Editorial: Clinton's loss shows money isn't deciding political races

Published on Friday, 18 November 2016 16:06 - Written by

The only explanation for Hillary Clinton’s easy victory on Nov. 8 in the race for the presidency is the influence of big money in politics.

Oh, hang on. Clinton lost, despite outspending her opponent, Donald Trump, nearly two-to-one. If logic prevails, this is the last we’ll hear about overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, on the grounds of protecting our political system from the rich.

“Donald Trump threw out campaign spending conventions as he stormed his way to the American presidency,” reports CNBC. “The businessman racked up 278 electoral votes as of Wednesday morning, versus 228 for Clinton, with three states still not called by NBC News. Trump did so with thin traditional campaign spending. His chaotic and often divisive campaign drew constant eyeballs, earning him billions of dollars in free media and allowing him to spend comparatively little on television ads and ground operations.”

As the news agency explains, Trump’s committee spent about $238.9 million through mid-October, compared with $450.6 million by Clinton’s committee.

It’s important to remember that money was a factor in elections prior to the 2010 Citizens United decision. If it’s corrosive now, it was corrosive then. Citizens United may have cranked up the volume, but the song is the same.

And there’s an error in this way of thinking called “causation versus correlation.” It’s not so much that campaign donors give money to sway a politician’s views; rather, donors give money to candidates who already share their views. And that’s OK, as Hans Von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation notes.

“Just because you support the campaigns of candidates you think have the correct view on an important public policy question does not make you a pernicious influence that must be outlawed,” he writes.

It’s also useless to complain without determining whether the alternative would be better or worse. And public funding of campaigns would be a disaster.

“This public funding program would necessarily be open to any candidates who can meet its minimal requirements,” Von Spakovsky explains. “That includes fringe candidates and even felons. Case in point: The presidential funding program has bankrolled Lyndon LaRouche to the tune of millions of dollars - $ 1.5 million in 2008 alone.”

There’s a larger First Amendment problem with public financing of campaigns.

“The First Amendment guarantees the right to not associate with individuals whose political beliefs we do not share,” Von Spakovsky adds. “Forcing individuals to subsidize political candidates with whom they vehemently disagree violates this associational right.”

David Brooks of the New York Times says Citizens United is resulting in less influence by big donors.

“We’re now at a moment when a fire hose of money is trying to fill the same glasses of voters,” Brooks says. “That means every plausible Senate candidate and almost every plausible House candidate has more than enough money to get his or her message out. What matters more is the quality of that message and the national mood.”

As Brooks says, we can all “relax about campaign spending.” Clinton’s loss shows money isn’t controlling outcomes.