Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 4, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

MILLIONS AND MILLIONS....I have a prediction: we are going to learn this year (or, actually, next year) that there are diminishing returns to money in presidential primaries. Not only do I have my doubts that the vast sums of money being raised by the current frontrunners will fund a more effective campaign than half the amount would, but I wouldn't be surprised if it leads to less effective campaigns. Sometimes too much money makes you lazy.

Anyway, this is a prediction I may someday kick myself for having made, but there you have it.

Kevin Drum 1:27 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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Comments

I think it was a factor in killing Dean's campaign.

Posted by: elliottg on April 4, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

I agree. But it might just be wishful thinking. :-)

Posted by: EmmaAnne on April 4, 2007 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Bush raised and spent 100 million for his 2000 campaign, and 200 million for his 2004 campaign.

While the United States has yet to reach the levels of absurdity that are seen in S. Korean politics (where $500 million is nothing for a Presidential race), everyone has to be cognizant that there is a price for admission. I would guess that for the 2008 election it will be around 250 million.

I do agree with your prediction though. Once the price of admission is paid, there will be more of a premium on grassroots, GOTV, and finding creative ways to bypass and utilize the media (as appropriate).

Posted by: LeftistBoddhisatva on April 4, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Dean was spending on what amounted to a general campaign a month before Iowa. You're damn right that too much money can make you lazy.

Posted by: Clark on April 4, 2007 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

When I was seven I watched Peter Pan on TV, climbed up on the arm of the couch, thought lovely thoughts (Christmas, puppies, chocolate kisses) and flew... into the corner of the coffee table.

Big money won't matter, big money won't matter, big money won't matter....

Posted by: the O'Really factor on April 4, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Everybody's saying that with Super-Duper Tuesday money is going to be more important than ever, but I think it's still going to be about Iowa and New Hampshire, where peanuts can get you a fair hearing. If you've disappointed in those first two states all the money in the world isn't going to kill the loser vibe the media will pin on you... and the free press extravaganza that the other guy will enjoy.

Posted by: Wagster on April 4, 2007 at 1:41 PM | PERMALINK

Ross Perot (remember him?) showed that being able to buy and sell all the other candidates ten times over may give you influence in an election, but in no way guarantees a win.

Some of the current large fundraising totals are clearly 'bubbles' of a sort: people contribute for the sake of contributing, not because the product has all that much intrinsic value. Dean's millions were clearly the product of a 'bubble' (and I say this as a devoted Deaniac), and I suspect Romney's funds are 'bubblicious' too. Question: how much of HRC and Obama's money is bubble generated?

Posted by: lampwick on April 4, 2007 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, I'm a big fan of campaign money being a trailing indicator of candidate popularity rather than a leading indicator. That is, people are only willing to give to someone they think is a serious contender. Once a few people give, then others see that they have some serious backing and they start to give, and it becomes a snowball indicator of people willing to vote/work for someone. I think the money itself probably can only change the race by a few percentage points. Just look at all the self-made millionaires whose campaigns have bombed.

Posted by: Andrew on April 4, 2007 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I hope you're right. It's sad to think that getting elected is simply a matter of money.

However, the new primary election schedule puts a premium on winning a bunch of primary elections in Feb, 2008. In order to be popular that early, a candidate will either need to already be very well known, or else to spend a great deal of money.

Posted by: ex-liberal on April 4, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

The only way having too much money becomes a problem is if it leads a campaign to hire Bob Shrum or Donna Brazile.

Posted by: Brautigan on April 4, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Oh please, oh please make Kevin right!

Posted by: Victoria on April 4, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Money most be well-used, and too much quantity can reduce the attention paid to that. When the money keeps rolling in, you don't keep books, as they say...

Certainly this was a problem for the Dean campaign. OTOH, it was a highly visible and widely recognized problem of the Dean campaign, so you'd think candidates this cycle would be particularly aware of it.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 4, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin may very well be right. But what I think is more interesting is the number of contributions. 100,000 people willing to give you money a year before the primaries translates to volunteers, activists and general 'boots on the ground' that should help keep the campaign anything but lazy.

Posted by: b.d. on April 4, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I hope you're right. It's sad to think that getting elected is simply a matter of money.

Me too.

