Maybe They Already Were Winners



One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

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66 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    AFAIK the connection between more money and winning is far less certain then people believe. In many cases the candidate who is already more popular will just be able to raise more money so having more isn’t causal, just a symptom.

    If there is an effect of money i’d guess it would be with candidates who aren’t well known or have many times fewer resources. It is hard to go from underdog to winner if you have far less money.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Private Citizen Mitt Romney would agree with your first sentence.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      I would think there is a certain minimum that a candidate needs to have in order to have a realistic shot at winning. If you can’t field even a small staff or run ads, you aren’t going to win. But I doubt that outspending your opponent $100M to 90M is the difference between winning and losing. I think the direction of causality is assumed but unproven. However, I’m open to being proven wrong about that. I just ask folks to show their work.

      Also, does this put me back in the “Bad Liberal” category? At least I’ve already gone food shopping for the week!Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        @kazzy Oh yeah there is certain basic amount just to run a campaign. But i think that is on the lower end of the spectrum. There is a point of diminishing returns with money in campaigns. You need enough to have the basics, but at some point you are just running the same commercials over and over. Chumming the water with campaign signs doesn’t really do much. After the basics you just start getting less bang for your buck.

        I’m more than willing to stipulate you are a bad liberal if that will help you feel better. But only because i’m a good liberal and only care if you have good, or bad, self-esteem, depending on what your self-chosen identity feels is most appropriate.

        But really fear of big money influencing politics is not just a liberal issue. Anybody who suggests it is must be a terrible person. I think money has far more of an effect on buying access to legislators once they are in power and to bend rules in their favor.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:


          I have real concerns about how money influences the governing process. Even if we can prove the correlation that candidates with more money tend to beat candidates with less money, I think it is silly to assume causation one way or the other absent evidence. And particularly silly to campaign on this issue, which I got the sense Aiken planned to do if/when he returns to politics.

          People on the left lament that a small cabal of billionaires pick who runs and who wins. I’m just not sure there is evidence that this is true.Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            @kazzy Yeah, i agree. But people on the right make those same claims also. So do people the middle. People all over the spectrum think rich people control who gets elected and how the gov is run.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            It’s not that hard to get a governmental favor. I can tell you the approximate price, depending on the level of government and cost of living.

            The winning process is a slightly different story, of course.

            And actually getting a politician to do something that he doesn’t think is “right” can prove to be nigh impossible… without the appropriate incentives, which are rarely purely fiscal in nature.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Greg hit the nail on the head. Presidential elections? Too much money, doesn’t do any good. Marginal returns exist in political finance just like they do everywhere else.

      North Minneapolis 3rd seat for the Minnesota Legislature? If a big spender hops into the race or finances a candidate ceteris parabus the monied candidate will win.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        Yup. I’ve always been fond of Chait’s argument that the worst corruption happens at the local and state level because local and state elections are cheap investments that pay huge dividends. Judicial elections are the same if not worse.Report

  2. Avatar Kim says:

    Money raising is often Instructive. When Scaife meddles in the local Democratic Primary, one Learns Something about both candidates. (please note: he did live in town and owns a business in town, so I’m not saying this is an interloper).

    Money raising will tell you about debts, and who the candidate owes.
    Breaking the candidate is far from the only way to end a coalition, after all.Report

  3. Avatar Will Truman says:

    As I’ve said before, the problem with money in politics isn’t that it buys races. It’s that it buys the candidates who win elections.

    From a candidate’s POV, money has a pretty significant correlation with breaking from the pack early on. It’s a metric for how serious a candidate is within a field. It can also raise name recognition, though it’s not the only way to do so.Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Money can buy you a low turnout election, but not a high turnout one. So state legislatures and city councils, but not US Senators and Presidents. (US Congressman are somewhere in the middle, depending on the year)

    Plus, what Obama showed in 2008 is the very act of building a broadbased donor network nets you more cash, and serves itself as the organization building exercise that efficiently converts cash into votes.

