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Money isn’t Speech, it’s Votes!

Wanna predict who is likely to win any federal election? Just look up how much money they spent on their campaign. It’s amazing.

In 2006, the biggest spenders running for the House won their race 94% of the time. In 2008 the number was 93%, and in 2010 it was 85%. The numbers for the Senate were slightly lower; in 2006 it was 73%, in 2008 86%, and in 2010 83%.

So what’s the quality most important for a politician? The ability to raise money. Nothing else matters nearly as much.

Not only that, but I would guess that the only reason the percentages went down in 2010 was because of the increasing use of SuperPACs, which spend money on behalf of a candidate, but don’t count as money spent by the candidate.

Here’s one way to get big money out of our politics.



  1. Duckman wrote:

    Yeah I saw a article, just a few weeks ago, about how much Obama has raised already and I was blown away. I understand all them buttons and flags and commercial time costs a pretty penny…but they are raising a lot of pretty pennies, more pennies than they need I think.

    Meanwhile the people protesting have no pennies yadda yadda yadda

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 4:54 am | Permalink
  2. David Freeman wrote:

    Getting big money out of politics is one of the most critical issues to restoring democracy. I support

    However, we must adhere to well reasoned analysis. Correlation does not imply causation. Without a well constructed multivariate analysis, statements like “the quality most important for a politician? The ability to raise money. Nothing else matters nearly as much” should be better substantiated. What are the “elses” that don’t matter as much and are they truly independent variables? Perhaps popularity, incumbency, job approval, etc also correlate with fundraising success.

    We mock Wingnuts for their simplistic analyses and ideologically driven approach to science and reason. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink
  3. drew wrote:

    It would be interesting to see how well self funded campaigns fit into this. People tend to assume that this means that with enough money you can basically buy an election, but as Meg Whitman and Linda McMahon reminded us in 2010, that isn’t always the case. I suspect that the correlation has more to do with how much money they were able to raise than how much money they spent. The reason is simple – campaigns that are best able to motivate voters, whether through a charismatic candidate or a solid campaign volunteer organization, also tend to be the best campaigns at raising money.

    This also presents a possible alternate theory as to why the percentage is going down. If ability to raise money is closely correlated with ability to raise votes, it would seem that, all other things being equal, it’s better to have a large number of small donors than a small number of large donors. (The self funded candidate is effectively an extreme example of this…) As campaign finance laws become more and more neutered, we may be seeing more candidates that are able to attract a small number of very large donors, even though they are lousy candidates.

    All that said, I still think reducing the amount of money that goes into politics is a good idea. But the reason that I think it is a good idea has less to do with fairness of elections than the fact that the current system has basically turned into a non-stop campaign. The 2010 elections weren’t even over before we were already speculating about the 2012 elections. Our elected leaders spend so much time on getting reelected that they aren’t actually leading. And even when they are, they are consistently accused (rightly or wrongly) of pulling “campaign stunts”.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink
  4. David Freeman wrote:

    Drew, thanks for bringing up the point that needing to raise big cash interferes with actual governing. In addition to just taking up too much time, perpetual campaigning also makes it almost impossible to find consensus or compromise which also makes governing less effective. I really wonder, do politicians consider their primary job to be governing wisely or getting re-elected?

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  5. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Sign me up. It’s about time.
    I would also consider an amemndment to say in effect that if money is allowed to be raised, it can only be for all the candidates in the party. ie. a DEM, REP or IND, or GREEN, whatever and the money equally divided amongst all candidates for an election year.
    The only other thing we need to watch for are incumbants campaigning on the taxpayer dime.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  6. Arthanyel wrote:

    Drew, David, exactly so. For a House member, they are up for election every 2 years, so they are in non-stop campaign mode all the time. They have no way to focus on actually governing unless they are “safe” which few are these days.