I'm also hoping that the electorate will finally grow tired of the tedious marketing methods employed and start rejecting candidate's attack ads.

Posted by: bill on April 4, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

It just means more and more consultants for most...the winning candidate will put it into GOTV, structure and direct communication...

Posted by: jonc on April 4, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

The Clinton and Obama numbers, impressive as they are, don't impress me nearly as much as Edwards numbers. His campaign has been flying under the media radar for months, but he is still in the thick of the fight. He is doing well in the early states.

Yelevision continues to slide as a mass medium. Individual show and network ratings are down all over the place. One hundred cable channels divide the television pie into smaller and smaller shares. The internet is becoming the information medium of choice for millions. This year GOTV, internet fundraising and ground campaigns are going to be more important than ever.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 4, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

FWIW, I'm partly basing this on some of the results from recent congressional races, where it looks like there really is a maximum amount of money that can be usefully spent. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but anything north of a few million dollars in a congressional race seems to have no effect.

Obviously the number is higher for a presidential primary, but whatever it is, I have a feeling we may be passing it. We'll see.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on April 4, 2007 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Money makes politics more jaded. That's why we need to take it out of natonal elections by making them publicly funded and limited in scope, cost and duration. The time has also never been more ripe for a viable thrd party in America. The current two-party system is diseased and rotten.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on April 4, 2007 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

The news is not the amount of money raised. The news is that HRC has primarily corporate and lobbyist money and that most of her donors gave the maximum 4600.

The news is that BHO refused to solicit money from lobbyists and corporate interests. 90% of the donors who gave to him gave less than $100.00.

The news is that BHO had 50K donors from the internet ALONE. HRC had 50K donors TOTAL. The news is that 25% of BHO's donors gave $25.00 or less.

The news is that the American electorate gave this money to Barack and that he is indeed representing the will of the people not the corporate interests.

The news is that money does not make you the INEVITABLE winner as HRC and her supporters tried to make folks believe.

The news is that their is NEW money in town. Money from the people who will exert their WILL in this democracy to choose their President.

The news is that the power of America's democracy lies with the masses and the will of the people. As any Constitutional scholar KNOWS.


Barack has the RIGHT kind of experience. Experience as a community activist. He knows how to oragnize the masses to achieve what they want. He has told an electorate who iS FED UP with fearmongering and politics as usual that they do NOT have to accept the 'experienced' politicians like HRC as their President. We do not need :inside the DC beltway experience" in the WH again. We do not have to accept that type of experience as being the best leadership. That leadership took us to WAR. A DUMB WAR. Barack told the people that it is their vote that is their power and in this DEMOCRACY all that is lacking is their WILL to vote. We CAN make a difference and we can CHANGE what is happening in this country.

That is the news. That over 100K people have listened to his message and they are donating to make him their President.

Bill Clinton couldn't OUTRAISE Obama!!! THAT's the NEWS.

Get focused Kevin Drum, do some analysis and tell the real story behind these numbers!

The real news is that Obama is not a Rock Star..he is Rock SOLID!!

Posted by: elrapierwit on April 4, 2007 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

The time has also never been more ripe for a viable thrd party in America. The current two-party system is diseased and rotten.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on April 4, 2007 at 2:07 PM

I never thought I would say this because I have been a dyed in the wool Democrat my entire adult life, but if Al Gore were to run as a Green I would support him. I might also support Edwards in an independent run against Guilani and Clinton.

Frankly, I am sick to death of the money people at the top of both parties buying elections and writing laws that favor them to the exclusion of the rest of us.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 4, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

The current two-party system is diseased and rotten.
Posted by: The Conservative Deflator

It is indeed. And it's an obscene spectacle.


"The root of all evil truly is money, especially in politics. We can't any longer exist as a democracy unless we come to grips with that problem and we unite as a people and stop it." Ronnie Earle

Posted by: MsNThrope on April 4, 2007 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Frankly, I am sick to death of the money people at the top of both parties buying elections and writing laws that favor them to the exclusion of the rest of us.
Posted by: Ron Byers

Amen.

'Under capitalism, political power is not derived from the people, as would be the case in a democracy; nor does it not flow from the bottom up—it matriculates from the top down. It is really quite simple: The men and women who are in office were put there by people with immense wealth to represent the interests of the wealthy, to make money for them. And that is exactly what they are doing.' - Charles Sullivan

Posted by: MsNThrope on April 4, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

after we are done with the election how will we know if you were right or if the loser should have spent even more money? a prediction isn't a big risk if there is no way to falsify it.

