How Much Does Campaign Cash Really Matter?


Lee Drutman uses one of the Koch brothers to illustrate the difficulty of tracking political donations:

The case of Charles G. Koch is a nice lesson in just how hard it is to determine who is breaking and who is abiding by campaign finance limits. It’s hard to make accurate tallies of individual aggregate campaign contributions when the Federal Elections Commission doesn’t require donors to have a unique ID, and when campaigns don’t always reliably report donor names. … It’s also challenging because recount funds are exempted from aggregate individual donation limits, but the FEC doesn’t provide data in a form that makes it easy to separate out those contributions from ones that do count. The only way to effectively enforce the law is to spend endless hours hand-verifying individual FEC records. It’s almost as if the system were designed to make enforcement impossible.

Seth Masket, in contrast, wonders why we’re “still getting worked up over the Citizens United decision”:

A lot of political commentary, particularly that emanating from the combination of journalists, politicians, and activists he calls the “campaign finance community,” claimed that the growth of Super PACs and other well-heeled political organizations in the wake of the Citizens United case would overwhelm the voters’ voice. Yet despite unprecedented sums spent by these groups on behalf of Mitt Romney and many Republican congressional candidates, the votes ended up going almost exactly as we would have otherwise expected.

This isn’t a new pattern. It has generally been very difficult to pinpoint any specific effect of campaign spending on a general election outcome. … Now, none of this means that campaign spending doesn’t matter at all, of course. Even with very small effects, an absurdly huge expenditure of money could be critical. But there is a saturation point where you just can’t get any more ads in front of people’s eyes. And we really don’t have a sense of whether the ads put together by Super PACs are as effective as those aired by the campaigns themselves. … But the idea that voters can be bought with enough money just doesn’t hold water. And given that recent efforts to make campaign finance more fair just seem to result in more byzantine rules and less transparency, maybe we should stop trying to do that for a while.

I tend to agree that the wave of Super-PAC money didn’t alter the core dynamics of the campaign – a major relief, as well as a major blow to campaign finance reformers. Meanwhile, Kay Steiger makes the case that “the Citizens United ruling has led to to the unprecedented amount of state-level anti-choice legislation in the last several years”:

[Crow After Roe author Jessica Mason] Pieklo explained [on Democracy Now] that National Right to Life, Americans United for Life, Liberty Council and the Tomas Moore Center are groups whose goals are either to overturn Roe v. Wade, making abortion once again illegal, or to make abortion so inaccessible that abortion is legal “in name only.”

“One of the reasons that the book looks at the onslaught of legislation after 2010 is that there is an explosion at the state level, and that is in large part due to one of the driving forces, and that is James Bopp Jr., who is one of the legal forces behind the challenge that created the Citizens United decision,” Pieklo said. “He sparked — and his group, National Right to Life — sparked a lot of the initial campaign finance challenges through conservative groups, so as a result of unrestricted funding at the state level, that’s where we’re at right now as a result of it.”

(Photo: US business magnate Sheldon Adelson speaks on the phone after attending the first presidential debate between US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney in Denver, Colorado on October 3, 2012. By Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images. Adelson shelled out more than $100 million on failed GOP candidates during the 2012 cycle.)