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Campaign Finance Reform? Who Needs Campaign Finance Reform?

David Brooks unveils an exciting new argument in the War On Campaign Finance Reform: Money just doesn’t matter! Call it campaign finance denialism, if you will.

After citing the Democrats’ fundraising advantage and poor performance, providing a few examples of failed candidates with money and successful candidates without, and dishonestly minimizing the impact of outside groups like the Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads, Brooks concludes with this:

In the end, however, money is a talisman. It makes people feel good because they think it has magical properties. It probably helps in local legislative races where name recognition is low. It probably helps challengers get established. But these days, federal races are oversaturated. Every federal candidate in a close race has plenty of money and the marginal utility of each new dollar is zero.

In this day and age, money is almost never the difference between victory and defeat. It’s just the primitive mythology of the political class.

So you see, there’s no need for campaign finance reform.  Joe Miller and Christine O’Donnell won their primaries and Phil Gramm never became president, so that proves campaign funds don’t make any difference at all!  And the Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads, why they’re just a drop in the bucket with no effect on anything!  We should just let elections be a free-for-all because all that corporate money won’t influence our democratic process in any way!

Sure, there will always be underdog candidates who catch fire despite lack of funds, there will always be well-funded candidates who suck really hard or are in the wrong state or district, and there will always be wave elections where one party pays the price for being incompetent corrupt dumbasses.  But to say that money is just a minor factor is either naive or deliberately deceptive.

If money isn’t a significant factor, why do politicians of both parties prostitute themselves so willingly for it, especially when it requires them to oppose their stated principles and the wishes of their own base? (Hello, Democrats.)  Why do conservatives and groups like the Chamber oppose any kind of campaign finance reform – even disclosure requirements – as a terrible, horrible infringement of free speech?  And as Jon points out, why is it that the candidate who raises 70% of the money in the race almost always wins?

But even if we were to grant Brooks’ premise, it doesn’t really make our democracy any less corrupt.  Because as long as politicians think money matters, money matters.

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