    All the billionaire soft(ish) money thrown at the non-Mitt, non-viable GOP presidential campaigns in 2012 was pretty much burned in a fire. (and one of those billionaires was a casino magnet no less).

    Last, if money could buy elections, RON PAUL! would had have a lot more electoral success in the last two prez cycles.Report

  5. Avatar Marchmaine says:

    Will Truman:
    [Money] buys the candidates who win elections.

    This is a phrase worth remembering.Report

  6. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Money can totally buy elections. Just ask Senator Carly Fiorina, Governor Meg Whitman, and the backers of California’s Propositions 37 (2012) and 16 (2010). Oh wait, they all lost.Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumber says:

      Don’t forget Senator Michael Huffington.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        And President H Ross Perot.

        (who might have been able to pull it off, if he wasn’t bat guano crazy)

        (sorry, that’s innapropriate. he’s rich, so he’s bat guano eccentric.)Report

        • Perot got 20 million votes in 1992 and 10 million in 1996. Unless he’s a gazillionaire, the numbers might have been as much as 20 and 10 receptively.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            Perot was leading the polls, albeit slightly, during the summer. His exit from the race, then re-entry fatally compromised his run. He had enough organization to get on the ballots in all 50 states (which is the hard part) and could have pulled off something like Jesse Ventura did, but on a national scale. The time was as ripe for a populist third party insurgency as its ever been. Or at least equal, to the conditions that spawned the Bull Moose campaign. Heck, if it weren’t for the fact that TPP doesn’t quite have the same hold on the imagination as NAFTA does, we’d be close to those conditions now, esp if we do get a Clinton v Bush name redux.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              I believe the electoral college would make this impossible. Specifically the provisions regarding what happens if no one gets a majority.

              Getting a plurality is hard. Getting a plurality in enough states to get to 270 is a lot harder.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                I didn’t think of that, but I believe there was a road to 270 in 1992 (a narrow road, but not impossible to traverse). Failing that, it really would have depended if Clinton came in 2nd or 3rd.

                The Dems had control of the House, and more importantly a majority of the state delegations (26 or 27, with about 8 or so split 50/50). They may have been able to finagle getting Clinton into the White House with a second place finish, but not a third. (plus, look how many Dem controlled state delegations are in what were (soon to become) “red” states). (which leads to the added caveat that the House elections that year are, on the margin, contingent on what the top of the ticket does, and so a Perot popular vote victory probably would have changed that map).

                [Mike S: fixed a tags problem]Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Perot decided not to win. He got in, then the polls said “dude, are you ready to govern?” and he said… um, nah, man.Report

  7. Avatar j r says:

    Here is one thing to remember: there has always been money in politics. Candidates and politicians in office have always spent an awful lot of their time pressing flesh and raising money. One of the things that most people don’t understand about Congress is that most representatives spend as little time in Washington as they can, because they’re on a plane come Thursday night so that they can get back to their district and keep campaigning for the next election.

    The thing that has changed is that it is taking more and more money to be competitive, which leads some people believe that the money is buying more and more influence. I tend not to think so; rather, it is a Red Queen situation. We are seeing more and more money chasing a relatively fixed amount of influence.

    What this really means is that money isn’t driving some types of candidates from the realm of consideration, but may be driving some types of donor from the circle of influence. I suppose that matters, but not sure how much.Report

    • Avatar aaron david says:

      I think it really comes down to the fact that it is a solid (not good, but that is in the eyes of the beholder) political rallying point. I doubt 10% of Americans could tell you what CU did/did not do, but they will fight to the death over it.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


        Yeah, seems an odd hill to die on, but politics is full of such hills.Report

      • It overturned decades of campaign finance law that wasn’t at issue, and it did so at the precise moment that the Democrats had started to raise more money than the GOP. That is, it was only slightly less blatantly partisan than Bush v. Gore.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          The government censored an opt-in “buy it if you feel like it” PPV movie.

