Kansas Progress Institute

Ad Astra Per Aspera ~ To the Stars Through Difficulties

The Nonsense Written About Money in Politics

Posted on April 15, 2016

By David Burress

Here is Dave Helling, in a recent piece in the Kansas City Star summarizing a string of anecdotes: “Big money doesn’t always guarantee victory, it turns out.”

No one ever said it did. Quite literally. I googled “money always guarantees victory” and got–guess what–absolutely zero hits. If you know much about googling, zero hits on a common-sounding phrase is kind of distinctive.
That’s what’s known as a “straw man” argument: put words in someone’s mouth that are easier to disprove than their actual position. In reality, of course, money matters a lot, but so do lots of other factors.

Then Helling finished his piece with this pablum: “The best antidote to money’s corrupting influence may not be overturning a court case or regulating donations or even studying presidential campaign disclosures. The answer may be an informed, engaged electorate watching lesser campaigns and smart enough to ignore the political messages that money tries to buy.”
Apples and oranges: comparing policy levers that we can pursue collectively with a nonpolicy lever than cannot be implemented. I.e., individualistic solutions to collective problems. I.e., complacency, inaction, and the innocuous (but not innocent) past-time that Eric Berne called “Ain’t It Awful.”
Which is why I hate centrism.


Now admittedly, Helling also had a more interesting and more defensible point in mind: money is relatively more effective in the down-ticket and less contested elections.

However Helling completely ignored many important aspects of how money works in the upticket elections:

1. Without a threshold amount of money you won’t get a hearing at all.
2. Other things being equal, more money is always an advantage.
3. All successful national politicians spend a huge fraction of their time chasing money, because they believe it matters. They know more about it than Helling does.
4. Money can be used to scare off challengers, so it wins elections you never even notice it winning.
5. Because money is so important, it has an immense effect on who runs in the first place and what point of view they represent.
6. Money buys access. Winning politicians owe it to their backers to listen to them first.
7. Money fills up the political space. While voters were shooting down billionaire Rex Sinquefield’s latest effort to repeal the Kansas City earnings tax, they were failing to focus on important matters like increasing the minimum wage.

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