Archive for Thursday, April 17, 2008

Constant chase for campaign cash self defeating

April 17, 2008

It's the political season. Even at a newsroom as small as ours that means lots of faxs and e-mails from office seekers and interest groups. Those emails rarely provide a candidate's clearly defined opinion on issues but are often more than happy to provide misleading takes on an opponents' views.

As unwelcome as those emails are they are not the most annoying. That unhappy honor goes to those messages bragging how much money a candidate has raised. They seem such a blatant admission campaigns are less a marketplace of ideas than of candidates.

The Campaign Finance Institute found it cost on average $1.26 million to win a U.S. House seat in 2006 compared to $360,000 20 years earlier. The same organization found winners spent an average of $8.8 million to win Senate seats - nearly tripling in 20 years - with Democrat Jon Corzine of New Jersey spending $63 million.

The same inflation would surely show up at the state level. All this means that raising heaps of cash is as important as poll numbers and candidates need to prove their seriousness by revealing just how much money they have.

It wouldn't be so offensive if the goal of raising money was just to get a candidate's message out. But many campaign press releases on fundraising seem to be intended to scare off opponents. The message becomes "look at our huge campaign war chest. Potential opponents should just go away rather than compete with that."

The mindset then is not only undemocratic but that requires fundraising to become a full-time preoccupation of incumbents and - we would suggest - did much to cost Republicans control of the U.S. House in 2006 and Democrats in 1994.

It would seem then the current out of control campaign financing inflation is ultimately self-defeating if absolutely necessary in the short term. It is only the former reality that provides some hope for real reform.

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