    And the campaign machines are a solid part of the economy now, so if we can change it there will be some collateral impacts on advertising, employment etc. I think we have to accept that collateral damage because the alternative is worse, but we do need to be prepared for it.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink
  7. Iron Knee wrote:

    The only issue I have with taxpayer funded campaigns is something we already see — people who run for a political office who have no intention or desire to actually win, but do it so they can get exposure (free publicity). Sarah Palin and Donald Trump were highly visible examples, but there are people at all levels. If the money were divided evenly across all candidates, then I think this problem would get worse, and we might see hundreds of people “running” for some political office just sucking out money and wasting our time. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to figure out how you decide that a candidate is actually serious.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  8. Arthanyel wrote:

    IK – One option is to do what they do in some states, in order to get on the ballot you need a certain number of petition signatures from registered voters.

    That shifts some of the money spending to getting on the ballot, but that’s better than what we have. And if a Trump or a Palin can get enough idtios to sign up in enough states, then they are a legitimnate candidate even if we know better 🙂

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  9. David Chess wrote:

    I do wonder if fundraising and winning aren’t just co-correlates of incumbency. Incumbency’s always been the main predictor of winning afaik.

    Government funding of campaigns is worrying, because it means the incumbents get to control the money flowing to their challengers. Put that way, it doesn’t sound nearly as attractive somehow…

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
  10. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    David that is actually something I never thought of…pretty scary. Consider what would happen if the majority in Congress was certain that they were going to lose it in the upcoming election…

    On Normal Earth I wouldn’t have an issue with it, because any politician who was brazen enough to change the rules like that would be voted out in a landslide. But I feel I no longer live on normal earth.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink
  11. ebdoug wrote:

    Ikeep reading history books where elections are mentioned. I really can’t see where anything has changed over the years. The machine bosses always decided who would win. Now that more and more countries have “free” elections, we can see more and more of that. Hitler’s method of “lies, slander, and yelling” wins the election.
    I also was thinking that the one term presidents like Carter, George HW Bush, and maybe Obama are the ones who want “peace on earth” Men like to hunt and kill. Men want wars. That is the nature of the beast.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  12. tlenart wrote:

    In Australia (as I understand it), public funding is provided to all candidates after the election based on a certain dollar amount per vote they achieve. This way, nuisance candidates (running only for publicity) don’t get much.

    I guess the only problem with this system is that first-time independent candidates won’t have any money given to them by the government till after the election–though I guess to some extent they can then borrow against their expected votes.

    But on balance – it seems a reasonably fair system that helps to balance the playing field and to reduce dependence on political donations / bribes.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Permalink
  13. Iron Knee wrote:

    TLenart, that’s a pretty good idea. I hadn’t heard of that.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Permalink
  14. effisland wrote:

    Hey how about TAXING those fucking funds? Then at least they could justify the payments by saying “the people” are benefiting somehow…

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Permalink
  15. ebdoug wrote:

    those funds aren’t going in the pockets of the candidate. the contributions are recirculated into the economy. We could lobby to bar political advertising on television. It is so easy to avoid advertising on radio and Internet.
    From what I hear, people are very influenced by what they see on television.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 4:47 am | Permalink
  16. PatriotSGT wrote:

    I’m with you Ebdoug -Make us read. Make them come out and talk to us.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink
  17. Dan wrote:

    Open ballots/Vote Fusion. Amendment stating corporations are not people, and that “buying” an election is not free speech. Right to rebuttal. If an ad is misleading or an outright lie then the opposition can rebut free, or whoever ran the ad must point out the consequences of the positions put forward.
    For example: Right now Herman Cain is claiming to be the “man of the people.” It should be explained that he has worked with “Freedom Works” and the “Club for Growth.” Hardly populist movements.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  18. rk wrote:

    If you allow ads of any sort, you will have influence. It doesn’t matter whether it’s funded by a politician or a PAC.

    The only good source of information is a debate where both sides have equal time.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Permalink
  19. Arthanyel wrote:

    I wish the debates were actual debates – refereed, you have to provide references to any facts you use, and they are fact checked at the end 🙂 But no politician would ever agree to such a thing, they rely far too much on fake facts and outright lies.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Permalink