Bradley Smith has a piece in the Washington Examiner (“Kill the ‘money buys elections’ cliche” – 2016-11-14) in which he points out that in the 2016 election cycle Clinton outspent Trump two-to-one, and of “independent” groups the Clinton side outspent the Trump side by three-to-one. These are not marginal differences, they are huge and unprecedented; you can’t look at that difference and say that it’s within any kind of margin of ineptitude. That is to say, it’s not like you can argue that the “true” amounts spent were close because a significant portion of the Clinton cash was spent on stupid things (ex., “That $20M for skywriting over North Dakota? It seemed like a good idea at the time!”).
In his piece Smith makes the case that the “money buys elections” cliche is dead. I’d argue that it isn’t, mostly because, despite the clear-cut example presented by this election, partisans will use whatever argument might work regardless. Also, money can still buy elections under different circumstances – a candidate who has virtually no budget will probably lose vs. an opponent who has even a modest bankroll, or when all the candidates are not already well-known to the voters. Money still counts.
One thing I found remarkable in this cycle was the absence of the usual Liberal hair-pulling over “Campaign Finance Reform”. Obama outspent both McCain and Romney but the margin was tight enough that Liberals could still pretend they were the underfunded underdogs and decry the way the Right was buying the election. With the disparity as great as it was in this cycle that would no longer pass the laugh test, and that’s why we didn’t hear anything about it. Not in the WaPo, not in the NYTimes, not on CNN, not in the MSM; not on NPR; not on the Liberal blogs. Where were the Kos Kids or HuffPo? Thinkprogress? Anyone? Did the Liberal “watchdog” groups so much as snarl?
This is another example of the Liberal “Pretext of Principles“. The disparity in money spent has never been greater, in terms of the ratio or in terms of absolute dollars spent, by the campaign or its supporters, and Liberals didn’t and don’t mind at all because it benefited their side. Their principle that money corrupts the democratic process may or may not be true, but whether it’s troubling to Liberals is entirely conditional on whether or not they are the beneficiaries of the disparity. As a corollary, the same goes for big money donors; for Liberals, if Wall Street or Big Pharma or whatever deep-pockets pays their side, that may be notable but it’s not bad – and it’s not necessarily notable either.