The primary populist concern with “money in politics” is conspiratorial: “they” will grab total control because “they” buy the politicians.
The cries on the political left that The Evil Koch Brothers™ spend money, thereby “corrupting OUR democracy,” have become ubiquitous.
The fact that the left has its own billionaires, and that they give far more money to their causes than the Kochs do to theirs? Conveniently left out of the hysteria.
But the real case against money in politics has almost nothing to do with buying politicians.
Which leads us to the biggest problem with money in politics: most of it is a waste.
Binyamin Appelbaum, writing Tuesday in The New York Times, reports on the conclusion of a number of economists that “buying elections is economically inefficient.” Appelbaum quotes a major donor who posits why that’s the case: “politicians don’t stay bought.”
Yes indeed, politicians are a tricky investment.
Still, giving patterns suggest contributions are more often intended to advance one’s beliefs and values, than to purchase or rent the allegiance of (or protection from) an elected official.
When we switch from spending money on politicians to spending money on causes, especially initiative and referendum campaigns, the situation looks a bit different. You don’t buy anyone. You persuade voters. Or not.
I’ve seen many a well-funded initiative fall because citizens just wouldn’t have it. Businesses and lobbyists and unions all hate term limits, and have often outspent supporters. But, barring deception, term limits usually win with voters.
Who can’t be bought even for a while.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.