Tuesday, May 28, 2013

No Available Fix for Politician Paranoia

I highly recommend a post by Ezra Klein today about money in politics. He's following up on an earlier item he did about money in the 2012 election cycle being overhyped; today he's taking on criticisms of that one. It's excellent: he doesn't back down on the basic point that the "campaign finance community" (as he puts it) overstates, and often dramatically overstates, the importance of campaign finance.

One topic he covers, however, is one where I've become increasingly pessimistic over time: the way that raising money eats into the lives of elected officials. It's something that Mark Schmidt raised in response to Klein's original item, and it's correct. It's absolutely ridiculous for Members of Congress to have built for themselves an expectation that they should spend four hours a day raising money.

(By the way: we have good reporting that such an expectation exists, and good reporting that Members spend way too much time raising money...but I have to admit I'm pretty skeptical of this four hours a day business. Do they really do that, day in, day out? Or do most of them reluctantly do a lot less (although still enough to cut way too much into their real jobs), but exaggerate it for the reporter's notebook? Again, I'm not denying that it's a big deal; just questioning the specific claim).

I used to believe that a campaign regime of floors-not-ceilings would help; by allowing candidates to raise money in larger chunks, they could reach their fundraising goals in far fewer hours of work. And given diminishing returns (that is, in that more spending produces relatively fewer and fewer votes), the incentive to just use the same time but raise more money wouldn't be all that high. I think that was, alas, wishful thinking. The evidence seems to be that they all raise whatever they can, even if it's a waste of their time. Moreover, if floors-not-ceilings succeeded in bringing viable candidates to more districts, even more incumbents would be even more obsessed with the theoretical possibility of a future plausible nominee who had to be scared away by building even larger warchests.

The only things I can really imagine that would de-escalate all of this, other than full public financing, would be ways of reducing the pain of losing re-election. But surely that's a cure worse than the disease; we want our Members of Congress to be paranoid about losing. We just want them to deal with it by working hard to represent their districts, not by working the phones to scrape up every last available dollar for their campaigns.

Oh, and apart from the other reasons I don't like full public financing, it's a pipe dream anyway, both politically and, with any plausibly foreseeable Supreme Court, Constitutionally.

All of which leaves me stumped about what to do with this very real problem.

15 comments:

  1. I wonder how much the changing media landscape will obviate a lot of the need for tougher campaign finance regulations. Much of the big money that needs to be raised goes towards TV ads, but advertising-supported television is declining. I live in a large media market in a swing state, but I rarely see political ads--or ads of any kind--because I watch most of my TV via Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, & HBO Go. There could come a day soon when online streaming causes the advertising-supported business model for television to collapse, and with it the ability to put out a message by buying broadcast ad time.

    Even if broadcast ads don't completely go away, the number of people who watch advertising-supported television could decline to the point where ads are a lot cheaper, but also that they don't reach enough people to be a wise use of campaign resources.

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    1. They'll find ways to spend the money. Direct mail, online advertising, field campaigns, Etc.

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    2. Oh, I certainly saw a lot of Presidential campaign ads on Hulu last September/October.

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    3. It's true that there are plenty of other things to spend money on, but online advertising and direct mail aren't nearly as intrusive. And I don't know how much longer the postal system will be around, at least in a form that would be conducive to political advertising.

      As far as field organizing, it's hard to buy an advantage there. All the money in the world won't buy you volunteers, and paid canvassers aren't very good. A candidate who has broad enough support to build a strong field operation would probably have a broad fundraising base too.

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  2. "The evidence seems to be that they all raise whatever they can, even if it's a waste of their time."

    If this is true, then why do they limit themselves to an average of four hours per day?

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  3. "We just want them to deal with it by working hard to represent their districts"

    Translation:

    "... deal with it by finding new ways to spend other districts' tax dollars."


    Maybe it's good if they spend their time making cash-calls.

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    1. Don't know whose translation that's supposed to be, but as long-time readers know it's certainly not mine.

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    2. Since all of the other congressors are frantically trying to shunt the dollars that were taxed by the feds back to their own districts and to get as much extra as possible, what is it that you expect your district's congressor to do?

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  4. "... would be ways of reducing the pain of losing re-election."

    http://www.salon.com/2013/04/30/anthony_weiner_is_raking_it_in_as_a_corporate_consultant/

    No pain. They just go straight to a cushy, cushy sinecure.

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    1. And yet: they sure act as if they really, really, want to keep their jobs. IMO that's a good thing. I do consider the easy availability of seemingly appealing fallback jobs a significant potential threat to democracy, but there's little evidence that it actually has turned out to matter much so far.

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    2. Yeah, it's not like Weiner wanted to leave office.

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    3. Jonathan, why do you allow backyardfoundry to post here? He never has anything interesting to say and he brings down the quality of the comments section, especially when people respond to him.

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  5. "but there's little evidence that it actually has turned out to matter much so far."

    I'll re-link to this:

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/05/its-not-about-reelection-bill-clintons-80-million-payday.html

    ... which describes how Bill Clinton receives giant payoffs for an hour of jabber and an hour of CEOs sucking up to him in person. Directly after he left office he got two of these from banks.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodity_Futures_Modernization_Act_of_2000

    So the idea is: govern, get out of office and make crazy money off of groups that benefited from that governance, make crazy money from groups that want to cash in on you later, make crazy money off groups who want other politicians to see what's in store if they play ball, maybe go govern some more.

    Does the revolving door not look this way to you?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. do you think Bill Clinton would have decided not to run for re-election? I'm pretty sure he would have won, had he run, too.

      Some electeds to that, obviously. But your example is a little bit odd.

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    2. What's odd about my example? I'm showing two things:

      1)Although they may want to stay in office, pols know that they will have a cushy life when they leave. Remember, Clinton claimed to have entered the white house broke and has made over 80 million on speeches since then, just as Hillary's boy Weiner quickly got a cush job upon wanking out of office.

      2)Unlike Bernstein, I think that it matters a lot how pols are paid. They tend to go into things where once and future buyers of legislation can pay them for supporting the right bills.

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