          The law that was overturned was used to censor opt-in political speech that criticized a Clinton.

          I mean, if you want to get all “WHY DID THIS HAPPEN IT MUST BE PARTISANSHIP” on this. (Remember when the government argued that it had the power to ban books when it defended the law that got overturned? Good times.)Report

          • Censored as in forbid it being made, threw everyone involved in jail, and burned every existing copy? And did this because of the views it took, and praising a Clinton would have been fine?

            None of the above, and you know all of that.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Censored as in “prevented it from being viewed”.

              As in “speech was prohibited”.

              If you want to argue that it was partisan, I get to point out that the law was used to prohibit speech that criticized the woman currently running for president.Report

              • And if someone had shot her, they’d have been prosecuted for that, which is just partisan as hell.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                But we’re not talking about some weird hypothetical “what if?”

                We’re talking about the government censoring a movie. The law made it to the Supreme Court and the law was found to have violated the First Amendment.

                We’re not in some weird “CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT THE SUPREME COURT DID THIS THING?” territory here.

                A law that was used to suppress political speech was found to have been unconstitutional and it was overturned. There’s no need for a conspiracy.Report

              • Avatar Road Scholar says:


                What bothers me, and I should hope would bother you, but it doesn’t, because… context?… is the way SCOTUS expanded the scope of the challenge beyond the specific provision of the law that dealt with the timing of the movie and then proceeded to strike down the entire law including totally unrelated provisions. That’s pretty much the complete opposite of how SCOTUS normally does business and is what tags it as a wholly partisan and ideologically driven decision.

                Personally, if they had limited the decision to the provision that was actually being originally challenged I would be in complete agreement.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “strike down the entirely law including totally unrelated provisions”

                So I am being asked to put aside how the government argued that it should have the power to ban books aside for a moment and look at how the SCotUS overreacted.

                Were these totally unrelated provisions also provisions that unconstitutionally prohibited speech?

                Because, like, if they were? I’m finding myself to be troubled by the fact that it wasn’t a unanimous decision and, like Mike, maybe I’m willing to explore whether it wasn’t unanimous because of partisanship.Report

              • A law that, in a completely content-independent way, limited how corporations (and unions) could spend money close to an election was found to be unconstitutional. One of its main sponsors had been a Republican.

                If you have evidence that the law was applied in a partisan fashion, I’d love to see it.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

                A law that, in a completely content-independent way, limited how non-media corporations (and unions) could spend money close to an election


              • Avatar Patrick says:


                Citizen’s United was clearly an attempt to craft something specifically to challenge a law.

                I’m not sure there’s a justice issue there, @jaybird.

                One of the drawbacks of having a society built on laws is that the language used to construct the laws isn’t going to be as precise as, say, the language used to construct a wiring diagram. Or even as precise as the language used to construct the regulatory framework that the law authorizes.

                If the government had been going around censoring things unjustly as par for the course, or had been abusing this law the way it abuses asset forfeiture, then I’d be on board with clamoring to fix it.

                It’s like jaywalking. There are legit reasons to have laws against jaywalking. It helps keep people from getting killed in the streets, and it helps to keep kids in car seats from seeing someone plastered across Mommy’s windshield.

                We know that jaywalking laws are abused, and they are targeted at minorities or used as revenue generators (or both). In some towns, this is systemic enough that there’s a reason to start clamoring to fix it.

                Nobody on the government side was going around abusing McCain-Feingold, to the best of my knowledge. Some folks wanted unrestricted campaign donations and they decided to craft a situation that was against the letter of McCain-Feingold in an attempt to get the whole thing chucked, and it worked.

                And there’s an argument to be made that it deserved to be chucked and should be re-written, but that’s not the way our politics work, because Congresses don’t try and fix things, they fight new and different battles to make their constituents feel like they’re fighting the good fights, and that’s as much marketing as it is governance.