Posted by: supersaurus on April 4, 2007 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

It'll be hard to know how to gauge the accuracy of this prediction, even after the results are in. After all, it's pretty much conventional wisdom that the Republican and Democratic top money-raisers have serious drawbacks as candidates.

I think the only way this prediction will be tested is if it is tested and found to be wrong - that is, if Clinton and Romney are the nominees.

Posted by: politicalfootball on April 4, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Well, duh. Of course there are diminishing returns, if the total amounts of money raised increas.

It's an arms race. If all sides raise $2 million, only one will win. If all sides raise $20 million, only one will win. But if you don't keep up, you won't be competitive: the biggest fundraiser often does not win, but people who get outspent 5 to 1 tend to lose.

Posted by: Joe Buck on April 4, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK
The time has also never been more ripe for a viable thrd party in America.

I'm not sure what you mean by that. If you mean the objective conditions have never been more favorable to the rise of such a party, that's perhaps true, as the conditions have pretty much been absolutely and consistently unfavorable to it, so it is true that they have never been substantially more (or substantially less) favorable. The only times a new viable national party has a risen in two-party America have been as a second party when the major party other than "Party of Jefferson" under whatever current name it operates under had collapsed entirely (first the Whigs replacing the Federalists, then the Republicans replacing the Whigs.)

If you mean the conditions have never been such that you wish so fervently that one would appear despite the structural barriers than you do now, well, that may be true, too, but what are you going to do about it?

Posted by: cmdicely on April 4, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Well, in some very real sense, there's only ever one successful campaign. One or both of Obama and Clinton is not going to win the 2008 election. Second place with that kinds of funds is really a failure.

It's only really a story if one of the second tier money people - Richardson, or Huckabee, or some such - manages to stage an upset. When that happens, I'll be all ears. Until then, if Clinton or Obama or Edwards, Guiliani or McCain or Romney, gets the nomination, it's still Money's game.

Posted by: Kirby on April 4, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

It's time to set a time and money limit on elections; how about 4 months and 10 million for starters? cleve

Posted by: cleve on April 4, 2007 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Clinton and Obama can raise astronomical amounts of money but they won't be able to buy what they need - widespread appeal and the feeling that these two know anything about the middle class.

Indeed, if they use the money to bombard the public they may be in danger of overkill. I think people are already getting sick of seeing these two and hearing the silly press people talk about them ad nauseam. Putting their faces before the public to any greater degree may hurt them.

Posted by: Chrissy on April 4, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

The number of successful rich politicians seems to indicate otherwise, but I hope the prediction is correct.

Posted by: Frank J. on April 4, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Dean's campaign was taken down for free, by media coverage of the scream.

Nothing excites the press more than taking down whoever is on top. I mean, no one even cares if you take down Kucinich. So the leaders remain just as vulnerable, despite their money.

But will those with less money have enough name recognition by the time of the super duper primary?

What of debates as the time draws near? With so many people competing, and none likely to drop out before that primary, will that make it harder for someone to break through during a debate?

And what of the way the media enjoys having no more than 3 people to talk about? And what of its conservative bias? Even if Hillary were to start doing terribly, I believe they would continue to follow her, because her candidacy pleases them and people tune in to "hate" her. Just as they kept covering Dean after he had tanked, instead of covering Clark who was doing much better than he was. If the media has already decided that they're only going to cover Obama, Hillary, and sometimes Edwards, will anything force them to change?

Posted by: catherineD on April 4, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

"Multi-millionaires who talk like marxists have a fascination that escapes me."


As opposed to multi-millionaires who talk like Ebeneezer Scrooge? Or how about all the folks who want to be multi-millionaires and talk like serfs when it comes to rich people? What's fascinating about many conservative voters is that they aren't rich, never will be rich, yet still identify with the wealthy. It isn't even that they don't know that rich people try to game the economic system in their favor against workers and the middle class. They know it, but refuse to believe that they're the ones being screwed.

Mike

Posted by: MBunge on April 4, 2007 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

I think it was a factor in killing Dean's campaign.

