Saturday, October 10, 2015

Does Unlimited Campaign Spending Allow "the Rich to Buy Politicians?"

One of the dumbest arguments in favor of strict limits on campaign spending is the idea that big money donors corrupt the democratic process. I addressed a version of this argument in the comments section of New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist John Farmer’s article attacking the Citizens United case, in which the Supreme Court declared political spending limits unconstitutional. (For my assessment of Farmer's article, see my upcoming 10/14/15 post, Yes, ‘Big Money’ in Politics Fosters Ideological Debate—and That’s a Good Thing.)

Correspondent Peanut Santiago wrote: “[The Supreme Court] made it super easy for the rich to buy politicians.......I mean right in your face and dare you to stop it kind of easy.”

I left this reply:

This is a hollow argument.

First, donors don’t elect politicians. Voters do. All the money in the world won’t get a politician into office. A politician must first convince enough individual voters, each of whom must make up her own mind based on her own judgement on issues and character.

Second, there is no evidence of a correlation between electoral or legislative results and campaign donations. As Seton Hall University assistant professor of political science Heath Brown, a supporter of campaign finance reform, argued on these very pages:

   The research is clear that the simple notion that campaign donations lead to electoral victories and eventually to legislative favors is not valid. Research by Christopher Witko of the University of South Carolina shows that campaign financial support may lead to increased legislator attention and effort on certain policy issues, but not typically to changing a vote on a single piece of legislation or disregarding the views of constituents.
   There are many reasons for New Jersey voters to worry about corruption in politics, but the corrupting influence of money is much more complicated than we often think, and stricter caps on outside spending won’t solve this complex problem.

Related Reading:

Money is Not Speech, but a Means to Speech

Money, Politics, and the First Amendment

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