                CU is an example of a probably-good-enough-for-the-purpose law that somebody decided to break, on purpose, for a specific agenda… and it wasn’t about “fighting government censorship as a pervasive problem”. It was about “lifting caps on regulation for campaign finance”.

                I suppose if you do really think that money = speech then that’s equivalent.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                While it may be true that they were asking for something like this, it’s even more certainly true that they got it.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Jaybird: the government argued that it should have the power to ban books

                I sometimes wonder how CU might have been decided if the government had not made this argument.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                One may as well wonder what would have happened had the government decided to hold back and not censor the movie in the first place.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    former candidate for North Carolina’s 2nd congressional seat Clay Aiken was lamenting the role that money plays in elections

    Does he have an opinion on name recognition?Report

  9. Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

    Even if the correlation is there, people who think money buys elections may have causation reversed. It’s never bad to be on the key donor list of the winning candidate.Report

  10. Avatar Chris says:

    The law of diminishing returns comes into play at some point, I imagine.Report

  11. Avatar morat20 says:

    To me, the issue is as follows:

    It takes a certain amount of money to get elected. If it takes a hundred big donors and a 1000 medium donors together to get you over that ‘bare minimum for a serious chance’ hump, then you’re gonna be really grateful to 100 people and pretty grateful to 1000 people.

    If, on the other hand, one mega-donor can bankroll you into seriousness, you got ONE guy you’re SUPER grateful towards.

    And that’s my problem. There’s certainly a point where ‘more money’ doesn’t buy you much more, so it’s not “all that money” sloshing around. It’s when one guy can bankroll you.

    It’s bad enough having a dozen donors who probably share some similar..concerns..they’d like a grateful politician to address. It’s entirely worse when it’s…one guy.

    And these days? That one guy is often rich enough to bankroll a half-dozen senators, two dozen Reps, and a President out of pocket change.

    At least previously, it was spread around a bit. There were enough donors that, you know, they wouldn’t always agree on what they’d like their pet Senator to do.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      And these days? That one guy is often rich enough to bankroll a half-dozen senators, two dozen Reps, and a President out of pocket change.

      Except that there are restrictions on how much that one guy can donate to any given candidate. Yes, there are ways around it, but that one guy can’t just explicitly flaunt the restrictions. He can be a bundler, but there have always been bundlers.

      The big thing that the one rich guy can do now is to fund a PAC that makes unlimited independent expenditures. And what that basically means is that they can flood a market with a whole bunch of TV commercials in support or against a particular candidate. I guess that has some effect, but not likely as much as some folks like to think. For one thing, there’s a phenomenon were money pours in from the opposing side to counter. And at a certain point, there is a diminishing marginal return to what political ads can accomplish. I believe that people will learn very quickly to whom to listen and whom to disregard.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        But if it’s one person, you’ve got one person’s issues.

        Does he want open borders? Better hope that you don’t get an immigration question. Does he want to abolish MMJ? Better hope you don’t get a question about the drug war (Christie).

        So on and so forth.

        If you have 1100 donors, you win some and you lose some and everybody knows that a half loaf is better than none.

        1 donor? Better hope that voters like his views more than your opponent’s.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I believe you’ve actually made an optimistic statement. I’m far too skeptical about human nature to think that people will “learn very quickly” about whom to listen and whom to disregard.Report

      • Avatar j r says:


        That’s only true if that one person has the ability to actively subvert the agendas of prospective candidates and to actually influence the outcome of elections.

        Let’s take Sheldon Adelson as an example of that one person. Are Republican candidates tacking right on their foreign policy views to please Adelson or is Adelson just finding the candidates that already share his views on foreign policy (which aside from gambling are, I believe, his big issues)? And does Adelson’s support equate to greater electoral success or is Adelson just picking the candidates likely to win anyway?

        Lots of people simply assume a yes answer to both of those questions, but I’ve seen little evidence. Most of the evidence that I’ve seen points in the opposite direction.