Democrats are quick to remember Kerry was Swift Boated but forgetful that Dean was, too. Americans for Jobs and Healthcare ran a smear campaign against Dean in December of 2003, which was anonymously funded and supported by mainstream Democrats.

But the most inflammatory ad used the visual image of Osama bin Laden as a way to raise questions about Dean's foreign policy credibility. While the spots ran, Americans for Jobs-through its then- spokesman, Robert Gibbs, a former Kerry campaign employee-refused to disclose its donors.

here

Posted by: Brojo on April 4, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

this guy thinks so too.

Posted by: JAG on April 4, 2007 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

"...but I think it's still going to be about Iowa and New Hampshire, where peanuts can get you a fair hearing."

Wagster

Peanuts *should* be able to get a lot of politicians a fair hearing. If that was the case I think we would have more candidates with integrity and fewer weather vanes.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on April 4, 2007 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

John Edward's father was a mill worker.

If you look at Edwards most famous case, the pool company one, the little girl who lost her a big part of her gut and was crippled for life on the pool drain:

- the company had been warned about this flaw in the design of the pool

- there had been other life threatening and crippling accidents with this model of pool

- the company treated the girl and her family dismissively, as Okies who would never dare to sue a company like theirs

So he won $10m. For a 6 year old girl who will need full time help for the rest of her life, I would estimate she would need *at least* $5m. I work in the financial arena, and to produce an income matching structured settlement that can cope with inflation, you would need *at least* that amount of money.

Edwards is a guy who believes what he says. So does Al Gore.

Why, suddenly, are conviction politicians suspect?

Posted by: Valuethinker on April 4, 2007 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Bill,

"You'll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." – P.T. Barnum

Posted by: jhm on April 4, 2007 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Valuethinker: "If you look at Edwards most famous case, the pool company one, the little girl who lost her a big part of her gut and was crippled for life on the pool drain"

I think this points out a place where money may be very useful in a campaign. If Edwards can tell the story of his cases like you just did, it could overcome casual "trial lawyer" smears. But I don't see it being as helpful for someone like Hillary, because she is so well known that she doesn't have that kind of story that needs illumination.

Posted by: Emma Anne on April 4, 2007 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Remember for a moment the big change for this primary season: some large states like NY and California are much earlier in the primary season and will presumably be much more important. Can you say "expensive media market"? Say what you will about NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, he showed what spending a boatload of money can get you...

On the other hand, Phil Gramm....

Posted by: Alex R on April 4, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

I don't remember what the numbers were in the 2006 election, but it's a safe bet that Republicans far outraised and outspent Democrats and yet the Republicans got their asses handed to them. Of course, public digust with Bush's War was THE big factor, but it wouldn't have worked so well for Dems if they hadn't finally found candidates who were willing to campaign boldly on the issue. (And, post-election, we find that boldness from Dems on the Iraq War is exactly what the public voted for, not backing off as some of the early Dem. direction they seemed to be taking). So, money is great, but message and courage matter so much more.

Posted by: John on April 4, 2007 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

public digust with Bush's War was THE big factor, but it wouldn't have worked so well for Dems if they hadn't finally found candidates who were willing to campaign boldly on the issue

You might want to forward that thought to Rep. Rahm Emanuel.

Posted by: Brojo on April 4, 2007 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

I've never understood quite why Emanuel got so much credit for the Dem 2006 success. To me, it looked like Howard Dean's playbook all the way. I would say that Dems succeeded more in spite rather than because of DLCers like Emanuel.

Posted by: John on April 4, 2007 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, Dean's problem was that he had too much money. LMAO!

Posted by: Yancey Ward on April 4, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

I agree on the dimishing returns, but I'd say that having 40 mill instead of 20 is still an advantage. Just not as big as say 20 instead of 10. To be as nerdy as possible, its something like an asymptotic function. But I also think the money advatage is a bigger factor if its well used. If you just throw it all into wall to wall tv ads, then I would think its a waste. On the other hand, if you used alot it on well organized get out the vote campaigns then perhaps it would be more advatageous. But I'm basing that soley on my own guesses, not any actual research. Conjecture is my evidence and Hearsay my proof.

