the ballot after all

    What is worse is that this is a state where you can’t even write in a vote…

    1. …Dollars can’t vote and it looks like I won’t have any reason to bother this election.

  7. But if only we could require voter ID, then money couldn’t sneak in and claim it was Letitia Teasdale.

  8. I agree with the sign completely.

    If you are a net tax leach you shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

  9. John McCain agreed and when he became the nominee he kept his word.

    Just goes to show you what a great government education does for the decision making process.

  10. Freakonomics concluded that campaign spending almost doesn’t matter at all.


    Here’s the surprise: the amount of money spent by the candidates hardly matters at all. A winning candidate can cut his spending in half and lose only 1 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, a losing candidate who doubles his spending can expect to shift the vote in his favor by only that same 1 percent. What really matters for a political candidate is not how much you spend; what matters is who you are. (The same could be said and will be said, in chapter 5 about parents.) Some politicians are inherently attractive to voters and others simply aren’t, and no amount of money can do much about it. (Messrs. Dean, Forbes, Huffington, and Golisano already know this, of course.)

    And what about the other half of the election truism — that the amount of money spent on campaign finance is obscenely huge? In a typical election period that includes campaigns for the presidency the Senate, and the House of Representatives, about $1 billion is spent per year — which sounds like a lot of money, unless you care to measure it against something seemingly less important than democratic elections.

    It is the same amount, for instance, that Americans spend every year on chewing gum.

  11. money is not a great indicator for political success

    It’s more than this. The SpeechNow.org decision (NOT Citizen’s United) is having the exact opposite result that the media and the uninformed claim. Allowing people to band together and spend their own money way above and beyond the previous $5000 limit has allowed SuperPACs to push normally ignored candidates past the public acknowledgement point (as I call it), allowing them to compete on the same stage of public opinion as incumbents. Past that point, how much money is spent doesn’t matter as much, making fights between well-known incumbents and previously little-known upstarts depend far more on what they say and propose than on who has more money to blow.

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