        Yes, I am optimistic. Politics used to be dominated by big explicitly corrupt political machines and now politics is dominated by big implicitly corrupt informal networks of influence. Things are getting better not worse.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Adelson’s racebaiting didn’t seem to give more electoral success in Israel, at least for the side he was “supporting.” Of course, Bibi did win, so I guess Adelson did a better job than the liberals…Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I’m not saying it has to be active.

          There are conservative reasons to support Issue X, there are conservative reasons to oppose Issue X. On top of that, new information is coming in every single day.

          There are issues that I am torn on, for example. If someone offered me a bunch of literature and $1,000,000 on one of these issues, I’m pretty sure that I’d find reasons to reach a conclusion that felt honest to the point where I could pass a polygraph even if polygraphs worked.Report

          • Avatar j r says:

            OK, but if I’m the one guy, why should I throw my support behind you? You’ve suddenly converted to my way of seeing Issue X, but there are 3 guys who’ve been on my side since the beginning. Why wouldn’t I back on of them?

            I’m only going to back you if I think that you have the clear shot of winning (and if I care more about winning than about making an ideological point). And if you have a clear shot of winning, it’s not obvious why you need me badly enough to bend to my way of seeing things.

            I tend to think that these donor-candidate relationships involve an awful lot of flirtation and maybe a bit of light petting, but not so much consummation.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Well, if I suspect anything at all about billionaire types, it’s that they have long time horizons.

              If the goal is to win an election, you want a candidate.
              If the goal is to move an overton window, you want candidates (who are going to *LOSE*) to change the way the debates play out.

              Move the overton window and you’ve won, according to this theory of political victory.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      You’re missing scads of game theory here.
      For one, no politician wants to just get elected once. Therefore a smallish donor who is willing to keep donating every time is really more valued than you’d imagine.

      If you’re one person who wants to have a politician under your thumb, you’re going to use blackmail, plain and simple. That’s the way to get REAL influence. If you just need a minor favor, you’re going to contribute money.Report

  12. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    In addition to it not quite being that simple, there is the secondary issue of *why* certain people get more money than others. It’s not like the money is distributed at random.

    What is probably more true than what Aiken said (but still not universally so) is the fact that in bigger elections, you need a fair amount of capital just to be on the radar.Report

    • Avatar aaron david says:

      It’s not just that you need capital to be on the radar, its that once you are on the radar capital wants you. In other words it’s a symbiotic relationship. The higher you rise, the more 30k dinners you have etc.Report

  13. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    I’ve heard it said that money doesn’t really decide elections, for a lot of the reasons raised above, but what it does do is decide what the elections are going to be about.

    For instance, the big money can ensure that a conversation about SS reform stays planted firmly in a debate between cutting benefits vs raising the retirement age while ensuring that any discussion of raising the cap on taxes is off the table. I’m convinced that’s also one of the reasons why SSM seems to be winning now. Let the cute little liberals expend their energies on something most of the money guys don’t really give a shit about so less focus is paid to the economic landscape.Report

  14. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Maybe you could kind of disentangle the two by looking at races where one candidate has more funds and one has more donors. Though that doesn’t account for things like niche candidates who have a lot of fervent supporters but less mainstream appeal.Report

  15. Avatar Patrick says:

    My understanding is that it takes a certain amount of money to compete, and after that amount (which varies by election type and level of office) each additional dollar has a rapidly decreasing marginal value.

    High spending is correlated with incumbency. Incumbency is correlated with winning. When you correct for incumbency, you see that money doesn’t have much of an effect. When you correct for money, you see that incumbency has a very big effect. Ergo, it’s pretty likely that incumbency is the root cause and money is a dependent variable.

    There are other factors, however.

    Candidates for office aren’t just folks that throw their hat in the ring. You typically have to go through a nomination process of one sort or another, and particularly for partisan state- and federal-level offices, “does this schmoe have the ability to raise money” probably is a major factor involved in who gets the blessing of the party elite (for all parties). But it’s not clear that CU has anything to do with that level of funding.Report