Posted by: francis on April 4, 2007 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

I don't understand why we don't just have the FCC give blocks of airtime to each legitimate candidate and dispense with all this fundraising to benefit Disney, Viacom, and the other networks that run political advertising for vast amounts of profit.

Posted by: skimble on April 4, 2007 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK
Remember for a moment the big change for this primary season: some large states like NY and California are much earlier in the primary season and will presumably be much more important. Can you say "expensive media market"?

And in those markets, more money is always decisive, as Senator Michael Huffington (R-CA) can attest.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 4, 2007 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK
Yeah, Dean's problem was that he had too much money.

One of Dean's problems was that no one was paying much attention to how Trippi was spending money; how much of that is attributable to the supply that was coming in is, of course, debatable, but I would suspect that that wasn't a minor factor.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 4, 2007 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

lampwick: Ross Perot (remember him?) showed that being able to buy and sell all the other candidates ten times over may give you influence in an election, but in no way guarantees a win.

Perot had the best 3rd part showing since TR ran on the Progressive ticket in 1912, so I wouldn't use Perot's campaign as an example of how money isn't important.

Posted by: alex on April 4, 2007 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK
Perot had the best 3rd part showing since TR ran on the Progressive ticket in 1912, so I wouldn't use Perot's campaign as an example of how money isn't important.

Perhaps not, but I would use it as an example of what the poster you responded to actually used it as an example of, to wit, "that being able to buy and sell all the other candidates ten times over may give you influence in an election, but in no way guarantees a win."

Posted by: cmdicely on April 4, 2007 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely (quoting lampwick): in no way guarantees a win

I agree with B. Franklin's observation that there are only two things that are guaranteed. Hence "no way guarantees a win" seems a pretty obvious specific case of a general rule. Of course, if one reads lampwick's post with the understanding that blog posts are often written in the loose manner of everyday conversation, rather than, say, the alleged precision of legalese, you might infer that he was downplaying the importance of campaign funds, rather than stating the obvious.

Posted by: alex on April 4, 2007 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

are diminishing returns to money in presidential primaries.

didn't we already learn this from John Conolly, Phil Gramm, and Howard Dean?

OTOH, didn't Tom Vilsak demonstrate the importance of money?

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on April 4, 2007 at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK

I wish we could ban political adverts from radio and television...

Posted by: Brian on April 4, 2007 at 11:59 PM | PERMALINK

Whether the returns diminish all depends on how the money is spent. If it is spent on endless TV ads, then yes the return will diminish (everyone I know changes the channel the second a political ad comes on) quite quickly.

Posted by: mfw13 on April 5, 2007 at 1:50 AM | PERMALINK

I wish we could ban political adverts from radio and television...
Posted by: Brian

And do away with the exemption they granted themselves from the 'Don't Call' laws. Robo-calling is a plague.

Posted by: MsNThrope on April 5, 2007 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

OT:

The kakistocracy marches on:

The other recess appointments
By: Steve @ 5:16 AM - PDT

"As Nicole noted yesterday, Bush's recess appointment for Sam Fox is pretty offensive. But as ridiculous as the Fox stunt is, let’s also not overlook the other two recess appointments the president made, which were just as bad.

For example, the president appointed Andrew Biggs to serve as the next deputy commissioner of Social Security, despite the fact that Biggs is an aggressive advocate of privatizing the Social Security system. His nomination in November was considered ridiculous by Senate Democrats, and with this recess appointment yesterday, Bush effectively announced that he no longer wants to even consider negotiations over reforming the system.

And then there’s Susan Dudley, who Bush appointed to oversee federal regulatory policy at the Office of Management and Budget, despite her anti-regulatory career at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs holds sway over federal regulatory agencies like the EPA and helps set regulatory policy for a wide range of issues, from workplace safety to water quality….

As the director of regulatory studies at the industry-backed Mercatus Center she has worked to oppose vital public health regulation as a “hidden tax” that hinders profits.

Some of her targets have included EPA health standards for smog, opposition to lower-polluting cars, opposition to air bags, and opposition to stronger regulations for arsenic in drinking water. For some reason, the Senate had some concerns about her nomination. The White House not only doesn’t care about the concerns, it also decided it doesn’t care about the constitutional nomination process.

The Bush gang knows no limits; they have no shame."

http://www.crooksandliars.com/

Posted by: MsNThrope on April 5, 2007 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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